Of rain, rock, sun and wind

Our weather fortunes turned after the crossing of the Tankwa. We had a wet muddy day getting to the Tankwa Padstal (one of the more well known roadside eating places). To get there we had shortcutted onto the gravel ‘highway’ R355 which deteriorated to soft muddy corrugations as the day went on. The alternative 2 day track would have been a mudbath.

We were lucky to arrive by 3:30 as the shop was closing because our accommodation options were very limited and muddy. The kind owner organised us to use the community hall next door and we waited out a day of forecast wet and windy weather. We frequented the padstal for meals and met Greg (a SA biker travelling around by jeep) who kindly offered to take a bag of food over the next pass to where we were going to stay. New favourite camp meal – baked beans and pasta!

The climb over Katbakkies pass was in clearing weather and delineated the flat dry Tankwa from the mountainous and wetter Cederburg range. We appreciated the hot bath and comfy bed at our next accommodation after 2 nights in the hall. More drizzly biking to the Cederberg Oasis where we were told that floods had closed roads going north – hmmm. How bad could it be?

Next morning we ventured on – the Matje river crossing was a challenge but saved a hilly alternative. We climbed up onto an scenic rocky plateau below peaks and above a deep canyon. There was more drizzle and vertically truncated views  unfortunately but at the small mission village of Esselbank we were warmly invited in to stay at Marne’s place. Our cheap accommodation included a warm fire, some basic food and prayers for a safe journey onwards.

Finally sunshine and stunning riding on the plateau before plummeting a steep concreted track down to Wuppertal. This is another small mission village with attractive white buildings with thatched roofs. It was established in 1830 by 2 German missionaries. Talking to a local we find out that 5 years ago pretty well all but the church had burned down in a fire and people lost everything. The Stuart Trust in Cape Town has set up temporary barracks type housing for all the people as their houses are being rebuilt. Floods a year later took out agricultural lands. Despite all that people in this ‘dry’ town were friendly and there was a nice feel to the place.

There was a steep ascent up a good road to the third mission village of the day, Heuningvlei. After the days of wet weather everyone had their washing out.

The next challenge was the Donkey Cart track. This is a 11km narrow track that traverses the rocky landscape connecting to the highway at De Pakuys pass, and, of old traversed by donkey and cart and more recently by fee paying tourists. However a year ago there were big floods which had damaged 75% of the surface making it a pushfest for us on bikes and a no go for the carts. It brought us out through Rocklands which is a world famous bouldering area. After not seeing any other adventure tourists the whole trip it was bizarre to come across fat mat carrying climbers.

We asked a group from Utah  if there were any campsites around and were told of a potential site near a rock called the Rhino. It was later afternoon when we set up camp and had our first visitors – climbers who were surprised to see us. We then found out we were camped under one of the world’s most famous boulder problem, the Rhino (apparently). Two more groups came by including the Americans who had told us where we could camp. They then proceeded to tell us that we should not be camping in Rocklands but by then it was dark and we were in bed. We said we would be gone first thing and we were responsible campers.

The next nocturnal visitors were 3 park rangers who were under strict instructions from their manager to see us vacate our camp and accompany us down to the highway (1km) and then on down to a park campground. One of the reasons given to us was that they couldn’t guarantee our safety camping! We counter argued about the safety of bouldering, with no luck. We figured the Americans had dobbed us in as the other climbers had been pretty relaxed about it. Coming from the direction we had there had been no information/gates with signs  or a permit office so we had no idea we were doing illegal activities.

Moving on, we had a good day leaving the Cederbergs and heading north into Rooibus growing country before getting slammed by strong headwinds. A very friendly organic Rooibus farmer, Jannie, kindly helped us out for 10km which ensured we made it to Nieuwoudsville that day. Between an increasingly corrugated road and the head winds it was not a given as our forward speed was very low!