Thursday December 29th we rise and hike earlier to beat the rains. It’s a misty morning traverse up the ridge along Bushman’s river past Rock 75 to The Main Caves, where a fence protects some cave paintings that are allegedly 5,000 years old. Our trail follows a tributary into a narrow, forested canyon where green life overgrows massive, moss-encrusted limestone boulders, long fallen from the mesas above. The rocks look climbable but are quite slippery in the soaked moss, so we manage the risks and avoid the cliffs. Naftaly, a trained Outward Bound guide, explains some of the geological features and forces that led to the Giant’s dramatic limestone shoulders and their dandruff boulders below.
At 11AM a guide opens the gate and we climb up a well-built series of wooden stairs to a viewing platform that clings to the cliff edge of the Main Cave. Tall and wide but not deep, it’s more of an overhang than a cavern. But history – not geology – is the attraction here.
150 years ago bullet shells and pock marks testify that British troop 75 sheltered here. Most cave paintings remain unscathed. At the base of the cave is a concocted cross section of excavated soil that demonstrates how older artifacts like sharp stones and grinding rocks were covered in later layers of more modern tools and trinkets – non-native shells and obsidian that reflect expanded trade, some bullet casings from Troop 75, and ultimately chards from a coke bottle. Above the soil display is a diorama of petite bushmen in everyday poses – building a fire, sharpening an arrow, mending a fishing line, caring for a baby. Most interesting are the drawings of hunters, elans and other animals on the cave walls. The multi-colored artwork is perhaps too crisp to be 5,000 years old, but no matter, we take in the tales of shamans and hunters.
Then we hike down to and along the river to a swimming hole, where Naftaly, Nathan and I brave the cool weather and slip along the rocks… it’s refreshing and clean fun. I have handy Balinese sarong handy – a cherished souvenir from travels half a lifetime ago – so I’m dried and we’re off through the bush back to our Chalets. We catch a huge grasshopper on the way. Its black with yellow and red markings; fat, clumsy and easy to catch and examine. After a muddy clamber up the jungled hillside we make our way back to the Chalets for a lazy afternoon and eve.
Friday is checkout day but the weather is finally clear and mild, so pack up early and slip out for a quick hike down to and around the river. I miss my 3-weight flyrod as we pass fly fishermen and the perfect pocket water on Bushman river. Choosing a spot downstream of the fishermen, I can’t coax Max and Ben into the water but Nathan and Naftaly are again game, so in we go. The water is swifter in this channel and the drifting is fun, but we have to keep feet high to avoid stubbing does on stones below. We catch and release more of the big grasshoppers on the way back, the load up for the drive back to Hillcrest.
We have some time so take backroads known as the Midlands Meander – bucolic rolling farmland that over time has evolved into an arts and crafts destination popular with weekend Durban and Jo-Berg refugees. At one stop we lunch at “Waffle House” which – unlike its mundane American namesake – is a cute custom indoor-outdoor dining experience with a yard full of trampolines, swings, monkey bars, slack lines and such for kiddies. Adjacent shops include African arts and crafts, clothing, a deli and a Belgian chocolate shop, a toy store, a cooking store… with all the Mercedes and Audis in the parking lot this could be Sonoma on a summer weekend… but the crowd here is much more diverse. Further down the road we stop at a more modern collection of shops… high end handicrafts like furniture, blacksmith work, fine wines, another Belgian chocolate house, wood hewn playground and zipline, a train and pony rides. It’s all so quaint and welcoming!