As part of a three day tour from the Garden Route up to West Coast of South Africa to the Orange in Namibia, we camped in the Namaqua National Park for the second night. Though it was the end of September, we were hopeful that we would still be able to see some of the flowers around Skilpad.
We had exited the N7 at Kammieskroon and negotiated the gravel road to the Skilpad entrance to the reserve. Moments before the sun dipped beneath the horizon, we spotted a pair of Verreaux’s Eagles perched on a rocky outcrop, regally surveying their empire.
The only inhabitants of the campsite, we were soon joined by a pair of Jack Russells which sedately watched us braai dinner before tucking themselves under a bush and going to sleep.
Beneath the glimmering Milky Way, we reviewed the reserve map by torch light to plan a moderate 25km circuit to cycle after breakfast before continuing northwards to the Orange River.
The pleasure of camping is that you quickly revert to your natural circadian rhythms with sunrise and sunset governing your sleep patterns.
At dawn we emerged from our tent, breakfasted and prepared set off for an intersection where the plan was to park our car and continue by bike on a triangular route, finishing along a 9km 4×4 track. Our plans were temporarily delayed when, during a quick scan with binoculars, Amanda discovered a Booted Eagle nest. We set up the scope and watched the male industrially ferry food to the female while simultaneously attempting to fend off a pair of White-Necked Ravens which alternated between mobbing the male and ferrying nest material to their own nest. This epitomized the value of a lone stand in a flat landscape to competing species.
Packed up, we set out on the gravel road till we reached a sign on the ridge of the mountain which proclaimed that only 4×4 vehicles could proceed further on the road. We parked, mounted our bikes and set off down an incredible slope for the next 7km.
The geology, botany and bird life was breathtaking. Rocky outcrops punctuated the layered landscape, a tapestry of earth tones shimmering beneath a blistering sun. Acacia’s traced dry riverbeds and Quiver Trees dotted the hills.
The first stage of the ride, according to the map, was supposed to be 9km. When we reached the 9km mark, all we saw was a collection of crumbling mud houses and rapidly the realization set in that we had mistaken the location of our departure point.
As we decided to turn around and return the way we had come, a Landrover pulled up. The couple, on their way to Hondeklipbaai, confirmed that we were actually at the intersection that we had planned to start from. A monster map reading error on our side influenced by the 4×4 sign on the ridge.
The temperature was climbing and ahead of us we now had the prospect of ascending the long winding hill we had just enjoyed zipping down. Running out of water in a semi arid region on a hot day is not advisable and with our bottles half empty we would more than likely arrive at our vehicle very thirsty.
Fortunately the hill was easier than anticipated and we arrived safely at the car. Spreading the awning out, we dived into the relative coolness of the shade and made our ritual cup of coffee to celebrate.
Changed and relaxed, we set off for Vioolsdrift and were treated to a muted display of flowers around Skilpad.
In all, another memorable nature outing along our journey of life.