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A humbling walk on the wild side with Dr Andrew Baxter

Published: 21 September 2009
My walk through the Kloof Trail on Kingsriver Estate proved to be as fascinating as I had anticipated.

Mountaineer, CEO of Cape Storm Outdoor Apparel, renowned archaeologist and expert in paleoecology and environmental change and conservation biology – this is Dr Andrew Baxter (also chairman of the Cape Leopard Trust), who led the hike through the Koningsrivier Kloof, where the river ran for many millions of years before being dammed for agricultural purposes in 1964.
With water being the essence of all life it is only natural that this river became a rich source of sustenance for the San people who would have been the first of the settlers along its banks, trapping the smaller animals of the area which came down to drink from the river and harvesting the wild bulbs and berries. They later became culturally integrated with the pastoral Khoikhoi as they migrated from the South-West through the rugged terrain of the Little Karoo, seeking food and water for their herds.

 This gentle walk leads past ancient Bushman caves (easily accessible) and a stone-age workshop etched into the prehistoric rock face of this exceptionally beautiful water-eroded terrain which reveals evidence of Later Stone Age lithics as well as clay potsherds from the area proximal to the cave. There also appear to be Early Stone Age hand axes in river cuttings. Some of these are forged from the stone found in the area but there is also evidence of tools which have been imported into the area from other regions where the stone is harder and would then have been used to cut into the indigenous rock in order to create these artefacts. As the river levels rose and fell, different archaeological deposits from different settlements from different ages have been left in the riverbed.

The incredible excitement of finding these ancient relics ( which becomes quite easy when you know what you’re actually looking for!) was enhanced by Andrew’s expertise which allowed things like determining where the stone was quarried, when the stone was worked, what kind of technology was used to make the stone tool , and what evidence there is of the tool's use. Andrew also insists that there are lithics on the koppie behind the farm, where the Kleinberg Trail weaves along the top of the mountain, with a view over McGregor that rivals no other, and also within several sites in the Vrolikheid Nature Reserve, which borders the Estate.

The trick here is not to get obsessive only with what’s on the ground around you and remember to look up from time to time. The surrounding rugged rock face is not only breathtakingly beautiful, but also rich in plant and animal life indigenous to this area – Steenbok, Klipspringer, Cape Clawless Otter and the baboons keep a close watch on you from the rocky ridges.  Along the way, you will follow rock pools to the waterfalls, spot the pairs of Black and Fish Eagles and hear their cries which have echoed in this crevasse since time immemorial. It is really difficult not to be awe-struck by the monolithic rock structures that have existed for millennia and will probably be around long after mankind, as we know it, ceases to exist. A truly humbling moment.