The winning school from last year’s art competition, Die Coetzee Ateljee, recently went for their much anticipated Cape Leopard Trust Environmental camp in the Cederberg. Die Coetzee Ateljee is a specialist art school in Piketberg, run by owner and avid artist, Karin Coetzee. Her students won numerous prizes for their exceptional art and also secured the overall first place winning a camp in leopard country - in this case the CEDERBERG! This is a personal account by CLT Environmental Educator, Catherine Kühn, who had the privilege of sharing this special journey with them.
The children were extremely excited when I picked them up in Piketberg, all ready and raring to go. Karin informed me that they really had no idea what they were in for, but nonetheless all were looking forward to the mystery adventure to come.
We took the road less travelled and headed over Nieuwoudtpas and Uitkykpas and gradually made it to our final destination at Matjiesrivier, after a very bumpy ride!
The shaky and bumpy drive along the gravel road set the scene for the next few days and it showed the children they were leaving the boerewors curtain far behind them and heading into the very heart of the Cederberg bundu!
Day one consisted of the tent set-up, introductions and camp-site orientation. Just when the children thought they had time to settle in, we ventured off to visit Stadsaal. We explored the caves and studied the beautiful rock paintings left by the Khoi-san several thousands of years ago. The cave exploration was a big hit and the children felt a bit like David Livingstone entering new and unchartered territory! We even came across a time-machine cave, a jacuzzi and a dark passageway that had many of them going back in once they discovered there was nothing to be afraid of. The group was then shown a presentation on Cape leopards and other animals of the Cederberg and this made the little children and big children (aka adults) more aware of the animal diversity in the area. What made things more exciting is that just a few days before, a male Cape leopard was caught by our camera trap just near to the campsite. Wow, now we know for sure there is definitely a leopard presence in the area!
Day two was an early start and we were all packed and ready for our fynbos/Cedar tree hike along the Welbedacht hiking trail at Driehoek. It was a beautiful hot day and the crystal clear pools in the river provided a very welcome rest stop. The group was surprised to hear that the water is suitable for drinking, and after much hesitation they all tried a sip and realised that the sweet, unique taste of fresh mountain water is worlds apart from the tap water in the city!
We hiked to the big, old and very charismatic Cedar Tree (Widdringtonia cedarbergensis) and spent our lunch time enjoying the shade of this critically endangered and endemic. The Cedars have a very compelling presence and we could all feel this as I spoke to the group about its unique characteristics. Later that day we went fossil-hunting and to the children and adult’s surprise, we found many rocks from the bokkeveld shale group that still had the marks of ancient sea creatures on them.
The day was not quite finished, and as soon as the sun went down we started our scorpion search, we looked for them with our UV torches but unfortunately only found one dead scorpion. We then did some star gazing and looked at the striking full moon through binoculars. The children also learnt how to navigate at night by using the Southern Cross to locate South. The children were all suitably tired that night and went to sleep straight after the astronomy lesson.
Our final day began with a morning drive to Truitjieskraal where the children had fun exploring the caves and climbing the unique sandstone rock features. We even came across some real rock climbers doing their thing and it inspired the children to think about coming back to the Cederberg for more climbing in the future! The morning sun provided some much needed warmth and we all sat happily on the rocks embracing the calm of the Cederberg Wilderness and took time to write two group poems as we reflected on the experience we had enjoyed together.
Overall the camp was a huge success and each child learnt valuable lessons to take away, especially about themselves. They overcame their own fears and realised they must keep challenging themselves in order to grow. Every child felt inspired to come back to the Cederberg and to explore more of its captivating beauty. As the bus left for home all had a deeper understanding about nature, and now they know that while it is here for our benefit, we need to do our utmost best to look after, preserve and respect it.
Thank you Karin Coetzee for entering your art-school into our competition. We are excited to see new artworks being submitted for this year’s competition. Please continue with the good work and keep the children drawing, painting and exploring!
The Cape Leopard Trust Enviro Team!