The next morning we’re up early for an 8am visit to the Elephant Sanctuary in the Crags. We’re the first visitors of the day and are met by a small team of guides.
There are five elephants in total when we arrive but we’ll be spending the morning with three of them. The guides walk to the far reaches of the property where the elephants are standing and slowly they start to walk in our direction. As they come nearer, I have one of those heart-fluttering moments. These creatures are huge and sweet and powerful all at the same time, and they’re on their way to visit us.
I smiled the whole day. We were able to walk them, which you do by cupping your hand like a hook and letting them place their trunk inside it. Their trunks are heavy and wet with mucus but who cares when you realize you’re actually walking with an elephant. I walk looking straight ahead of me while this massive animal follows a foot behind, his trunk in my hand. The guide is there, of course, to watch over us and make sure all goes smoothly. But there’s a moment I look back and remember this animal could trample me in a heartbeat if he wanted to. A little unnerving, but I’m still in my bliss.
After some education and demonstrations from the guides, we were able to touch different parts of them – their ears, their eyelashes, their feet. I’m surprised their entire body is covered with short course black hairs. I’ve always assumed their body was just the grey leathery skin, but it’s not.
Next, it was my turn to take a ride. Nick opted out. With just a blanket draped over the elephant, no saddle or seat, the guide and I straddle the elephant and ride through the field. The other two elephants come along and they walk in a straight line, with each elephant linking their trunks to the tail of the one in front. The guides tells me this is a comfort to the elephants, just like humans holding hands or hugging. The elephants walk together for security, which in turn, keeps the riders secure.
Once we’re in the car, Nick tells me he feels bad for the animals, and I get it. I felt it too. While I loved being able to interact with them, in order to do that, there has to be some manipulation of this wild animal. On the one hand, these are rescued elephants who are being cared for and will live out their lives without fear of being poached – a horrible reality in Africa. On the other hand, they’re not in the wild and therefore are not in control of their destiny. They do have to conform to a set of rules in order to live peacefully on this land.
We go back to the Lodge and check out. Our next stop is one of the biggest highlights of our trip – the Fountain Shack at Robberg.
Another 20 minute drive down the N2 and we arrive at Robberg Nature Preserve on the coast. We get our small overnight bag from the [clueless] gate guard, which has some kindling for burning, two pillow cases and a key. The hike out to the Shack, which is a totally secluded hut nestled into the edge of the hillside, is about a 1-2 hour hike, depending on how frequently you stop. Realistically, I think it’s closer to 2. The Shack is ours for the night, just like for any guest that rents it, and along with the Shack the whole stretch of beach is ours for the night too.
We’re not carrying all that much with us, which is highly advisable considering the intensity of the walk. Nick has a backpack with some meat to braai and a few sandwiches, along with a change of clothes and toiletries, while I have a crossbody bag filled with water, a few shirts and my toiletries too. Just before starting our hike, we stand at the end of the parking lot and look down over the edge of the cliffs. Nick points out that the Shack is just on the other side of the mountain (that you see on the far left of the photo.) No big deal. Famous last words.
While I have my hiking shoes on, and I’m carefully plotting out my steps along the path (which was quickly turning into far more rock than dirt), Nick’s in his flip flops hopping along the trail without a worry in the world. He’s hiked Robberg many times and is a far more experienced hiker than I am. He pauses and waits for me several times, partly to be nice, but also partly (I’m sure) to check whether or not I’ve fallen off the side of the cliff.
The first 20 minutes or so are manageable, but also not super easy. The views really are incredible and worth every ounce of pain. I take a look at the land still ahead of us and from what I can see, this hike is nowhere near over, and it’s about to get harder. There are some portions of the trail that are easy – they’re either paved or are clearly-defined wooden pathways. But there are many other parts that if you’re not paying close attention, you’d have no clue where you’re going and could end up lost. Many of the rocky areas that we need to go up and over, and then down again, are narrow and slippery.
We finally complete the main section of the hike which dumps you out onto the beach, and of all the beautiful beaches I’ve seen on this trip – this one is by far my favorite. Pictures don’t do it justice.
The sand is a perfect caramel color, soft and powdery. To the right and left is endless water and large rock jedis with waves crashing against them. The only sound I hear now is that heavenly rhythmic sound of the sea. Directly in front of us are two masses of island-like land. They also have hiking trails which lead you to the top.
The backdrop to all of this are tall green hillsides peppered with more rocks and sand dunes that climb into the sky.
I can see the Fountain Shack now from where we’re standing. I assume there’s just a cute little walkway leading from the beach up to its front door. Wrong again. As we make our way to the other side of the huge patch of beach, I can see, we’ll be climbing up and over a hillside, including more rocks.
I’m happy to say, about 15 minutes later, we find our way to the wooden walkway that leads us up to the porch. We made it. The Shack has just the basic amenities – no electricity, bunk beds with pillows, metal cutlery, running water, some folding camp chairs, a braai pit and outhouses – to which, the gate guard forgot to give us the keys. When Nick discovers this shortly after our arrival, he informs me I’ll be peeing outside in the sand. But not only did we not get the key for the outhouse, we also didn’t get the key to the chest with the blankets. Oh well. I’m sure as shit not walking back to get those keys! I’ve already pondered if it’s possible to get an air lift out of here tomorrow.
We set up two camp chairs on the patio. Next thing I know, about a half hour has passed and we’ve both been passed out cold. There truly is nothing more peaceful and relaxing than salty air, a good dose of sunshine and an ocean.
We still have about an hour before sunset so we head back out to the beach to explore the cliffs on the other side. Nick brings his camera and takes pictures of everything along the way. The initial walk up theses hillsides is a few steep sets of stairs, which turn into wooden walkways that wind and lead you to the top. On the other side, is a sheer cliff with small tidal pools and caves at the bottom.
Up here, the wind is a lot more powerful than down below. We find a bench on the other side to watch the setting sun. Eventually we climb back down before it gets dark.
Along the way, we pick up 3 sizeable logs for our braai. Nick pokes and prods at them for hours while we chat by the fire. We eventually grill our wors and sandwiches, and eat our dinner inside… complete with toilet paper for napkins.