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Monday, April 27, 2020

Champion Tree Status awarded to Rubber Tree in Company's Garden Cape Town

Why did it take so long for this remarkable tree to receive its Champion Tree status?  (Rubber Tree/ Ficus elastica Moraceae)

The Company's Garden is THE OLDEST garden in South Africa.  Some of the trees planted here originate back to the early colonialists who explored the Cape.  As far back as the early 1600's when this garden was used to feed the travelers circumnavigating the tip of Africa, and eventually became what we know today.

The New Champion Trees Project

It is befitting that the Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries declared as protected under Sec 12 of the National Forest Act of 1998 individual and group trees with a Champion Tree Status, giving them the ultimate protection that they deserve.

This notification of the updated list of Champion Trees in South Africa was issued on 18 October 2019.


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(Company's Garden Rubber Tree receives Champion status in 2019 - Ficus elastica, moraceae)
The Western Cape was lucky to have six new Champion Trees added to its long list already.

Living in Cape Town makes it a lot easier to access our local list and without hesitation, we have started to record and visit these remarkable trees.


The Company's Gardens: 

This precious section of green and shade in the middle of a busy postcolonial city is the remaining half of a garden planted in the 1650s by the Dutch East India Company ( Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie VOC ) The garden was planted on slopes of  Table mountain and led to the dispossession of the local inhabitants who used this area. It led to the establishment of our Historic City and the introduction of agriculture into this region and the beginnings of scientific investigation into the Cape Floral Kingdom.

Company's Garden self-guided walk Brochure can be found in this link below: 


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( Entrance to the Company's garden off Victoria Street )

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(Table Mountain watching over and  providing protection from the southeasterly winds )
Take a walk towards the Northern Entrance of the garden, and you will find this tree to be a focal point in the area.


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( We needed to scout around to find this Champion )

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(Company's Garden Rubber Tree receives Champion status in 2019 - Ficus elastica, Moraceae)

This Champion Rubber Tree stands a towering 27m above the ground and has circumference 38.4m.  The age is unknown, but a guestimate would be in the early 1800's.

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(Company's Garden Rubber Tree receives Champion status in 2019 - Ficus elastica, Moraceae)

Champion Tree, Champion Trees of South Africa, Rubber Tree, Ficus elastica Moraceae, Alex and Juanita Aitkenhead, African Photography, Cape Town, Companys Garden, Video of Champion Tree
(Company's Garden Rubber Tree receives Champion status in 2019 - Ficus elastica, Moraceae)

Champion Tree, Champion Trees of South Africa, Rubber Tree, Ficus elastica Moraceae, Alex and Juanita Aitkenhead, African Photography, Cape Town, Companys Garden, Video of Champion Tree
(Company's Garden Rubber Tree receives Champion status in 2019 - Ficus elastica, Moraceae)

Champion Tree, Champion Trees of South Africa, Rubber Tree, Ficus elastica Moraceae, Alex and Juanita Aitkenhead, African Photography, Cape Town, Companys Garden, Video of Champion Tree
(Company's Garden Rubber Tree receives Champion status in 2019 - Ficus elastica, Moraceae)

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(Company's Garden Rubber Tree receives Champion status in 2019 - Ficus elastica, Moraceae)

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( The picturesque Government Avenue lined with Oak trees )

Map of the Company's Garden and Self Guided Walk.

Look for the Rubber Tree marked as "U" in the image below.

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( Company's Garden brochure and self-guided walk: the map on page 20, this Champion Rubber Tree is marked as "U" on this map

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Weekend away in the Cederberg Wilderness - Kromrivier Tourist Park

 Cederberg: April 2017


Being under COVID-19 lockdown, and having had to cancel our current Easter Weekend hiking trip to this very same destination, we have been inspired to document our April 2017 long-weekend getaway.

Situated 200km north of Cape Town, the Cederberg comprises some 72 000 hectares of majestic mountainous terrain. The Cederberg gained World Heritage status in 2004 and has become very popular with hikers, nature lovers, and anyone who loves the great outdoors.


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( Heading back down the mountain after a wonderful experience at the Maltese Cross )


What draws us back to these beautiful barren rocky mountains so often?


With some of the finest scenery in the Cape, hiking trails take you through pristine mountain fynbos, past gnarled Clanwilliam cedar trees (Widdringtonia Cedarbergensis), wonderful rock formations and through clear mountain streams. It is for this reason that we decided to revisit this world-famous mountain range to enjoy its spectacular landscapes and its sense of solitude.


