One gets used to a place and fails to appreciate the beauty that defines it. I was teetering between familiarity and fatigue when I travelled to Hartbeespoort for a New Year’s glamping experience.
I have been to Harties several times. I live a little over thirty minutes from this place whose name means gateway of the ‘hartbees’ – a species of antelope.
My fatigue was a telling sensation of a year that was. However, it was to be a busy three days of exploring this sought-after holiday destination.
Hosting 60 glamping enthusiasts was both intimidating and exciting. But, I was decidedly in search of the unfamiliar from a familiar territory, the history that shaped Harties.
We left the north of Johannesburg just before the sun came up.
“The sky will clear and we the sun will shine,” I said to Eddy, my Glamping Adventures travel companion.
“I hope so too,” he replied.
As we moved forward and entered Broederstroom, a steady drizzle welcomed us. The Lion and Safari Park to our right and the Lesedi Cultural Center our left. A thick mist covered the entrance.
On any day I celebrate rain, but not on a day when I am glamping with a large group.
We set up camp in the rain at Eagle Waters Wildlife Resort next to the dam.
As the sun rose, the rain faded. By midday, it was humid and hot. The sun was unrelenting.
I knew the following day would be a sweltering one.
Hiking through the Phaladingwe Trail with a group of adventure seekers of varying capabilities would be challenging under such conditions. I was right.
The last day of 2019 started with an open sky that did not show any sign of change. We started off just after sunrise with a mix of children, adults, and the elderly.
“This is a 7km trail,” I addressed the group as we gathered at the starting point.
“Don’t focus on the pain, set your eyes on the beauty of the landscapes, flora, and fauna!”
Phaladingwe Hiking Trail is circular. ‘Phaladingwe‘ means prettier than others. This is a beautiful trail through the grassland. The terrain is full of colour, texture and character because of the rain season.
We shuffled into a heaving line following the narrow trail. It emerged almost like a broken human chain. Animated discussions shot through the air. Like any huge group hikes; this slowly formed into small teams according to familiarity and capabilities. These alliances would shift throughout the trail as energy wanes and frustrations gnaw in. Friendships are forged in the trail while some are momentarily broken. From the grassland, we weaved through a rocky stretch with a beautiful tree canopy. Any shade is welcome under such an unforgiving sun.
I alternate their positions; from the front to the back ensuring everyone was fine and capturing moments with my camera. It’s a largely joyous group.
The pacesetters are a pack of five. They disappear into the forest and re-emerge at the top.
Approximately two kilometres into this trail comes the main attraction – the Crocodile River.
The route is along the banks of the river. On the right, the river flows quietly below the colossal quartzite rock gorge. A gallery and restaurant are perched at the edge of the gorge across the river. To the left are slates of disintegrated stones. It is said that some of these stones were used to build the Preller House.
The route snakes through a corridor of reeds.
“This is a reed dance,” shouted one of the hikers.
“Yes, you are right,” I answered as we navigated our way into this natural, living basket.
“Keep holding the reeds for me to walk through unhindered,” I joked with Gugu. It was a joke that drew laughter from other hikers. She laughed too.
It was a great stretch that saw us bending, at times to near crawling level to wade through the reed thicket.
When we emerged from the reed passage, a colourful moor opens up. This would be the beginning of the strenuous part of this trail. Three more hills would test our endurance with steep terrain and rolling downhill slopes.
“Did we have to do this though,” asked one glamper sarcastically.
“Adventure seekers are like marathon runners,” I answered. “We all choose pain; fulfilling pain. We don’t have to but there is a great deal of immeasurable satisfaction after the adventure.”
It’s a question I often get when we go hiking: “Did we have to?” However, I have learned over years that tough trails are the most memorable. There lies the beauty of adventure. It’s sort of a masochistic pursuit.
The last stretch of this hiking trail induces mixed feelings. We were sad to walk away from the amazing Crocodile River, with its quiet waters and majestic gorge, but we were also thrilled to be on the road to the end.
Far ahead, the Magaliesberg mountain range looms over the Hartbeespoort Dam.
This dam has become the poster attraction of this area. It covers just over 2,000 hectares surface area and it was commissioned in 1923. It’s a recreational magnet with boating as a main feature. We had a boat cruise later that day too.
A lot is known about this dam but little about what surrounds it. I am satisfied as I leave the trail, that I have gained something more about a place I thought I knew.