Kromrivier literally means Crooked River in Afrikaans and is a very special hiking area Michelle was keen to take us to before leaving South Africa. It involves walking up a kloof (literally translates as "gap" but is actually a sort of valley) in the Cederberg Mountain Range behind Paarl.
For the most part the mountains themselves look pretty samey. Don't get me wrong, they are certainly imposing and impressive and when the sunlight reflects off the rock at sunset it's a very beautiful sight but when it comes to hiking it's just that…rock! I wasn't imagining much in the way of impressive photography despite Michelle promising me the hike would be extremely beautiful! How wrong I was…
The initial group of hikers was to include Michelle, Adam, myself, Annabel, Dad and Erilda. However, it turns out that Annabel hurt her foot sumo wrestling on my birthday and was unable to come. Erilda however, was well up for the challenge! I should point out that Erilda isn't much of a hiker and Michelle wasn't convinced she would take the invite seriously. By the end of the day though Erilda was up for taking up hiking with Michelle more regularly!
Erilda arrived at the farm in the morning and we drove to the car park at the start of the walk to meet Michelle who would be bringing a backpack with food and drink for the day. The drive involved going through the 4km tunnel in the mountains that takes you to the other side of the range. Once there we met Michelle and also her friend Michael that she bought along for the hike. Michael is a dressage rider so we had plenty in common!
We set off following the river into the kloof quickly leaving the road behind. Alongside the river it's a bit like an oasis with lots of grasses, shrubs and trees breaking up the barren rock. The water is clear and clean as it runs straight out of a spring at the top of the mountain and is untouched by people except for us. To confirm this Michelle did not bring any water advising us that we could drink straight from the river!
After a couple of hours steady uphill trekking we were getting pretty hot when we reached a natural pool in the river and Michelle lead the way jumping in to cool off. There is a big boulder causing the pool and the water underneath is really deep after centuries of erosion so you could literally dive straight in from the rock.
Whilst there Michelle made up a big bottle of drink from powdered isotonic drink and river water. It was deliciously refreshing. We were also given an energy boost with chocolate and nuts courtesy of the ever organised Michelle.
Further up the river we came across another pool and even though it had only been about half an hour or so since our last stop we decided to take the opportunity for another cooling swim. Shoes n' all! It was immediately apparent that the water was getting slightly cooler the higher we went and I began to wonder if I would be able to get in the water at the end of the hike if it was going to be so cold.
Shortly afterwards we noticed a dramatic change in the vegetation around us. It began to get much more tropical with the heat and humidity to match. We crossed lush green pastures with grasses growing 8ft tall and palm trees offering brief patches of shade from the intense sunlight. At this point Michelle pointed up ahead to where you could just make out the top of the waterfall. Our final destination several km's ahead.
As we wound further into the mountain kloof the steep sides began to close in on us and more and more we found ourselves scrambling over big rocks and boulders where there was no clear path. Eventually the rocks closed in overhead and we were treated to a beautiful display of water droplets flashing in the sunlight and trickling onto our heads from the vines and creepers above. There was a red orchid growing from the rock face and Michael told us it's a very rare plant. Michelle promised us there would be more to come further up.
By this time the rocks were getting slippery due to all the moisture and we had to slow down and tread carefully. In really steep areas there were permanent chains fixed into the rock face to hang onto. We reached yet another pool, this one much harder to get to and much larger. There was a small waterfall flowing into it and Michelle took a big dive. Adam thought it would be fun to follow and immediately dived in forgetting it was going to be colder than before. He was completely winded by the freezing water and unable to breathe when he surfaced! Everyone had a good old laugh at his expense whilst Michelle dived and swam seemingly impervious to the temperature. She even tried to convince us it was warm!
Dad was the next one in the water and dived in head first. He didn't hang around in there long though and quickly climbed out and started taking pictures with my camera. I'm guessing it was too cold even for him.
Next up was some pretty steep and wet rock climbing with the use of more chains. We had to climb up the side of the waterfall and over several overhanging trees and it was a real workout on our arms and legs. After scrambling over boulders for another 100 metres or so we finally made it! The base of a huge waterfall with a beautiful tropical swimming pool just like you see in the movies.
Once again Michelle dived straight in swimming across the middle to sit under the flow of water. The rest of us were hesitant knowing the water would be icy cold. Each of us egged each other on and eventually we all made it in. Erilda included despite her reservations!
For my part it was just too cold though and after only a couple of minutes I couldn't bare it anymore and beat a hasty retreat to the bank. Michelle, Adam and Dad swam over to the far side and climbed up the rock face where there are several ledges of varying heights to show off their diving skills. Michelle headed to the very top to a height of some 10 metres (!) and leapt in feet first. Adam followed from slightly lower down and Dad took a huge dive head first from some ridiculous height! We were all pretty shocked at his daring!
Next up was lunch, a veritable treat of tinned mussels, crackers and salami. Michelle even had a small gas stove and saucepan in that backpack of hers and we all enjoyed a good cup of tea whilst drying out our clothes on the rocks.
After lunch we moved around the pool to the sunny side and lazed on the rocks for a couple of hours. It was so peaceful and beautiful that I was happy to just enjoy the break but pretty much everyone else was soon fast asleep!
As the sun started to disappear behind the rock face (it wasn't late, just the gap in the mountains is too narrow for the sun to last more than a few short hours) we headed back down the sheer rocks and chains again and kept pretty silent and steady until we reached solid ground and less awe inspiring scenery. From there Michelle decided to leave the path behind and climb from rock to rock all the way down the river, several miles!
Michael joined her and the rest of us tried to race down the path as quickly as we could. Our path was slightly longer and crossed the river several times but if it had been anyone else taking the route Michelle was we'd have had no problem beating them, but not her! She's like a machine!!!
Eventually the river widened out and there were fewer rocks and the two of them were forced to swim leaving the rest of us to pull ahead and finally outpace her. Several times we lost the path and on one occasion we ended up on a path created by baboons. This was clear from the sheer amount of rubbish they collect and dump looking for food. It was also clear from the unrealistic course of the path taking us up over steep cliffs with no protection from the huge fall below. Just as it was starting to get ridiculous we found the main path and stuck to it.
Back down by the river bank I needed to rinse my damp shoes that were covered in sand and uncomfortable to walk in. Standing in the river I turned around to see a big group of baboons on the opposite bank. I quickly returned to the group and warned them and we all decided to stick closely together knowing how aggressive these guys can get, especially if they think you have food. We watched and listened as several males fought over the females and scraps of food they had found and tried to keep a safe distance.
Michelle and Michael were still behind us and swimming straight for them. Both are wise in the ways of local baboons though and both were able to swim straight past and barely draw any attention to themselves.
Back at the bridge near the car park we all climbed into the river for one final time, by this time the temperature was pleasantly warm, and waited for Michael and Michelle to join us. Once back together as a group again we relaxed in the water a while longer resting our weary muscles before going back to the car to enjoy some nice bottles of refreshingly cold cider just before the sun set.
That evening everyone returned to the farm to a much needed and well-earned braai and to tell Annabel and Justin all about our adventure.