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Pietersrivier Nature Reserve, De Vlugt, Western Cape

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You must please pay attention because there will be an exam tomorrow,” said Katot Meyer, who had just given my friend Raimund and I a list of conservation questions to think about.

Blessed with a disarming sense of humour, in the Herman Charles Bosman mould, Katot made a joke at every turn. We saw evidence of this in the many signs displayed discreetly around the various campsites he showed us before we selected the dam site below Rondekop. For instance, down at the Keurbooms River campsites he has altered an old ‘Pay and Display’ parking sign to read: “Afrikaners don’t pay for parking here, but Englishmen do”. But among all the ‘grappies’ are more serious conservation and recycling messages, as well as many labels identifying trees and other flora which are very useful for guests.

Katot, which I discovered later means ‘Billy can’ in Afrikaans, is probably an apt moniker for a tough-as-nails, compact man who camps out whenever he can and seems to spend more time in the bush on the farm than he does at his successful Oudtshoorn Guest House. In terms of conservation, Katot certainly walks his talk (usually barefoot), and this is borne out not only by the minimal human footprint and infrastructure he allows on the land, but the stewardship contract he has for this nature reserve from Cape Nature.

More proof that his stewardship is working well are the beautiful and sizeable Cape Mountain leopards that have been captured on camera padding along the grass banks of the dam where we were camping. And with our designated flush loo deep in the open bush about 50-metres from our campsite; we decided ablutions should best be a morning undertaking. Not that this strategy helped Raimund, mind you. The next morning he was held hostage on the path from the loo by a stubborn black snake that wouldn’t get out of his way. But this is the beauty of this reserve, it’s wild as can be, just as nature should be.

The renowned English botanist and explorer, William John Burchell passed through the middle of this reserve in 1814 on his return journey to Cape Town after four years travelling. But the tracks his wagon used were not discovered until November 1998 when a fire started at De Vlugt and swept westward, destroying many hectares of fynbos but exposing the track from the current Pietersrivier Nature Reserve, over Skuurbeknek towards De Vlugt.

And it’s on these very tracks that the Burchell’s 4×4 trail (Grade 2-4) runs today. Unfortunately for us, though, another devastating fire has forced the closure of the track for rehabilitation until sometime in 2020. Luckily, Raimund and I, keen 4x4ers as we are, knew this ahead of time and had booked a spot on another old wagon trail called the Old Voortrekker Pass on Louvain Farm, some 45km distant. After the recent rains on top of the earlier fire damage, the already challenging track (Grade 3) kept us on our toes and we accorded great respect to the pioneering trekkers who lost many wagons and oxen over the precipitous cliffs en route.

When we got back to our campsite later that afternoon we decided on a bit of a leg stretch up a nearby hill. The ‘hill’, however, turned into a mountain and Katot’s 1A ‘easy’ grading for this route was soon rejected by my lungs and legs as a gross understatement for the effort required. But having seen him stride effortlessly, barefoot, over thorny hill and rocky dale with the nimbleness of a mountain goat, it probably is ‘easy’ for him. Realising this, we steered well clear of the ‘very taxing’ D-graded routes marked on Katot’s hiking map.

Later Raimund and I contemplated a paddle in the resident canoe on the dam, ostensibly to get a closer look at the many waterfowl on its waters. But my lightly swaying hammock and his comfortable camping chair quickly put paid to that idea as we found we were able to survey our surrounds with binoculars without fussing about with paddles.

That night Raimund built a bonfire fire that would have made an aborigine’s heart stir. After dinner, and a few glasses of wine, we watched the trail of sparks blending with the canopy of stars, their far-travelled light also transmitted by fires that are hopefully still burning bright.

With a foggy head the next morning, I was grateful there were no snakes or other indigenous terrorists barring my way to the rocket shower in its bush enclosure. This ingenious device combusts paraffin poured over reusable fire starter blocks and is more userfriendly than the traditional woodburning donkey boiler. But like their electrically-powered instant hot water geyser cousins in the UK, the stronger the water flow, the cooler your shower becomes. So, if you like your showers very hot don’t expect to be blown away.

It was a wrench to leave our two-day home later that day. Nestled between the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma Mountains this pristine nature reserve is guaranteed to make an impression on you, and its enigmatic owner’s unique conservation lessons and comical antics will keep you both nodding in acquiescence and smiling long after you leave.

ACTIVITIES IN THE AREA:

• Hiking trails along historical sledge and wagon tracks
• Bird-watching and small game spotting
• 4×4 tracks (Williamsburg is the closest current alternative)
• Take a drive to the historic village of De Vlugt for coffee, a snack and some collectable shopping
• Go on a circular day drive to Uniondale and head back to camp via the Prince Alfred Pass

Bins: No, bring your own bags and take rubbish out with you
Gas Refills: No
Caravan/Tent Hire: No
Wheelchair Access: No
Security: None seen, but one feels very safe here

Please contact Katot Meyer on 082 083 9967 (SMS works best as reception is poor)

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