The Buffels and the Moordenaar

A formidable and unique duo

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Photo by Estelle van Loggerenberg

Hikers know the Karoo – Great Karoo, Little Karoo, Tankwa Karoo and then: the Moordenaarskaroo (Murderers Karoo). Combine the slightly mysterious and daunting name with a Buffalo, and you might just start trembling in your hiking boots – what have I let myself into?

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Photo by Estelle van Loggerenberg

But let me reassure you: few other things will touch you like the Moordenaarskaroo/Buffelsrivier hike will. Be prepared to walk with an open mind and to look closely. The  Moordenaarskaroo is not flashy on a large scale, but to the hiker who is willing to kneel and look down, the rewards are big and numerous. Combine this with the openness, the wideness and the extremes of larger vistas, and you start wondering about the “moordenaar”.

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Our group of 14 hikers, hailing from North and South, gathered at the Flood Museum in Laingsburg. The former curator, Francis van Wyk, a survivor of the 1981 Buffels River Flood Tragedy, made us deeply aware of man’s vulnerability when confronted with Nature, and we leave with renewed respect for the Buffels.

For “tortoise hikers” (everything you need, is in your backpack, like a tortoise’s shell!) this is a comfort hike. Slack-packing in all its glory. Franci Vosloo and her very able team of Sammy and Ella, transport all our ammo crates, chairs, tents, mattresses and sleeping bags. We hiked with day packs, which allowed this hiker more energy to enjoy and appreciate the spectacular surroundings. We even had the luxury of warm water and showers as well as comfortable bush toilets at every campsite. Blessed is the weary who is cleansed and fed and has a sleeping spot under the starry Karoo night.

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Photo by Ronel Spies
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Photo by Elsje Kemp

We follow the course of the river for 6 days to its origin in the Komsberg. Day 1 is an appetizer of 13km and we overnight in tents on Bloukrans after an evening of campfire inside a traditional ‘bossieskerm’. The farm’s name doesn’t really do justice to what you’re experiencing. In the course of the next 5 days we would see cliffs and escarpments reminiscent of a canyon rather than the traditional picture of the Karoo we’ve always harboured.

Each night the support team spoils us with a “Sunday meal” regardless of the day of the week. We debate the number of calories lost versus the amount consumed thanks to the sumptuous food. Each morning kicks off with filter coffee and rusks followed by a good breakfast, with your lunch parcel ready to go into the backpack. Somewhere during the night Franci and Ella has baked finger licking pot brood. Note to self: no more self-catering hikes for me!

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Photo by Estelle van Loggerenberg
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Photo by Estelle van Loggerenberg

The 6-day hike stretches over more or less 108km, and we walk through 13 farmers’ land. We experience the authenticity of what is promised in the brochure: breath-taking sandstone formations and fossilised mudstone, black eagles, rock art and ruins. We sleep in the kraal of an old farmhouse – the kraal itself a work of art: each stone carefully dressed and fitted with precision. We are moved by the signs of transience as we photograph these man-made structures which surrenders so gradually, or when we come across the bleached bones of a jackal or meerkat.

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Photo by Estelle van Loggerenberg

Days 3 and 4 are packed with challenges and rewards. We walk long distances (27km), it is warm, and the river is at times mercilessly rough. The winning spirit of the hikers prevail: pushing on, encouraging each other and hanging tough despite the setting sun, weary legs and sore feet.  The reward, that aha! moment when you finally enter camp and Ella comes running towards you with ice cold drinks. You know: today you, the buffalo and the murderer have fought and danced together. Today’s round is yours.

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Photo by Estelle van Loggerenberg

On a satellite image of the area you’ll see the Buffels River wasn’t the only culprit in the 1981 tragedy. There are many feeding rivers. Day 5 follows the course of one of these rivers … boulders and sand is a given. Luckily for us, the river flooded a mere 2 weeks before the hike and there were various pools, even streams that trickled bravely and the odd small waterfall. The more adventurous among us dipped in the deeper pools. But beware of “Riller’s teeth”!