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( Sneeuberg peak - it's viewed like this that and the vast open spaces that draw visitors from all over the world to explore this rugged landscape )


Good Planning Makes for a Great Getaway


There is nothing nicer than gathering a group of like-minded friends to meet up for some rugged Cederberg adventures.


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( Our pre-briefing get together prior to our weekend away )


On our agenda, we had allocated Wolfberg Cracks, Maltese Cross, Stadsaal caves, Truitjiesktaal, and Lots' Wife as some of the more populate outings to explore.


Where would the most suitable location be for us to stay?


Planning our long weekend getaway required a central accommodation point and Kromrivier has always been one of our favourite venues. Surrounded by mountain peaks, far away from the crowds, and with magical views of the Sneeuberg mountain, this was an automatic choice. Everyone agreed on the proposed planning and we were ready to take on some of the spectacular hikes that this area has become world-famous for.  The main aim was to take everyone to the Wolfberg Cracks ( known as one of the top ten hikes in South Africa).


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(Self-catering cottages with that "Old quaint charm" taking you back in time .... )


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( The Kromrivier Tourist Park carved out of these rugged mountains - an oasis in this harsh environment )


There are Two Main Routes from Cape Town


One can drive via the snowcapped Ceres mountain area, or via the N7 towards Clanwilliam.  We chose the latter, as it is the more familiar route for us.


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( Crossing over the Olifants River from the Citrusdal side )


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( Cape Natures pristine campsite at Algeria  -  another great alternative for accommodation )


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(The Nieuwoudts pass heading towards Kromrivier via Algeria)


Origin of the San and Khoi people.


Home to the original San and Khoi people, their presence is immortalised in the rock art.  San Rock Art can be explored throughout the area, some dating back 6000 years. We thoroughly enjoy visiting these ancient sites and love recording these works of art, transporting one back in time, this adventure would be no different.

Click on the link for 


(The Kromrivier - the silence is deafening )

The Cederberg wilderness is vast - its solitude and splendor offer visitors a wide range of activities ranging from rock climbing to hiking, pristine nature, and with so many old woodcutters paths providing some stunning routes to explore this awe-inspiring area. 

Crisp Clean Air Welcomes us to our destination.


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(0ne of the original self-catering cottages on the farm - our home for the week end )

Arriving late and in the dark, we were welcomed by our host Olga Niewoudt, all be it in her nightgown. Keys in hand we went looking for our self-catering chalet. Quaint and timeless we didn't take long to settle in and unpack our gear for the trip. 

Some of the team arrived the following morning and we would all get together for a final briefing on the activities we had allocated.


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( Special moments with great company, huddled around the fire on a chilly April 2017 evening :
Friends: Hennie Genis, Brian Spratley, Beverly Delit, Justin Groombridge, The Armstrong family, Elsa Viljoen, and the Aitkenheads )

Arrangements out the way and a full itinerary mapped out, it was time for a wonderful South African braai under the star-studded nite sky. Chilly wind on a late April evening, high in the Cederberg mountains it felt like we were the only people around with the fire keeping us warm and cozy.

Having regrouped with our fellow campers and hiking friends we no sooner logged the activities for the duration of our trip. Unfortunately, the main hike which we had planned for had been closed due to a raging fire some months prior. Both the Wolfberg Cracks and Wolfberg Arch were off-limits as it was recovering from these devastating fires.


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( Cederberg wilderness )


Not to be deterred we quickly updated our itinerary and now included the famous Maltese Cross to our agenda. This is an awesome route to the foothills of the Sneeuberg mountain, with a towering sandstone monolith, it was an automatic substitute. The Wolfberg Cracks and Wolfberg Arch would need to wait for another long weekend.

Kromrivier Tourist Park gets a Modern Upgrade


Well, what a surprise we were in for, the old farmhouse reception and the restaurant had been replaced with a modern informative reception area. A new restaurant with its modern facilities and wonderful views had us in awe. The changes to the complete venue from when we last visited were remarkable. These were no simple upgrades but completely new facilities that are world-class.


