Unfortunately the hikes available in Camdeboo Nationalpark were either 6 hours or 45 minutes. 6 hours means you cannot avoid the heat of the noon, no matter when you get started.
Since we could not take 45 minutes serious and we were quite keen on having a bit of excercise we opted for the Eerstefontein Day Walk. We had read that you can decide while hiking which version you want to do - 5, 11 oder 16 km. Sounded good.
We got up at 5 and were at the Spandaukop gate (which is the starting point, maybe 10 minutes from the center of Graaff-Reinet by car) at 6 am - ready to hike.
Unfortunately we had not noticed on the map of the National Park that this was an unmanned gate, so there was nobody there to sell us a permit. We did not dare to go without so we drove to the entrance at of the Valley of desolation to get one und finally got started at 6:30. The way was marked by little white signposts with a hoepoe (some african bird) on it. It was great to be excercising, the wheather was great, the air being fresh and cool - at least in the beginning. Around ten it was already very hot.
The path was not marked that well. The problem was, that you never knew whether the trail ahead was the hiking trail or some kudu route. So if there was not any signpost to be seen, some wild guessing was the only way to decide.
For the first 1,5 hours it was quite an easy walk. So far no turning point or short cut had been indicated. We walked past two not very inviting fonteins. We had read somewhere that the water was drinkable, but I only used it to wash my hands.
We saw two kudus and a herd of wild ostriches which were near enough to hear them plucking the grass and see and hear them running, that was quite cool. They are such primeval creatures and to see them in the wild - not from behind the car window - was amazing. I am convinced that we must have been literally surrounded by antelopes and zebras, but we were too noisy and too concentrated on finding the next signpost to spot them.
After maybe two hours of having a relatively easy hike there was quite a bit of climbing up rocks. Here were fewer signposts and some were even without the picture of the hoepoe on white ground but only with the dark green colour on it, which made them quite diffcult to spot. Having been on our way for more than 2,5 hours we decided to try to go online with my smartphone (how cool is that) and find some more information about the short cuts and the shape of the loop so that we at least roughly knew in which direction we should be heading. On one website (not the Sanpark one, that does not give any information at all surprisingly) we found out, that we had already gone past the two turning points so we were - involuntarily - doing the 6 hours hike. Nothing at all had indicated that those points were the ones to turn round! We discussed going back but were afraid, that we would not find the signposts, since they were hard engough to find if you were looking for the white pictures, but looking for the dark green backsides - not advisable.
Unfortunately the signposts got fewer and fewer, we had to turn round and go back to the last signpost frequently. The problem was, that now we could not see a trail at all. The signposts were the only orientation we had and they were few. There were a lot of rocks so you would follow something that looked like a trail (again - perhaps originating from animals) and then you would stand on a big flat rock and everything around you looked exactly the same!
After 3,5 hours we could not find any signpost no matter in which direction we went and we decided to actually go back instead of trying to do the loop in a freestyle-way.
As I do not like hats I did not have one with me and instead wrapped my blouse around my head. This did not help much with my bad headache (hardly any shadow and 34 dregrees celsius) but instead indirectly caused a severe sunburn on my now-naked-shoulder.
I do not know how we managed but somehow - and with a lot of detours - we found the way back and managed to be back at the car after 6 hours. So our advice is: If you are in for some serious hiking, you should have been a boy/girl scout or get yourself a hiking app or something, take enough water with you, extra sunlotion, long trousers (the long grass was secreting some kind of sticky juice that stained our trousers all over - would not have wanted to have that on my skin), long sleeved-shirt, hiking boots (with plain trainers we would have had sprained ankles for sure!) and a hat. Never try to do the hike on your own! If you have not been a scout or have a good hiking app just turn round at the second fountain.
We guess that no one is ever stupid enough to go for the long way except us, hence the hiking trail is not maintained properly.
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