Walking near the Goukamma

That day, we laboured long up the blinding beach towards the oyster beds, past Sandkop and Spitoukop, towards Goukamma, the wind pouring relentlessly into our faces and stopping our ears, the sand-built boulders and dark green-forested ancient dunes on our left, the ocean tapping at the shore with hammer waves on our right. Fine spray flew towards us in a constant slow torrent till it dropped from our hands and our foreheads and soaked our shirts. The sand collapsed beneath our feet, we could not hear to speak without yelling, the wind poured abrasion across our calves. We rested once, briefly, in the lee of a hollowed boulder. Red-billed oyster-catchers flew in pairs before us. The corpses of gannet and cormorant and great jellies lay inert on the beach. Then, after an hour and a half of this unremitting effort, small pegs in a dune signaled to our great relief, a path inland. Opposite the oyster beds, our feet pushed through rough shell. We climbed a boulder ledge carefully twisted into almost invisible stairs, over the lip of the low crumbling cliffs. We were now on the dunes. The wind slowed and silence slipped back. We climbed up amidst dark scrubby brush and tender rhus towards the heights. A sandy road soon gave way to path. Then began a rolling alternation of the senses: paths almost like tunnels pouring through the dark low bush and stunted forest, branches grey and impossibly tangled and gnarled and grey-green moss coated. Golden orb spiders with bellies like yellow-marked beans half-blocked the path with webs of fibre, dust and husked insect meals. In the woods, we walked beneath milkwood and baster saffraan and camphor. Then the path would rise, through tender fronds of restio glowing in the sun and brushing our ankles gently. Ericas glowed red against the sun. Then rolling down again into the shade and tired wood, then up again into the light and fine green, up and over, down and through. Amidst the rhus and candlewood and wild sage, we felt the push and pull of path till we found ourselves high on a dune crest. The path followed the crest, the sun was blazing-sinking ahead of us, a glow of light and mist and illuminated bush and flower was all about. Great inverted candelabras of faded tubular march lilies thrust like smooth sculpture from the path. A two-inch locust, grey-green, big black eyes willing us away, squatted adomen thrust into the sand to lay eggs. The sea, far below, darker blue and laced with foam. On that dune crest, walking between fine plants and bush and into the sun, we found balance between land and sea, light and wind: we did not wish it to end, it ran like love through us. The path pulled inland. Between dune crests, it was quieter, away from the insistent rushing of the waves. The brush diminished, grew shorter, the path now a multitude of soft collapsing mole rat mounds. Finally, from a high bluff, we came out above Groenvlei, stretched all out before us, a soft swash of grey water pinned with delicate reed fringe to the rolling dark-green forested hills. The sky was dark with imminent night, the sun still beating out the light. As we descended towards the vlei, we almost ducked as two small flocks of birds shot past us like weighted shells, cutting dead-straight grooves in the shocked air with astonishing speed, barrelling to an evening feed above the waters.

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David

I am an environmental writer, journalist and speaker living in Cape Town, South Africa.

2 thoughts on “Walking near the Goukamma”

  1. Bloody wonderful, as Eric said. This is now indelible, on my list of things to do with hats on in this lifetime. Initial unremitting effort, sandblasted calves and all.

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