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(Ultra-modern yet in keeping with the natural environment - the newly upgraded reception building and restaurant for Kromrivier Tourist Park )

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( Warm and inviting - information on the history of the  farm and the  environment  )

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(Double volume modern reception and information center with a small shop for essentials)

Mixing Old with the Modern 



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The original manor house of this working farm reminds me of the way things used to be - Kromrivier still produces their own wine )

The old reception and restaurant now converted into a wedding venue, the manor house still takes up the main focus and helps to maintain that farm style charm that we have always enjoyed.


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( Our basic self-catering accommodation right on the river was home for a few days )

New modern chalets with expansive open areas and large fireplaces had us wishing we had known about all these changes as they were fit for international guests. We were more than content with our old farm style cottage right next to the Kromrivier , our happy place.


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( The new luxurious self-catering chalets, modern and spacious with a wonderful sense of charm )

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( A meal with a view, don't forget about the local brew and wines )

Alternative Hiking Option One:  Disa Pools


Another great exploration was on offer when we took the trail that leads to the Disa pools, unfortunately, this route is not well marked so we were not sure of the exact location.


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( Justin and Bev on the Disa Pools hike )


We ended up spending some memorable moments swimming in icy mountain pools but later we realised that it wasn't the Disa pools but a smaller pool just before the main pool, more reason to go back and experience this once again.


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( Our "Disa Pool" picnic spot - chilly mountain water with one taker : Justin the brave one )

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(After walking for - what felt like hours - we stopped at the next most suitable pool - "Our" Disa Pool )

The picnic spot was great, little did we know that the real Disa Pool was a mere 500m ahead. ( The Maltese cross can be seen from this route)


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 (Our failed attempt to find the Disa pools but an enjoyable walk )

This route is an alternative hiking trail to the Maltese Cross and this may also be explored at a later date.

Alternative Hiking Option Two:  The Maltese Cross


It was extremely disappointing to have to forfeit our Wolfberg Cracks hike, but the monolith cross is also a very unique hiking destination for the Cederberg.

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A nice sense of achievement after this wonderful hike with one of the many special stone formations in this wilderness
Having left the parking area some 30 minutes prior and a stiff uphill stretch we could stop and catch our breath and marvel at the view and the rocky landscape. 

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( Making our way up the mountain on route to the Maltese Cross : Alex Aitkenhead )

A clear path tacked you through some of the most amazing wilderness areas and you can't help thinking that you are at one with nature and the great outdoors.

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( The first stop on our quest to the Maltese Cross )


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( a special moment with wonderful people enjoying the great outdoors )

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(Enjoying the views and warm sunshine after a chilly start)


The Seeuuberg Peak as seen in the background is a two-day hike with an overnight hut. With the summit at 2028m, this must be a tough hike, although well cairned, the summit cone involves fairly complex and exposed scrambling of a demanding nature and this is not for the faint-hearted. I would love to add this climb to our list but only if guided, who knows maybe next time …..

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Every angle of the Maltese Cross has a different mood, like a model she has many faces

The 25m high Maltese Cross stands at the base of the Sneeuberg and takes its name from the symbol of the knights who ruled Malta in the middle ages. The cross was first climbed in 1949 and now has five routes of varying difficulty to the top. This is a delightful half-day hike for the whole family, picnicking at the cross is always rewarded with some magical photographic moments as its such a powerful rock feature.

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 ( My wife and soul mate - always enjoying the outdoors and this trip was no different although I received many complaints that too much time was spent taking photos: guilty as charged )

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No hike to the Cross goes without a group photo, our team at the top


Night Time Fun


The night skies in the Cederberg are breathtaking, with zero light pollution the skies are awash with
bright stars. Not wanting to miss out we did not hesitate at the opportunity to visit the local planetarium for one of their planned presentations on the Milky Way.


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( The Milky Way is so clear and detailed, the night sky is washed in bright shining stars )

The Cederberg is rated as one of the most splendid stargazing attractions in the world, and on a clear moonless night, you will be left speechless by the star-studded heavens stretching as far as the eye can see.

Notes to remember:  This is a very popular event that only takes place during the new moon phases.   Take with some snacks, a soft blanket or pillow to sit on, and dress warmly as it does get rather chilly after a while.


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 (  With an early start, before sunrise, we spotted an owl while setting up for this sunrise photo through this elaborate grove of bluegum trees ... more special moments )

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( Approaching from Kromrivier, Sanddrif and the Wolfberg Cracks are clearly noticeable across this breathtaking landscape.  Looking at this image of the mountain, the Wolfberg Cracks can clearly be seen in the center - noted by  black markings in the image )


Swimming at Maalgat


On a hot summer day, nothing can be better than enjoying a cool refreshing swim in this mountain spring water at Maalgat pools.  To get there, you start the walk from the Sanddrif camping grounds.


