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?
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”.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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”!
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.
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.
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.
For more information, contact Fránci Vosloo at 0833866270 or email firstname.lastname@example.org .
You can also visit their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/moordenaarskaroohike