Tag Archives: South Africa

Hiking Cape Town: Table Mountain’s India Venster

1-signCape Town, South Africa is a great place for hiking because several classic peaks–such as Lions Head and Table Mountain–sit in close proximity to the city, so it’s possible to access them easily for quick day hikes. And the trails up these peaks also provide stunning views of the city and sea. I recently spent two weeks in Cape Town visiting family, and I got the chance to get out with Antony to hike the India Venster route up Table Mountain, which is one of the few trails he hadn’t taken to the summit.

For my first hike the summit of Table Mountain, India Venster provided some adventurous moments and challenges, for sure. The sign at the trailhead warns that ladders, chains, and stapels are a part of the route, and we also knew that the route requires some exposed scrambling with the potential for serious fall danger.


The route begins in a straightforward manner from the contour trail, but then it eventually winds up through a steep rocky section below the top of the cable car.


The rock scrambling began in this section, which required hand-and-foot climbing on mostly low-angle rock. Depending on experience and comfort level, some hikers might want to have a rope to help them through this section…or even a guide.

Traci J Macnamara India Venster 1

While the scrambling in some sections wasn’t very exposed…

Traci J Macnamara on India Venster

…other sections involved exposure and sharp drop-offs, and also jaw-dropping views of the city and sea.


The word “venster” means “window” in Afrikaans, and the route gets its name from a rock window along the route. We’re not sure if this window is THE window for which the route is named, but it offered a pretty cool portal for seeing the side of Table Mountain.


The view of Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain was certainly worth the effort involved! The India Venster route, especially, and most other routes to the summit of Table Mountain should only be hiked in good weather, and hikers should carry emergency gear, as the weather rolls in quickly up here. We only had a short time to make this hike happen, so we opted to take the cable car down, but Platteklip Gorge offers a safer descent than the India Venster downclimb.

Want to know more about hiking in Cape Town?
Check out this Learnist board I created to profile six classic Cape Town hikes, including India Venster:

“Cape Town’s Classic Day Hikes”

Cape Town Day Hikes

And…if you want to explore more of my Learnist boards focused on adventure, outdoors, nature, and sports, click here.


Tokai Forest Tepee Remains

I was hiking in Tokai Forest, Cape Town-area, South Africa, when I came across a cluster of several unfinished tepee-style shelters that were using tree trunks as their central support:

tepee 2

I found this one to be a pretty nice job at a makeshift shelter, or at least at the beginnings of one. There’s a lot of logging going on in the area, and I wondered if workers might have been trying to make a camp for the night so that they wouldn’t have to travel each day to and from work. It looks like this structure has a planned door where the large poles extend and open outwards. It would be nice to create a tunnel-like entrance here and cover it with foliage.

tepee entrance

When I noticed that the grass bed here was still green, I wondered how long this one had been abandoned…or if it were simply a work in progress. Here’s a (bit of a blurry) close-up of the ground insulation, which is a good idea for warmth and comfort:

tepee bed

An emergency blanket, a tent fly, or any other outer insulating material would help finish off these tepee-style shelters and make them a workable short-term shelter. But a troop of baboons also live in Tokai Forest, so leaving food inside wouldn’t be a good idea…

Want to know more about how to make your own survival shelter like this one?
Read my article on the About.com Survival Skills website:

“How to Build a Tepee-Style Survival Shelter”

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

The Braai Way: Cooking With Coals

I spent the recent South African Women’s Day holiday weekend at a river house a few hours away from Cape Town and discovered what might possibly be the nicest braai–or barbecue–setup I’ve yet seen:


The entire braai functions like an outdoor kitchen stove with a large open area for a fire; it’s all set into a brick wall with a chimney. No charcoal briquettes or gas here. We lit a nice roaring wood fire and waited. And waited. And waited. Once we had a bed of red-orange coals, we separated the burning logs from the coals in order to cook a traditional African poike (or potjie) pot meal.

