Ama Poot Poot
“No, really, reindeer in Dullstroom.”
It’s the hardest and the easiest thing in the world – getting up at 5am. It’s that special moment that crosses from night to day, when it feels like it could really go either way. The world could rise to meet the sun as it peeks out over the flat grassland or turn over and sleep through till the sun is surer of its place, higher in the sky. In the cold dark of a 5am wakeup, it feels as though the world still belongs to the night; your body is on the edge of mutiny, pulling you back towards soft cushions and warm sheets.
Not a few steps later, with a mug of hot tea in hand, it seems the easiest of things to do. The simplicity of a checklist – step, reach, fold, zip, bend, pour, lace, brush, sip. It is quiet, it is calm, it is solid. The day has won.
We leave our holiday cottage, carrying some bed warmth with us still tucked into our beanies, gloves and down jackets. The road ahead is golden as the sun lights up the grassland on either side. It’s on mornings like these that you hope the hike lives up to the promises that the approach is making.
We park our car next to the shed on the working Uitvlugt Ponds Game Farm. The farmer greets us with a wary shake of the head and a chuckle. I imagine he thinks us mad or over eager, or perhaps both. Having livestock to attend to, his day starts this way every day, and I wonder whether he notices how beautiful his hay bales look in the morning light. Big, round bales lie at the foot of tall, straight blue gum trees, dwarfing the rusty gate that we are about to pass through. It’s the scene from that painting you see in every second-hand store.
The farm is beautiful, very much the landscape Dullstroom is famous for. We cross a large tract of farmland, following a dirt road that is obviously put to hard work most days. There’s a lot to watch this early in the morning, the farm is well stocked with game and the landscape constantly evolves with the rising sun. We make great progress of the easy terrain until we spot two black wildebeest moving across the veld at speed. Heads down, horns forward and with a ridge of hair high across their backs like a mohawk, they look to me like some kind of medieval monster. I would cast them as the steeds of a brutal prehistoric nation. I can picture them suited in armour, their black mohawks a statement against silver metal.
We are always a little wary of wildlife. It is after all, wild. It would be foolhardy not to respect that boundary. A recent attack by black wildebeest on a family hiking in Maclear in the Eastern Cape has us all the more wary of these two beasts as we gratefully watch them move away from us. There is talk of farmers hand-rearing black wildebeest amongst livestock as protection against livestock theft. Taking advantage of the species’ natural aggression and strong territorial sense, whilst removing their fear of humans, can prove to be a lethal combination. Seeing two animals without the usual herd is a warning sign we pay heed to.
As hikers, we are always ‘just passing through’, leaving the land and all its inhabitants as we found it. So we are more than happy to follow the path onwards round the opposite side of a set of dams and into a quiet valley.
As we descend into the valley, we are glad for all our warm gear. The temperature drops drastically. The valley is still very much in the shadows, with a light dusting of frost and a very cold river to cross at the bottom. The sun has yet to bring day to this stretch of the hike and my feet freeze when I take off my shoes as a precaution on the slippery rock.
We stop to stare down the river, which looks perfect for fishing. From this vantage point, we could be in the Drakensberg. We could be in Scotland. We wish we had a hip flask of whisky or a hot toddy at hand.
Hiking steadily uphill and out of the valley, we have to rapidly shed layers. We are hot and sweaty and the landscape is scorched black from recent fires as we crest the second hillside and walk down through some rocky sections and veld to meet up with the river once again. This time, in the sun, we can appreciate the pools and waterfall to follow as potential summer swimming spots. The land changes as it meets with the river at every twist and turn. It softens at the water’s edge and is much more picturesque and forgiving.
Roughly 1 km from the end, we have almost come full circle and are approaching the farm shed, when we happen upon a curious herd grazing in the shadow of some trees. They look to be reindeer. From our vantage point, we can pick out the tell-tale antlers of around fifty deer. Too far to photograph, and not wanting to spook them, we can’t believe out luck or our eyes. Nor do we think anyone else will when we tell this story later.
We are right. Our friends have a good laugh at our expense until we raise the matter with some locals and are told that Dullstroom is indeed home to quite a large herd of fallow deer. A group of farmers brought them in as a business venture, but because not all of the farms are set up specifically for game and lack the requisite high fencing, the herd has been known to travel, easily hopping fences with their 1.75 m jump height. As a result, these nomads of the region can be seen on many of the Dullstroom farms.
Fallow deer from Europe were first introduced into South Africa near Cape Town in 1869. They have been inhabitants of the Western Cape and even Robben Island since then. In fact, they have taken to the Robben Island landscape so whole heartedly that the population has had to be controlled by the Parks Board, some of them even being relocated to other areas of the country. Now you know.
We add fallow deer to our long list of reasons to love Dullstroom next to its rivers, valleys and cold morning starts.
Trail Head Location (WGS84)
S25º 28’ 35.9” E30º 01’ 50.7”
Other Trails At Destination
Reedbuck Trail – 10,7km
Trout Trail – 6km
How To Book
Accomodation book on http://uitvlugt.co.za/
Hiking book through Anvie Ventures
+27 12 662 1140
Total Distance : 10,7km
Trail Type : Circular
Trail Markings : Good
Starting Altitude : 1949
Summit Altitude : 1970
Base Altitude : 1775
Difficulty Rating : 5 / 10
Dustbins : N
Water points : Y
Toilets : N
Hiked 20 Jun