The simple hiking hut eponymously called Oom Japie se Huis was probably originally the living quarters of one of Dr Okie van Niekerk’s ancestors, all of whom have resided on this huge plot since 1911.
It overlooks various streams that ultimately flow into the Komati River. Being on the escarpment, it is more Highveld than Lowveld. At this time of the year, the brown grassland is crying out in its anguished thirst, tortured by the expectation of the imminent summer rains.
Main picture: Huts among the sandstone rocks at Rooikrans Camp
Anybody who has ever driven through the Carolina area with its flat expansive grasslands, pockmarked with the detritus of coalmines, could ever envision a hidden world that is the Suikerboschfontein Hike.
Concealed within the steep gorges are the remnants of vibrant streams once engorged with sweet cool water, now sluggish and emaciated. Like the grassland above, it too patiently awaits the cool refreshing rain to transform itself into its once youthful self.
This area forms the eastern extent of South Africa’s Highveld and its hot and dry here. The bush is sparse, dusty and forlorn at this time of year with most of the trees leafless, more stick-like and lifeless, expectantly waiting for the season to change and the rain to arrive.
Day one should be known as the grassland route due to vast expanse of grassland with a sprinkling of sparse stubby trees and rocky obdurate surface underfoot. One is led eastwards to a kranz, the home of a troop of baboons.
Along the way, one passes the first of many ruins of ancient Dravidian gold seekers. After crossing the stream now sluggish without rain, one encounters the most impressive of these structures enigmatically known as The Dying Sun Chariot. How the name of this 1000 year-old structure can be known is a question that has long perplexed me.
Then it is onto the most scenic part of this day’s hike: the set of three ladders up the vertical rock face from the riverbed to the roof of the gorge.
Finally, one reaches the dome-shaped brick huts nestled between huge sandstone rocks.
Day 2 from the Rooikrans Hut could be referred to as the Gorge Route. First, one has to skip across the numerous flat-topped sandstone rocks and then admire the gorge from its lip. Then it is a rapid descent to the stream below. This is the highlight of the journey as one walks in the moist shade of the steep walls of the gorge, clambering down ladders and pulling oneself along using ropes.
The final three kays is a slog, first up a steep embankment, then along a stream past a dam wall and finally up a long sloping grassy incline back to the start.
It is hikes such as this which provide one with a chance to revive flagging spirits and reinvigorate mind & body.
Now refreshed in mind and soul, one can one again face the exigencies & pressures of life with equanimity.
This hike was once again a sign of the times as three members were unable to complete day 2’s hike due to back problems: Gabriel due to his cyst on the spinal cord, Gunther with general backache and me with muscle spasm.
Maybe we will not be able to complete the full hike in future but the company of such great friends out in the bushveld makes it all worthwhile.
What more could one want?