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On the go
Feb 24 2012 1:09PM
Where heaven and earth intersect
GREAT VIEW: Charlotte Carter navigates a trecherous ledge for a visual payoff, just before the upper cableway. Pictures: NICKY CARTER
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Nicky Carter

It’s not inside, it’s on top, as the regurgitated ad assures. And it’s not only inside the clamorous social hurly-burly of the Mother City’s Bowl where unforgettable experiences await, but way above, amid the sinewy flesh of the city’s spine, which stretches from Signal Hill in the north to Cape Point in the south. It’s the enchanting Overseers Cottage and it’s heaven on Earth.

It is one of the few overnight lodgings sprinkled along Table Mountain’s 97km Hoerikwaggo Trail.

My visiting daughter, Charlotte, and I opted for the Deep Heat-free hike to the Overseers Cottage, for one night, to be followed by a scramble across the plateau to the cable station for a leisurely descent.

Table Mountain National Park had arranged for us to meet our guide, Ziyanda Tombela, at the official departure point for the walk up to the cottage. A great plus is that they will transport your bags and food for you via the Jeep track, the porterage of which is included in the accommodation fee.

Don’t forget to take sunblock, a fleece-and-waterproof jacket, walking shoes and lots of water.

On a clear, wind-free Saturday morning, Ziyanda led us up a steep, somewhat rough path, which would, 40 minutes later, dissect the tarred Jeep track.

It’s a reasonably puff-free route; even those who are less than fit should be able to complete the ascent in about two hours.

Ziyanda’s professionalism was evident every step of the way. She described the remarkable properties of indigenous plants we encountered en route, such as the sour fig, which apparently soothes tonsillitis. Many of the locals make jam from its juice, which they sell from the car park.

Emitting a chuckle, she pointed out the “hikers’ enemy and climbers’ friend” bush, which grows prolifically on the mountain. Its spiky leaves are a hiker’s nightmare for obvious reasons, but, as it also grows in crags along the rocky ledges and has exceptionally strong roots, it can be the saving grace for climbers.

A couple of hours later, abuzz with fresh insights about the world’s new seventh natural wonder, Ziyanda unlocked a rickety gate, behind which was our home for the night.

Standing proud and inviting, the historic abode encompassed a blend of old-world charm and modern-day appeal.

There are actually two cottages. The original stone one, Klipspringer, was home to the dams’ overseer. It is so named because the little buck can sometimes be spotted on the rocks nearby. The second is the more recently built Disa Cottage – named after the delicate, wild, red orchid that grows near the perimeter. The cottages accommodate 16 guests.

We stayed at Klipspringer. With wooden cottage windows, large glass doors, a huge fireplace for long-into-the-night chats, large dining room, fully equipped kitchen and comfy beds with quality linen and snug duvets, you need never leave. There is a separate braai area (you do need to bring your own wood) and a wooden deck patio, which hosts recycled furniture, imaginatively fashioned from alien trees, which were cleared to give indigenous flora right of way.

Solar panels were introduced to power the cottage, but, as they were stolen and too expensive to replace, brass oil lamps now lend a magical touch. The showers are gas-heated. Don’t balk at the colour of the water. It’s brown, but you can drink it.

You can hike or stroll around the plateau to your heart’s content (or legs’ extent). Doing a loop of the historic dams, built between 1896 and 1907 to supply Cape Town with water, will build your appetite for a braai or potjiekos later.

The park is home to about 22 snake species, including the deadly puff adder, which appeared twice during our walk. Friendlier creatures to bump into would be the dassies, mongooses, porcupines, tortoises, klipspringer and eland. And for bird-lovers: ground woodpecker, Cape sugarbird, African wood owl and birds of prey might just grace your view.

Coffee and sandwiches in hand, we gazed at the myriad stars hanging seemingly only 100m above and the twinkling southern-suburbs’ lights splattered 1000m below the mountain ledge.

After a cup of coffee and left­overs the next morning, Ziyanda filled us in about the Smuts trail we were to take to Maclear’s Beacon and the cable station, about four hours away.

The route, littered with large, slippery rocks, became progressively tougher. A few times along the way, signs that should have been at critical junctures were not there, causing a decision-making jammer, especially daunting in the dense mist that had swept in. We managed eventually to find Maclear’s Beacon, but couldn’t find the track to the cableway and wandered off looking for it.

My brother’s words snuck under the veil: “More people die on Table Mountain than on Everest, mostly because they get lost in the mist and fall over the edge.”

Pulling myself determinedly towards myself, we backtracked to Maclear’s Beacon, the highest point at 1086m, to refine our search. Thankfully, the mist condescendingly parted for a few seconds, revealing yellow-painted footprints on the rock bed, which would lead us to the cableway. Ambushed by loud oohing and aahing tourists as we approached, the cable station was almost as unnerving as being lost in the veil. Quite mind boggling how almost two days in solitude can affect one’s sense of equilibrium.

Email, or call 021-422-2816 for bookings

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