The hike on Friday took us along the coastal stretch from The Kom in Kommetjie to the Soetwater Campsite and combined shorebird conservancy, past the Slangkop lighthouse. As I am lucky enough to live on this shoreline, I joined the group by simply strolling across the public lawns rather than rising early to join the traffic for our usual mountain hikes. Living nearby means that I always miscalculate the time and am generally late for the start, but today I made a special effort as I knew there would be much pre-walk banter regarding the prospect of rain. I am inclined to believe the Norwegian forecast down to the last minute, and although their 9am spit did not materialise, the horizon still looked threatening, and I had a few anxious moments as to whether I would retain my reputation as a weatherman.
More than 20 of us headed along the bay, bound for the Environmental Centre in Soetwater. We have been addressed by Lappies Labuschagne (the gentleman in charge of the programmes run for underprivileged children from local areas, who stay over in chalets for a few days while he teaches them about caring for the environment, how to react to snakes and other creatures, and how to enjoy the beauty of the natural world), and never fail to enjoy his enthusiasm and vastly entertaining talks on The Whale, the snakes and the birds which are kept there only because a return to the wild will mean a death sentence for them.
The shore is a breeding ground for African Black Oystercatchers, White-fronted Plovers and Blacksmith Lapwings – the latter shrieked and divebombed us as we made our way carefully along the track, eventually settling down once we had safely passed the chicks which must have been nearby. Apart from the odd fishermen, this is still a relatively wild coastline and breeding is very successful for these birds. By the time the weather improves for the odd campers, the chicks have been raised.
The first white daisies of spring are already carpeting the ground, but they remained steadfastly closed in the cold and gloomy weather – rain still in the offing but only at 12, said the Norwegians. We could only imagine swathes of pure white, while the abundance of pretty yellow flowers more than made up for the absence of open petals.
After a bracing walk and a brief coffee break at one of the campsites, we were happy to shelter from the cold wind and be entertained by Lappies, along with refreshments (can never have enough of those on a cold day), and soon we were stroking silky smooth snakes and learning how lucky we are to only have 3 properly venomous snakes in Cape Town – Durban sounds like a no-no for me. The very thought of a mamba curling up in the warmth of a kitchen sends shivers down the spine.
We were privileged to get a close-up view of an Antarctic Prion, usually seen far out to sea as it travels the oceans, and only coming to land if ill or injured. The gateman brought it to the centre the night before, a most praiseworthy deed as he could see it needed help, and a couple in our hiking group who live near the seabird rescue and rehabilitation base were able to take it there, where it is making good progress and will hopefully be returned to the wild.
We enjoyed ourselves so much that we rather overshot our hiking time limit, and as we left the centre to take the road back home, a light drizzle began to fall, freezing lips and noses but in no way dampening our high spirits after such a worthy outing!