On a near perfect autumn day on the Cape Peninsula, there can be few better places to be than on the strip of land between the mountains and the seashore that runs from Die Kom past Slangkop Lighthouse and along the length of the Soetwater Conservancy to Witsands. While this is primarily a campsite, it includes a very important bird breeding conservancy, where the African Oystercatcher can be found in large numbers, as well as an important contributor to our knowledge of and interaction with the environment and its natural inhabitants – the Soetwater Environmental Education Centre (SEEC). Lappies Labuschagne has been introduced to you all before, as we are regular visitors to the centre, simply because visitors are made to feel so welcome and treated royally within the confines of the budget of an NGO, and you will remember that his enthusiasm and humour are legendary in these parts. The desire to impart knowledge to the broader public is paramount, and although the focus is on schoolchildren from all communities across the Cape Metropole (maybe further?), adults benefit to the same extent without having to complete the obstacle course!
A refreshing, bright sunny morning proved ideal for the hike which is almost 7km, a distance that went by practically unnoticed as we gazed out to sea where birds whirled around fishing boats, or stopped to simply admire the blueness of the sky, the whiteness of the sand and the greenness of the lawns. A light breeze perfected the walk by moderating the heat of the sun and we all, I am sure, felt that it was an excellent place to be on a Friday morning.
The beaches were pristine, no jetsam visible even among the stranded piles of storm-driven kelp where Sacred Ibis pecked incessantly at the bugs that swarmed over the fresh mounds. A few tents had been pitched, signalling the start of the Easter school holidays, and the numbers swelled over the few hours we spent in the Conservancy – what a marvellous place to camp for a week, only 15 minutes from the nearest shopping mall yet protected from all signs of suburbia by the looming cliffs of Slangkop behind and the unhindered view across the sea to the horizon in front. Truly a wilderness on our doorstep. Cape Town is special in this way – wild nature a stone’s throw away from the city bustle.
At the SEEC, a very knowledgeable and entertaining young man brought out the snakes – this time it was the venomous variety rather than the tamer but sometimes grumpy pythons and smaller species. We sat very alertly while Cape Cobras and a large puffadder (not at the same time) were handled expertly before us, as he explained their behaviour in various situations, such as being threatened or being defensive. Having had many encounters with these snakes as a child in Clovelly, it was still fascinating to learn more about these reptiles that we have always treated with the utmost respect, if little understanding. We were amazed as the cobras lay coiled on the floor, not attempting to strike or even move, and to see that they far preferred to escape from humans than approach them. Wise indeed.
I recommend an outing to the SEEC for anyone who is keen to understand more about the early inhabitants, their middens (which will be visited under the guidance of Lappies) and the flora and fauna of the area. A donation, although never requested, will be most gratefully received.