Before the lockdown announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa took effect, Garth Johnstone visited magnificent Cathedral Peak reserve. If you haven’t been there to enjoy its natural splendour, it’s one to consider once the coronavirus crisis gripping SA and the world is over.
It was all a bit of a mess.
I had planned to go to Weenen Reserve, but when I arrived there (bright, early and enthusiastic), I was politely informed by the guard/staff member that due to a heavy rain storm and damage to the roads, my Toyota was not going to cut it. I needed a 4×4.
Major disappointment… were there no parts of the reserve my vehicle could manage? I asked. No, he was quite firm, it would be a bad idea. So, I had to put a smile on my dial, turn around and call it off.
Try another day
And then I got a puncture, which I battled to change because the wheel nut was properly machined on. Cue stress. Anyway, I thought, that was it, I would try again another day.
Weenen remains on the list… the last 20km approaching the reserve has a real bushveld feel about it, and I will definitely be back.
So I reset my sights on the other side of the N3, at Cathedral Peak reserve, about 35km out of Winterton.
Here I had more luck, well, sort of.
Quite understandably, management had restricted access for day visitors to Cathedral Peak Hotel due to the Covid-19 crisis, so I could enjoy the nature reserve, but not the hotel this time. I was told that normally you can pay a fee to access the hotel grounds and then start your hiking from there. Well, I will definitely give it a whirl next time, once the coronavirus crisis has ended.
I suppose I could have tried Didima, but, having been there before, was quite happy to park in the small parking lot outside the hotel grounds and start my hike there (it’s all within the nature reserve). The staff were very helpful in explaining the situation and what I could or could not do.
I bantered with a family that was visiting from Durban and we all chuckled at the appearance of the rather vertical start which awaited us.
So my route took me in the direction of Rainbow Gorge before hanging a right towards Umhlonhlo Valley and Mushroom Rock. Let me just say that the views looking up over the hotel towards Cathedral Peak itself are world class. Only the very tops of the peaks were covered on that day, and I thought it was a grand view. As the trail wound up and down, left and right, it kept changing slightly, but it remained impressive, iconic even, drawing your eyes like a magnet.
The Proteas were abundant, baboon scat was around (sadly the antelope etc were rather shy) and I thoroughly enjoyed my walk along what I think was “Ashlea’s Amble”. At some stage I reached a small river, where I was able to remove the boots, restock the water bottle and sit back and relax. Of course, I took the chance to shoot some more photographs of the river and a small stand of trees that included beautiful yellowwoods.
Then it was more walking, just a relaxed, gentle stroll, making sure to lap up the magnificent surroundings.
The trail is clean and well defined, although I might take the initiative to put up a few more markers on the route, as I took a few wrong turns on my way back to the car park. No worries for me, as I was in no great rush and it was difficult to get properly lost.
Leaving Cathedral, I reflected on the 30km as you leave the park that wind in and out of villages, past schools, tuck shops and trading stores, kids bathing in the river. Absolutely beautiful South Africa, both in and out the reserve. When the madness of Covid has left us, it’s something every South African needs to see.