Schaap River Canyon – masochists on sadistic trails find joy in the ‘seedier’ corners of floral splendour

Schaap River Canyon – masochists on sadistic trails find joy in the ‘seedier’ corners of floral splendour
One lasting memory was the plethora of beautiful flowers all around us, with the stunning carpets of purple, yellow, white and other hues. (Photo: Supplied)

I usually get this planning process all wrong, inevitably ending up with no trip at all, except for last year. Here’s how to do a multimodal flower trip in the Northern Cape this coming spring.

The drier parts of our country have beautiful yet deceptively barren landscapes, including valleys, dry riverbeds, flat plains and canyons of different sizes and intensities. I decided to combine my wish to view flowers with my penchant for walking in these somewhat lunar landscapes.

The Schaap River Canyon is a smidgeon north of Springbok and a tad west of Bulletrap (off the N7) in the Northern Cape. We were based on a farm named Nigramoep, which works in conjunction with Trisport (Hano and Sonja Otto) to bring this hike to you.

The drive to base camp followed the N7 past Springbok, during which the conversation was littered with references to the flowers we encountered and the inspiration this was for the more artistically inclined.

After stocking up with final provisions of fuel, food and beverages in Springbok, Nigramoep was our next destination. At this point, it is worth mentioning the splendour of the fields we passed in terms of carpets of flowers. In retrospect it was a harbinger, in the most pleasant way, of things to come.

Schaap River Canyon

A view of the wild camping spot on the second day at the entrance to the canyon. (Photo: Supplied)

Bulletrap itself is a small village with very little to differentiate it from other little communes I have seen, besides being very neat and tidy.

Thirty kilometres after Bulletrap, we arrived at Nigramoep, the intriguing name behind an interesting history. Besides not being spelt in the correct San way, it evidently has something to do with black water, according to local pundits. I trust them as my source for now.

After being allocated accommodation, we enjoyed home-cooked vaalvleis (grey meat or pale meat), rice and vegetables prepared by the lovely women of Nigramoep.

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The next morning, we were all bright-eyed and bravely chirpy during breakfast ahead of a 15km circular walk on the farm.

I had a secret weapon with me: a head net. I looked like a cake on the afternoon tea table, protected by the usual gossamer-type material fending off the flies. And boy, did it come in handy!

Off we went, grateful for a cool breeze on the warm and soon-to-be hot day.

Our clued-up women guides told us about the flowers, birds and history of the area. It really added so much value to our tour.

The history of the Nigramoep Guest Farm is tied to the now defunct O’Kiep Copper Mine. The remnants of the mine, and its slime dam, still scar the landscape. It’s frightening that there seems to be an intention to resume mining in the area.

The fear of theft of indigenous plants is also high on the farm owner’s list of priorities. Because of this, no private visitors are allowed on the farm except for guided tours such as this.

Schaap River Canyon

Some of the interesting rock formations in the canyon. (Photo: Supplied)

Canyon capers

The following day arrived, when we would descend into the canyon for a two-night stay. One lasting memory was the plethora of beautiful flowers all around us, with the stunning carpets of purple, yellow, white and other hues.

The day started with a ride from base camp just about to the edge of the canyon itself. I must admit to clenching my hands around the iron bars of the pypkarretjies (self-built off-road vehicles) so tightly that I was worried they would not be able to pry me off them.

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And, as is the wont of all trail designers, there was some work to do first before we descended.

You see, my theory is that trail designers, by their very nature, are sadists in the way they tease you with potential pleasure by administering pain in the first place. Hikers in turn are masochists by wanting to take on these walks.

We gained altitude, lost sweat, increasing our breathing rate as we ascended, and eventually reached the beacon on top of Spektakelberg. A 360-degree panoramic view was on display where you could look towards the canyon itself and also the coast and Kleinzee. Evidently, not many people have had the privilege of being where we were.

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Then we descended about 800m to a loose-gravel Jeep track. The landscape changed as we went down and walked towards the mouth of the canyon. And the flowers popped up all over the place, sometimes in small patches, sometimes in little hidden crevices that were shielding them from the wind and sun.

Toilets and hot showers were a blessing in the middle of the canyon in a smart camp. My tent was placed in the “seedier” part of town since it was spring and the flowers were ovulating (or something like that). But “seedier” really means far away in the naughty corner for snorers.

The following day we were to go further into the canyon, enjoying the beautiful and sometimes unique floral kingdom along the way.

Schaap River Canyon

The colours and variety of flowers were a treat to experience. (Photo: Supplied)

At this point I should not hesitate to tell you more about the different flowers I can recall.

I saw, or heard about, the botterblom, bittergousblom, sambreeltjies, sporries, katnaels, suikerkannetjie, kapokbos and many others whose names I cannot recall.

Majestic rock formations

The rock formations in the canyon itself were majestic. It is always tricky trying to take in the view while walking along naturally uneven pathways.

So many rock formations, so many unique flower displays, so many rock pools that drew certain hikers into immersing themselves.

Again, after being spoilt with good food and a good sleep, we prepared for our final walking day.

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After a hearty breakfast we slowly wended our way out of the canyon via a gradually inclining path following the canyon floor, which eventually led into a side canyon that would take us home.

Schaap River Canyon

The long walk to the top of Spektakel Pass, which offers a breathtaking 360-degree view of the canyon and the road to Kleinzee. (Photo: Supplied)

The final climb was something else. Not steep, yet unrelenting. Of course, walking into the base camp compound demanded a cold beverage and congratulations to all. What a wonderful bunch of people and what a wonderful walk, with its diversity in terms of vegetation as well as rock formations.

I was asked, at one point, to pass comment on this slackpacking hike versus the Fish River hike and others that I have completed. All I can say is that the Fish River is unrivalled in terms of it being a canyon, and a well-known one at that, and something I’ve completed five times.

The Schaap River Canyon is also a magnificent canyon, but its added advantage is its floral display all along the way. Obviously this is related to the season in which you walk it.

And, of course, the Schaap River Canyon hike is not as physically difficult as the Fish River Canyon trail or the eight-day Naukluft trail. It’s a decidedly comfortable one. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

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