Lee IS leading our little procession along the narrow footpath. Suddenly she stops, arms spread out wide. “Stop! Stop!” I try to look past her to see what the excitement is all about. She’s quite ashen when she turns around.
“A cobra. The longest I’ve ever seen. And it was thick like this. And golden and glossy. It took for ever to cross the path.”
It’s day one of our holiday in the Cape Point Nature Reserve, which forms part of the Table Mountain National Park. We’re doing a circular hike that starts near the Olifantsbos guesthouse where we’re staying.
The path has taken us up the mountain through lush and pristine fynbos. It’s like walking through a private garden. Everlastings look like flocks of sheep, fields and fields of snow-white heads bobbing in the wind.
We continue our hike, but after that description of the snake I’m walking as if treading on eggs. We pass a small herd of bontebok and a lone mountain zebra. Ostriches in the distance stare at us with great interest. After about an hour we get to Sirkelsvlei, a large freshwater expanse. It’s the perfect place for a little picnic. A strong wind is blowing and the water is dark and brooding.
At the vlei we choose the path that will lead us down to the ocean. The routes are well marked. Two hours later we reach the beach and the wreck of the Nolloth, a Dutch coaster that hit a rock in stormy weather one night in 1965.
The wind is whipping up little salty sandstorms that sting our legs. Ethene and Lee are way ahead of me. They see a elephant seal mum lumbering on to the beach. It is followed by its pup and plops wearily on the beach in the shade of the wreck. We can’t believe it. The bleating pup starts suckling. The mum grunts softly, lifts a flipper and rolls over lazily.
Our three-hour hike ends at the guest house where four of us are staying. This must be the Western Cape’s best-kept secret. Olifantsbos is exquisitely situated, tucked under imposing cliffs, a few steps from its own pristine beach.
Originally a farmhouse, it is now upmarket self-catering accommodation. The main cottage sleeps six. The annex next door sleeps plenty more.
The day is done, the visitors to the main park have gone and we’re alone. It’s just us and the animals. What a privilege to share this space with them. We enjoy a spectacular sunset over the ocean from the deck. A pair of ostriches sedately parade past us and disappear into the dunes. A huge flock of sacred ibises is wading in the speckled surf.
Amy, who has been keeping a close watch on what’s happening on the beach, shouts “Come see!” as an otter apparently appears out of the dunes, lopes across the sand and disappears into the waves. I missed the cobra, missed the seal dragging itself out of the water and now I’ve missed the otter. After supper there’s a knock at the door.
Nanti and Musa, officials from SANParks, are here to see that we’re okay and to make sure that everything’s working. “Keep doors locked and windows closed,” warns Nanti – two troops of baboons are living in caves above the cottage. “The big baboons can’t get through the burglar bars, but the smaller ones can, and do.”
We’re told the cottage has four solar panels that provide electricity. This is adequate for reading, but not strong enough to charge cellphones or laptops. There is a gas stove with an oven, a gas-powered fridge and gas heaters for the showers and bath.
“Please use water sparingly. All the water has to be trucked in for guests staying here,” Nanti asks.
Day two, and the wind is even stronger than yesterday. I don’t know how we chose the windiest days of the year to stay here. It’s too unpleasant for a beach walk, so back up the mountain we go, this time to Staavia Edge, immediately above our cottage.
Here are the ruins of the fortress observation post, Bosch. It was built in 1941 for coastal protection. It keeps a lonely vigil over the south Atlantic, where a deadly war was fought between U-boats, convoys and submarine hunters during World War II.
The view from up here is astounding. Looking down on to our cottage I notice a tiny waterhole, about 150m to the left of the cottage, hidden from view among the dunes. A small herd of bontebok is grazing around the hole. Bingo! Our own private waterhole!
In spite of all the baboon notices pinned up in the cottage and Nanti’s warnings, the baboons did not come near the cottage. On our last evening we hear babies’ squeals and the reassuring Boggom! of the adults. We rush to the windows but don’t see them.
Perhaps during our next visit we’ll have better luck. Next visit? Of course. There will be a next and a next and a next.
The cottage has wheelchair ramps so I’ll be able to keep returning until I’m seriously old.