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( Back roads in and around the Sanddrif campsite on a chilly early April morning )

Known was the unspoiled heart of the Cederberg, Sanddrif is the gateway to the world-famous Wolfberg Cracks and Wolfberg Arch. As you can see in the image above the mountain has suffered from the effects of a devastating fire and as a result, this hike was closed (They re-opened this route in 2020).

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( Sanddrif camping area on the Dwarsrivier farm - very popular with Cederberg visitors )

Tucked away on the banks of the Dwars Rivier, Sanddrif offers charming self-catering chalets as well as camping facilities, this makes it another popular choice for adventure seekers. Book well in advance if you wish to be this close to some of the best attractions in the Cederberg.

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(self-catering Chalets at Sanddrif - the scale of damage caused by the fire in 2016 to the natural fynbos was enormous )
Here you can walk, swim, or simply enjoy the outdoors, experience one of South Africa top ten hikes starting at Sanddrif, or marvel at the fascinating rock art and weather rock formations.

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 ( Sunrise over a small dam at Kromrivier we were joined by a giant kingfisher while admiring the view )


Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve : 


The drier eastern boundary of the Cederberg Mountains consists of 12800 hectares and forms part of the Cederberg conservation area. Stadsaal Caves and Truitjieskraal are renowned for the san art paintings, rock climbing, and bouldering


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( Typical hiking terrain in the Truitjieskraal area within the Matjierrivier Nature Reserve )
The timeless rock art and this isolated wilderness is one of the main reasons that our family return, time, and again to these ancient mountains.  The area is very well demarcated and makes for easy, yet fun meanders for the whole family.

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( The main entrance to this unique setting - the scenery was extravagant )

Get your permit from the Kromrivier office to gain access. 

Getting there via your car or a lovely ride with mountain bikes is possible.


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( Bev and Justin with some serious mountain biking in mind )


Historical and informative signage to guide you as you escape into this rocky landscape, with ablutions facilities and easy access.

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( Enjoyment for the whole family - rich colors and bold rock formations )
San rock art can be recorded as you explore the many caves and rocky overhangs, all with the notion that you may be the only person wondering through theses wind and water sculptured formations.

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( Exploring the many caves and rock overhangs - with views across this rugged landscape )
One of the more elaborate caves in the area, one can only imagine how the bushmen used these caves as accommodation and left a reminder of their presence with elegant rock art as we navigated through in this elaborate overhang.

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( Michael Armstrong enjoying the solitude and beauty )
Michael Armstrong enjoying some solitude and making sense of the beauty of these notable rock formations, time for reflection, and a sense of one with nature.  Its quiet moments like this in a vast mountainous surrounding that draws us and many like-minded travelers to return.

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( Rachel Armstrong striking a pose in what looks like a miniature Wolfberg Arch )
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( This is the end of the Truitjieskraal hiking trail - the Armstrong family making a show of force on this one )

This is the formal start (and end) of the trail through the labyrinth of rocky outcrops and caves, signposted with a detailed description of the rocks and the fauna and flora to this area. 

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( Signposts describing points of interest and the fauna and flora of the area )


Conclusion:


It goes without saying, our return visit is booked and paid for.  We will return with a renewed sense of unlimited freedom - to cleanse the mind, body, and soul.  Researching and reading about the area, describing the magic of the Cederberg, makes me yearn for the opportunity to soak in the tranquility and remoteness of this natural wilderness. We will hopefully gather our wonderful friends to join us in our next wild adventure. The Wolfberg Cracks and Arch will feature in our plans ... can't wait to rewrite the story...


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( Friends: Hennie Genis, Brian Spratley, Beverly Delit,  Justin Groombridge, The Armstrong family, Elsa Viljoen and the Aitkenheads )



The more detailed photographic hike of the Wolfberg Cracks and Wolfberg Arch can be found here:







This hike took us the whole day, from an early start and we descended in the dark (without lights, this is not a good thing).
If you ever plan to go, make sure you cater for the long day with food and lights etc.


You and Bill Iles


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Map of the Cederberg


Map of the Cederberg


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( postcard image of the Maltese Cross and the famous Sneeuberg in the background )