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Photo by Elsje Kemp

That night we were supposed to camp in a dry natural dam – a “dooie pan” – to our surprise this dam suddenly sprung to life and was covered in water! With nowhere to set up camp than on Karoo bossies and rocks, we reverted to the soft green lawn of a nearby farm at the foot of the Komsberg.

Day 6’s terrain may be challenging to the breath, but it’s certainly gentler on the feet. We ascend the Komsberg via a jeep track in a kloof called Besemgoedgat and reach 1712m above sea level after 6 km. From here – literally the peak (and climax) of the hike – the view back across 5 days’ hiking landscape is magnificent, but one also sees the small Roggeveld mountains, the southern starting point of the Roggeveld mountain range that extends all the way northwards to Calvinia. We camp on the same spot again, already planning a repeat hike with the prospect of sleeping in the dry dam around an enormous campfire.

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On the final morning there will be no hiking… after a warm breakfast you’re just about to put on the hiking boots and fill the water bottle when you realise it’s time to bag the tent for the last time and stack your crates for loading, ready for the journey home.

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Photo by Estelle van Loggerenberg (Left) and Chris Spies (Right)

Conclusion

Hikers hike for the reward it holds. However, the rewards are unique for each hiker. This hiking trail offers an unusual experience in its diversity. We smelled the Hoodia gordonii, one of the few plants that smells like rotten meat in order to attract flies and ensure pollination. We appreciated the stark contrast of a red brush lily in the grey soil; we gratefully enjoyed the shade of hardened acacias on the banks of the Buffels River. We deliberated the inspiration behind rock art of an estimated 15 000 years ago. There are long stretches hikers walked in solitude, contemplating life’s paths, and then there are the campfire at night where the day’s experiences are captured.

The Karoo stirs something inside of you; the realisation that you need to walk with others in order to survive. The Moordenaarskaroo takes, but it rewards abundantly. This hike is a must for every hiker.

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Photo by Ronel Spies

Info

For more information, contact Fránci Vosloo at 0833866270 or email francivosloo1@gmail.com .

You can also visit their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/moordenaarskaroohike

