Yes, you read right – hiking as in walking. Something we love to do but don’t get around to very often. It seems every time we get invited to do something with Gerhard and Lulu there is hiking involved. I don’t know who loves it more Salome or myself. The only thing I struggle with is the serious over preppers that Salome and I have become.
We got two huge 75l hiking backpacks for us, although tiny Salome would be much better off with a 50 litre. Packed way too much food, way too many clothes and if you know Salome way too much water. We were gearing up for another Fishriver but this was not the case.
We drove down to Manguzi to photograph a wonderful wedding the weekend and stayed at Thobeka lodge and Backpackers. The sandy gardens with huge trees delivered some great birds while we waited for Lulu’s Brothers to get ready. Louw (Lulu’s middle brother who hiked the fishriver canyon with us joined us again) as well as her younger brother Garries and their friend Boets.
Louw has come a long way from the teenager wearing tights and hiking boots to the completely underprepared young adult. This seems to be the other evolutionary path of a hiker opposed to the path Salome and I started following. Louw rocked up with the shirt on his back, one pair of shorts and his already damaged flip flops. This was going to be interesting.
Our guides picked us at Thobeka lodge in an open-air game viewer. Quite a site to see this group of city slickers on a game viewer going through a rural town. Only to be dropped off behind a flooded dune.
We set off through the jungle after our two guides, our adventure started. The main guide, Patrick, is a local who still lives in the reserve. Edwin is the lodge owner’s son and our bridge from the Lodge to the rural North Coast. Both guides are knowledgeable and well known by the community – not once did we feel unsafe.
First step out of the forest we see Raphia palm, and guess what, right under it, our first Palm nut vulture for the trip. I had decided to lug with the Nikon d610 with the 200-500 lens mounted to my hiking backpack. My shoulders sure felt it over the next few days, it added another 7kg to my already heavy backpack, but it was worth it.
Bird ticked we headed straight into the Raphia palm forest, but not before I stepped into a deep muddy puddle. That meant a wet shoe and me moaning about it for the rest of the week. Sorry everyone.
Back to the Raphia Palm forest, this could easily have been the location where Jurassic park was shot. What an incredible place – beautiful palms and ferns and trees form a dense cloud of shrubbery with vines hanging between trees.
Thank goodness for our guides, they backtracked on a path while we were looking for Velociraptors and safely lead us out of the amazing forest. I think very few people understand that the word maze is trapped inside the word amazing. This was an appropriate time to use it. Amazing!
Our next obstacle was a Raphia palm boat/float/raft. This turned out to be the other time my foot got wet again. We went across, 3 at a time, with the guides pulling it over with a rope. I think our guides underestimated just how much we packed in those bags as the moment I got on we started taking on water. I got ordered to keep my balance and not move around in the raft to keep us stable. This left me frozen like a salt pillar while Salome took a nervous little video of us crossing.
Safely across we waited for the next group of three, when a flash of white crossed in front of me. My first tambourine dove I screamed at Gerhard on the other side of the river. He just shook his head and pretended he did not see it and pointed out another Palm nut vulture coming over.
We were now hiking along the narrow strip of land between the four lakes and the ocean towards Banga neck where we would camp the night in a community campsite. This was an incredible campsite with beautiful lawns and donkey showers and toilets. It was quite amusing, the bathroom I visited had a chart with all the venomous snakes you find in the area. Not what I really wanted to read while sitting on the thrown in a reed structure. Gerhard later informed me that the other loo had a chart with birds of the area so that became my new favorite loo.
That night would prove to be an experience of a lifetime. We got introduced to another guide, he would lead us to ocean for our turtle tour. As darkness set, the waves became blurry white lines coming in, no torches are allowed. Our guide called us quickly away to one side as a large female loggerhead turtle started making her way out of the water onto the beach. We were busy listening to the induction when he saw her. White lights are prohibited on the beach as well as flash photography. So no good pictures sorry everyone.
Once she had finished digging a hole for her eggs she went into a trance state whilst laying, only then were we called to get a closer look and have the opportunity to shed some red light on the scene and observe this special part of the circle of life for this turtle. In awe of our night out and what we experienced we returned to camp to be surprised by Castle Milk stout Quarts from the guide’s local connection. That send everyone into a deep sleep for the night.
We woke up in the middle of the night to an extreme down pour, a fear of every hiker. The hammock sleeping guys fled to find a roof, luckily we had covered everything earlier the evening so we just turned to our sides and dosed off again.
With second light, not first (this is a rule with Gerhard and Lulu) we packed up, grabbed breakfast and everyone had to tear me away from the awesome birds in the campsite. We set off on another epic forest path to our guide Patrick’s house in the reserve. On our first break someone picked up that they left something at camp and a few ran back while we waited in the shade.
Waiting turned into an adventure of its own. First Patrick got stung by something as he passed us, then Salome got stung multiple times and through me with her bag in a panicked state. We could not figure out what little monsters were causing so much pain. Our first thought was carpenter ants but the painful sting didn’t fit. It turned out, we were sitting underneath a huge nest of tiny red wasps blocking the path. This turned into our next challenge, running the gauntlet, on a narrow path through the forest with 35kg on your back and jumping over a marsh at the end, all while being chased by a cloud of little wasps defending their territory. Literally. Luckily everyone made it through the gauntlet without more stings.
For the rest of the day we tracked through the forest to reach Patricks house. I have come to suspect that he may be royalty. His house is in the protected reserve, perched on top of a dune with the ocean to the one side obscured by lush bush and the most beautiful view over the Lakes 3 and 4 of Kosibay to the other.
We dropped our packs and made haste to the lakes, everyone with their own agenda: me birds, Boets fly-fishing, the girls swimming, and Patrick to show us how palm wine is made and show us the mechanics of the fish traps. We ticked all the boxes, heck I even have a photo of Salome swimming with flamingos in the background.
That night Patrick’s family treated us with a traditionally cooked meal and his family entertained us with dancing. Patrick even gave a show of his own, real African music. He has recorded two albums in Joburg to our surprise. A wonderful display on the guitar and singing from him. The palm wine and chocolates came out around the camp fire and we all felt like we were part of a great African adventure.
Bright and early the next morning we packed up and headed on the beach leg of the hike to Kosibay mouth for some snorkelling and fun. This was a tough hike with no shade. Luckily we had the ocean to cool down and the overcast day was merciful for a while. Till tragedy hit. Gerhard lost his prized hiking shoe and decided to run back to find it. Most carried on but Salome and I stayed with Lulu to watch Gerhards back pack while he went for jog. His jog turned into a marathon and he ended up running 14km all the way back to camp to find his shoe. This left us a somewhat sunburnt and dehydrated but we’re glad he found it.
Snorkelling at Kosi Mouth was the best snorkelling experience I have ever had even with the tide retreating and the estuary getting murky. The ‘’Aquarium’’ in the estuary lived up to its name. Beautiful coloured fish with neon shining eels and all. The eels had me backpaddling and trying to scream trough my snorkel. Salome was happily floating with the current over a scorpion fish/lionfish and Gerhard almost found the sturgeon fish for us.
Our game viewer picked us up and returned us to camp but not before stopping at a viewpoint so we could see the size of the lakes, all the fish traps and the area that we hiked through and around.
We sincerely hope that they can guide more wonderful hikes and experiences like the ones they shared with us. Thank you again everyone for all the organizing and participating in the adventure.