After months of planning, arranging, land access negotiations and trail blazing, the first Plett Camino got underway at the end of April 2023.
Eight hikers met at T’Niqua Stable Inn for drinks and an ostentatious fire cooked dinner before heading to bed to get ready for the next day. Early morning brought the frantic preparations of what to take and what to leave behind, what to carry in your daypack, and what to send with the porters. It’s always like that. You think you’re prepared and invariably you’re over prepared. Nothing like a deadline to get you focussed on what is really important.
The first day kicked off at the Harkerville hut and plunged us straight into the dense Knysna forest. Not the usual jeep tracks that the bikers are used to, but lush, moist, leaf covered bush trails, adorned with mushrooms, ferns, rich in bird life and the fresh scat of unseen animals. The smells and sounds of the forest soon mingle with slightly laboured breathing as the trails start pointing up hill.
Fourteen kilometres later we emerged at the oasis of Greenfern Lodge for our first night’s stop and were welcomed by ice cold G&Ts around a fresh swimming pool to dangle weary feet into. There were no takers for a swim that day, but this was not to be the case after the very warm day three.
The next day the hikers were baying at the gates to get going, like a pack of wild horses eagerly waiting to be let loose on the track. The trails didn’t disappoint and took us along a virgin section of mountain track which hadn’t seen a vehicle or hiker in years. The smells of a dewy morning intermingled with the slanted rays of the sun streaming through the forest canopy. It felt good to be alive and to be part of this adventure, so far from the office and worldly worries.
At lunch time we happily descended onto the beautiful Packwood Wine Estate where we tasted their whole range of delicious wines and bubbly served with a mouth-watering lunch of homemade cheeses and charcuterie.
And then onward for another hour or so until we emerged at a secret deck overlooking the upper reaches of the Bitou River course. It is said that life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments which take your breath away. This was surely one. Amanda from Protea Wilds treated us to a night of wonderful food and lots of mirth as the stories flowed well into the night.
Day three took us on a long fifteen kilometre trail crossing the Bitou valley and up the other side through unspoiled fynbos and the pastures of the Uplands. After collapsing into a cool flowing river, we were surprised with an unexpected picnic stop halfway up the valley. Far in the distance we could see where the Camino would end some two and a half days later. At Bellamanga a welcome pool awaited and weary hikers fell in fully clothed but content.
The Queens stage on Day four had hikers out the gates at 7:15 to meet the game vehicle which traversed us across the Plett Game Reserve in the care of our knowledgeable chaperone, Kiewiet. Plains teaming with animals took one’s mind far away to another place elsewhere in Africa, where such sights feel more common place.
Alighting from the game vehicle we set off downhill towards the Keurbooms River. The declining temperature on the way down reminded one that you were losing altitude fast, and what goes down, must surely come up! Once across the river we headed in search of the bottom of our new trail, fondly named “Postman James” in deference to its original purpose a long time ago, and the Plett Camino trail warrior who found it and cleared it for us.
A stiff and lengthy climb out the valley was just what was needed to get the heart racing. After a well-deserved rest at the top, we set about a fast-paced hike through the forests in search of our next stop at Kay and Monty Vineyards some ten kilometres down the track.
Night five brought with it the joy of Davina and Derek at their 20 Good Summers working farm retreat. Wine and pizzas flowed all night to celebrate that most of the Camino was now behind us.
Day five took us back into the forest and along the river course in the direction of the Keurbooms. An unexpected climb that rivalled Postman James was there to greet us as we ascended from the riverbed in the direction of Fairview House, where the promised cappuccinos were quickly substituted for the legendary Fairview Hot Chocolate next to the fire.
During the final stretch, the Robberg Peninsula slowly reveals itself as you descend towards the Keurbooms River. The strange thing is that when you left five days earlier, you were looking at it from the other side, and without realizing it, you have come full circle and see it now from the East.
We concluded the Camino with a welcome lunch at Down to Earth restaurant on the Bitou River.
As I sat there gazing over the Bitou River, with a burning log fire at my back, the irony did not escape me that our seventy five kilometre epic had taken us all the way from the Garden of Eden five days earlier right back Down to Earth !
At the end, it was difficult to remember all the steps that it took to get there, but as the days and weeks passed, and the photos and stories were shared, so many wonderful memories came flooding back.
The Camino is an experience you wouldn’t expect from Plett as so few venture north towards the forests and the mountains. The diversity of trails, views, friendships and experiences along the way, leave you wondering how Plett could be so close, yet feel so far away for five full days.
Featured in: SA Commuter publication