8 Comments

  1. My experience of a maiden hike as a maiden hiker … the Moordenaarskaroo/Buffelsrivier hike

    On the 21st of March 2019, 14 brave hikers gathered in Laingsburg at the Flood Museum with one goal: to venture upon the maiden Moordenaarskaroo/Buffelsrivier hike.
    This adventure began on an ordinary day in February often clicking on a Facebook link (Weg advertorial, 31 January 2019), “Stap die Moordenaarskaroo-roete” … 108km over 6 days in the Karoo’s own canyon, the Buffels River.
    Well then, this is the time to confess that hiking wasn’t really my thing, let alone not EVER having done it. Neither am I the outdoor type… And yet, for some inexplicable reason I felt that nagging urgency and I just knew I had to do this thing. A moment of weakness, perhaps, midlife crisis or pure silliness … who knows.
    Most of my family and friends thought it a crazy idea to take on the harsh Karoo at the age of 47. But the day my sister Sonja agreed (after much convincing) to join me on this venture, there was no turning back.
    As virgin hikers big was the excitement when Sonja and I received the hiker’s checklist and guidelines from Franci, the organiser. After all, shopping is therapy for Eve’s soul, right? Not so true. Besides the fact that we are both 1,8m in length, gone are the days of slender bodies, not to mention the fact that we aren’t really fitness freaks… Checklist in hand two overexcited sisters hit Cape Union Mart in town (Vredenburg). Granted, small town, not much of a variety to choose from (and they clearly only cater for the … smaller body). Next stop Canal Walk. We covered the A-Z of outdoor shops and after hours of walking, fitting, more walking and more fitting it finally dawned on us: we’ll be doing the Moordenaarskaroo/Buffelsrivier hike with men’s clothing and men’s shoes. And as you know, hiking clothes and shoes are not cheap… so this part of the hiking experience still tastes a bit wry, especially with the accompanying hole in the purse. There’s a gap in the market for sure!
    At least the shopping for some of the hiking gear like mattresses, backpacks, headlamps, hiking sticks, bladders, etc. went smooth and painless.
    On 21 March 2019, after a heart-breaking visit to the Flood Museum, our journey officially kicked off. This is where reality hit me … what on earth was I thinking?!
    The hiking route starts on the Bloukrans dirt road from where we hiked around 13,5km to the campsite. The adrenaline was pumping and the excitement big as we gathered around the campfire, chatted and feasted on heavenly Karoo cuisine. It was great fun to pitch a tent for the first time and to figure out the mattresses (still in plastic), blinding one another with our new headlamps in the process.
    Day 2: With renewed energy and a full night’s rest we tackled the 22km in the Buffels River. Never have I walked on so many different terrains in one day … hard sand, wet sand, big rocks, small rocks and at times in the veld. The sun was merciless and the day long. The cliffs were breathtakingly beautiful, and the unknown feeling of isolation was overwhelming. As we arrived at camp Franci and her team were already hard at work and after a sumptuous supper sister and I pulled out first aid kit closer to treat the first blisters and have an early night.
    Day 3 was even warmer with not even a breeze in sight. The riverbed was wide and never-ending. I’m not sure what was the worst for me … blisters on my feet or the enormous red locusts resembling West Coast lobsters… As the day progressed, I tried to focus to put one foot in front of the other and not to stumble over rocks (thanks to my walking stick!). I was deeply moved and my backpack suddenly extra heavy. Through the sweat and the dust something stirred inside of me… The barren, merciless Karoo changed something in my soul. For the first time I think of nothing (control freak!) – as if my body has gone into survival mode and I realised how small and insignificant man really is. And there, in the riverbed of the Buffels River, I sobbed in my sister’s arms…
    Sister and I just survived day 3 – we walked and walked and climbed and walked some more and cried and wiped each other’s tears and then walked some more. At times we just sat down because we could not take one more step, but then there was always a helping hand of a fellow hiker who cared, sat with us and motivated us to get up and carry on.
    After an indescribably physical and emotionally draining day we arrived at camp nearly dark, and there was Ella running towards us with ice cold drinks. A living angel. At this stage our emotions reached an all-time low. Our souls and bodies were fragile, not to mention our feet. And as fate would have it, it was on night 3 that I felt thousands of moths and spiders were attacking me. But after a glass of rehydrate and a plaster on the one small hole in out (brand new) tent, my sister and I literally fell into the tent, consoled each other, and with doctored feet that beat in sync, fell asleep, unsure whether we would be able to walk for three more days.
    Still half-asleep on day 4, my sister was already sitting upright, ‘boots and all’ … we are going to finish! Day 4 was hot again and we walked for 21km through dense vegetation, dongas and rock slabs. Hikers’ feet were tired, and blisters were abundant, but we had a calmness inside of us. At camp the helping hands never tired. After a hot shower, fantastic food and good company we hit the sack with sore bodies … two more days to go … we can do it!
    Day 5 was without doubt the highlight. We walked up a long, rough jeep track – ascending the Komsberg. The loose earth on the ascent was indeed a challenge, but we walked our own pace and the sisters who plodded into camp each day made it to the top to everyone’s surprise! And what an incredible, overwhelming feeling!! What a view!! The way down was steep, and I soon realised downhill is clearly not my strength. But we tacked it together. It was hot and we were tired and in pain, but at the top of that plateau another kind of energy gets hold of you and you know for sure: quitting is not an option. Never again.
    The Moordenaarskaroo/Buffelsrivier hike is much more than just a physical challenge. You literally walk your head clear, out of your comfort zone and back to basics. In the unspoilt, barren, merciless Moordenaarskaroo you walk away your masks… all your worries, stress and pain get lost somewhere between the red locusts and the slabs of rock. You become human again.
    What a privilege it was for my sister and I to have been part of the first official Moordenaarskaroo/Buffelsrivier hike. When we arrived at camp at the end of each long day, Franci and her team were setting up camp, preparing food and building the campfire. We were spoiled with amazing Karoo food (with pudding) and healthy lunch packs for each day.
    Will I encourage other first-time hikers to do this hike with Franci and her team? Absolute, without doubt!
    Thank you, Franci, for a life-changing experience.
    And in case you were wondering… I’m hooked. Tankwa Camino here we come!

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