2-braai coals

Keeping the wood fuel burning separately in this braai enabled us to use the coals we already had while we burned more fuel to create more coals that we could eventually add beneath the pot:

3-braai pot

Another nice feature in this braai was the swivel stick for the pot that allowed us to suspend this heavy cast iron pot over the coals and then swivel it out of the fire to check our progress.

4-braai pot extended

A poike pot is a traditional meal that involves slow-cooking many different things all together in one pot. Think: witches’ brew. The name of the meal comes from the word “potjiekos,” which means “small pot meal.” Sometimes people choose to simmer the pot all day long.

5-braai pot steaming

We created a pot that would feed 10 people, and its contents included chicken, carrots, celery, beans, cilantro, spinach, tomatoes, spices, and pretty much any other leftover vegetables we had in the fridge.

6-braai pot open

We eventually served the meal over a bed of rice, but one of the nice things about cooking in this way was that we could enjoy the company of family and friends while we waited…

7-enjoying the braai
…and waited. Cooking over coals in a cast iron pot isn’t a microwave-quick process. But the just rewards will be enjoyed soon enough as a juicy, evenly-cooked meal.

Want to know more about survival camping and cooking with coals?
Read my article on the About.com Survival Skills website:

“Cooking With Coals”

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

Southern Seas and the Southern Sun

I recently went to the beach in Struisbaai, South Africa in order to build a shadow stick solar compass for an article I wrote for the About.com Survival Skills website. Struisbaai, or Struis Bay, is only seven kilometers from Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa, where the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean meet. If you’re only seven kilometers from such a place, then you have to go, right? So we did.

2-Cape Agulhas

It was evening when we arrived on the beach at Cape Agulhas, and the light was spectacular. We walked out on the boardwalk until we found the above monument that shows the separation of the seas at this geographic location.

To the east is the Indian Ocean:

3-Cape Agulhas Indian Ocean

And to the west is the Atlantic Ocean:

4-Cape Agulhas Atlantic Ocean

Cape Agulhas is technically the southernmost tip of Africa, but Cape Point, a few hours (by car) west of Cape Agulhas, also claims to be the location where the seas split. Cape Point is perhaps the more tourist-friendly location, as it’s closer to Cape Town, but we had fun exploring the beach at Cape Agulhas…

5-Cape Agulhas

…and the town itself, which contains only a few little shops and pubs. Nonetheless, a beach is a good place to build a shadow tip solar compass because when the sun is out, it shows up clearly on the sand. There usually isn’t much debris to clear from a beach, and a shadow stick will stand up easily in wet sand.

Want to know more about how a shadow tip solar compass works?
Read my article on the About.com Survival Skills website:
“Use a Shadow Stick to Determine Direction”

Photos © Traci J. Macnamara.

Baboon Encounters in Kruger and Cape Town, South Africa

I’m currently on a three-week trip in South Africa and have been learning a lot about the local flora and fauna, including some animals that could kill a human in an instant (lions…leopards) and about others that are just plain fascinating or oddly cute (ostrich and warthogs).

While in Kruger National Park, we encountered two troops of baboons, and now in Cape Town, I’ve heard plenty of baboon stories and seen baboon warning signs at all of the local trailheads. I wanted to share a few photos from our Kruger baboon encounters and also share a link to the article I wrote about surviving baboon encounters on the About.com Survival Skills site (more info below).


baboon kruger 1

We encountered the above baboon troop while crossing a bridge in Kruger National Park on our drive from Berg-en-Dal to Lataba rest camp. There were a few big males leading the way across the bridge, and the whole show caused a brief traffic jam.

baboon kruger 2

The troop contained many large baboons…

baboon kruger 3

…and a few youngsters.

baboon kruger 4

We again saw our first signs of baboons further north when one scurried across the road in front of us. When we looked around, we started seeing them everywhere.

baboon kruger 5

In trees……and in the bush beside us.

baboon kruger 6

Of course, as it is when trying to view wild animals, we got a lot of butt shots as they tried to walk away.

Want to know more about hiking and baboon safety?
Read my article on the About.com Survival Skills website:
“How to Survive a Baboon Encounter”