/ 23 April 2019

Taking the Camino the South African way

Taking the Camino the South African way (Photo Archive)

The Camino de Santiago is walked by thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people every year.It is a highway of ancient and spiritual significance that spans around 780km across Spain and France, leading from any one of several starting points to the Santiago de Compostela, where the remains of Santiago (St James) were found in the ninth century.Pilgrims have walked the route for more than 1 000 years and while it was not always a popular tourist destination, the past few years have seen it become a bucket list experience for many. While the Spanish Camino is the original, in South Africa there are no less than four Camino trails that can be walked by anyone with a will, a pair of shoes and an eye for the extraordinary …

The Baviaans Camino

Nestled in the glorious Baviaanskloof Mountains and the Wilderness Reserve lies a tough and challenging hike for those who are willing to let go of modern life and embrace nature. The Baviaans Camino sets itself apart in two ways — it is tough and it allows horse riders. For those who don’t fancy the idea of nursing blisters under the open sky, they can rest in the saddle for the duration of the tour and enjoy a different, albeit equally remarkable, experience.

This Camino will take hikers around four days to complete, as they traverse 93km of mountainous terrain. The path takes them through the Baviaanskloof Mountains and the Kouga Mountain Range – each day introducing new scenery and longer walks. The first day starts with a mere 18km warm up, but by day four, hikers can expect 30km of solid walking before they call it quits. It is also very much a slackpacking experience – those who walk won’t have to carry their luggage, firewood and tents. These are transported by a dedicated ground crew to each night’s camping location. Hikers only have to ensure they have the tools they need to get them safely from start to finish.

“There are no churches like the reginal Caminos in Europe, but it is definitely a spiritual journey where you can reconnect with your inner self, because of the remoteness of the area there is nobody around you and you can truly experience nature at its finest,” says Esti Stewart, co-owner of the Baviaanskloof Camino.

For those who are smitten by the outstanding natural beauty of the area and fancy pushing themselves just that little bit harder, the company has also developed the Baviaans to Bay 137km hike that takes 10 days from the Baviaanskloof Mountains to the south easternmost tip of Africa in Cape St Francis.

The dates for the Baviaans Camino are selected in advance, but run throughout the year from March to November. Expect silence, little mobile phone interaction (if any), magnificent scenery and the opportunity to test your physical and mental mettle.

The Namaqua Camino

The Namaqua Camino takes the adventurer on an entirely different experience to that offered by the Baviaanskloof Camino. Both are in areas of outstanding natural beauty, but this one takes hikers across more than 262km of rugged coastline. It demands physical and mental commitment to walk for between 21-30km each day in all kinds of weather. It also takes hikers across varied terrain that will keep them entranced as they walk.

The route starts at Hondeklip Bay in Wallekraal, meanders through Naries, Bethelsklip, Buck’s Camp, Baievlei, Soutfontein, Varswater, Boulderbaai, Eagles Nest and finally ends up back at Hondeklip Bay with an average of around 22-23km per day. As with the Baviaanskloof Camino, the Namaqua Camino is a slackpacking adventure, so walkers only need carry what they need to get them through the day. Along with the remarkable views and magnificent scenery, this Camino is passionate about its food with two-course dinners, snacks and rusks, and delicious and hearty lunchtime spreads. Perfect for those who believe in fuelling their adventures.

On this walk expect blazing sun, mysterious mists, gentle drizzle, crashing ocean waves and endless vistas that extend beyond the horizon. The dates are carefully selected to fit in with the best possible weather and most are already sold out for 2019.

The Cape Camino

“A Camino is not a hike, the experience is intended to create a sacred space — the Catholic church is the primary sacred community hosting the Camino de Santiago,” says Gabriella Andrew, founder of the Cape Camino. “The Cape Camino is held by our sacred diversity. There are 14 different sacred ways practised on the Cape peninsula, and the route offers access to many of these. The long walking distance provides time for pilgrims to get in touch with their own internal sacred spaces. It’s all about making time for yourself, a very personal experience.”

The Cape Camino is a 160km circular route that can be started at any point along the way. One of the most common starting points is the Schoenstatt Shrine in Constantia, but walkers can pick any one of the nine legs to kickstart their experience. Each leg of the journey runs for around 12-25km and the terrain varies from peri-urban to beaches to winelands to mountain footpaths and forests. The ethos of the Cape Camino is to “choose your way”, selecting the journey that best suits temperament, fitness and goals. These range from a nine-day hike through to one that’s only for three days, and they are open all year round.

The Cape Camino has proved so popular that it is being extended up the West coast to offer a 1 000km experience for pilgrims from all over the world.

The Tankwa Camino

The Tankwa Camino is perhaps the most gruelling and demanding of all the South African Caminos. It is tough, hot, and long. Currently the longest of the Camino trails, the Tankwa Camino takes the trekker across 257km of Karoo desert. It is flat, it is sparse, and it is glorious. This is not a trail for the faint-hearted or terminally unfit; it is a mental and physical challenge that many consider to be a pilgrimage of the body and the spirit.

Walkers will tread an average of 27km per day, carrying their backpacks through varied landscapes and into incredible sunsets.The team will carry the majority of the hiker’s bags and kit, but they will need to fend for themselves during the day and be prepared to manage the extreme heat as they walk. For those who fancy a taste of the Tankwa but can’t imagine walking nearly 300km, there are shorter routes available that show off the magnificent surrounds without quite so much of the walking.

The Tankwa Camino takes place in April, August and September and has already released its 2020 dates for those who want to plan ahead. Described as the modern day “Great Trek”, it is a challenging, spiritual experience that showcases some of the most extraordinary scenery that South Africa has to offer.