Okay, perhaps not Rambo. And never Chuck Norris, both. However a hike via Bainskloof on a quest for an endangered fish made Jay Caboz really feel as intrepid as any big-screen motion hero

For a typical Capetonian, a snorkel journey begins with wetsuit, masks and fins – after which that awkward waddle throughout the seaside. This units off a collection of disturbing psychological visualisations of a gasping plunge into the icy Atlantic with the reward of a bone-chilling, but elegant swim via moody kelp forests on an expedition to spy on fish and nudibranchs, perhaps swim with seals and have penguins pop into the water with you. For those who’re fortunate, that’s.

Which is why, once I was provided the chance to snorkel with a few of the world’s rarest fish, a species solely discovered within the Western Cape, I by no means anticipated that discovering them would imply travelling 100km inland.  

Such was the case when I discovered myself subsequent to journey and journey information Nico Meyer, on a blisteringly scorching summer season morning at Tweede Tol campsite on the Bainskloof mountain move. We have been, I’d been instructed, heading deep into the guts of Limietberg Nature Reserve.

I hopped out of the automotive totally outfitted. Climbing boots, trekking poles, and a heavy backpack laden with the GoPro, digicam, tripod, sunblock and path combine. 

Nico’s skilled side-eye took me and my paraphernalia in. ‘We’re going straight up the river, like Rambo,’ he mentioned. ‘I don’t suppose your digicam gear’s going to outlive; it’s extremely unlikely you’ll make it to the realm the place they stay with out getting moist.’  

With a decade spent working as a ranger at five-star recreation reserves, Nico match the character information mould completely. Proper right down to the khaki shirt and pants and dry sense of humour. For those who’ve seen Stallone’s Rambo flicks, you’ll be able to think about the anguish that took me by the scruff of my neck. I knew we had a 6km hike to get to the fish, however had I utterly underestimated the terrain we have been about to traverse?

‘Don’t fear,’ Nico mentioned, ‘that’s why I introduced the drybag.’

And off we set on what I imagined was to be a scenic hike, following a route that winds upstream. Sometimes, I imagined, we’d be crossing one among South Africa’s most pristine watercourses, the Witte River. 

Our objective was to search out the elusive Burchell’s redfin (Pseudobarbus burchelli), a tiny rosy fish identified domestically because the Breede redfin. 

These redfins have been once so widespread you may discover them in any stream all through the Cape Fold mountains. Sadly, their numbers have dwindled to a mere fraction of what they as soon as have been. Their inhabitants is remoted and restricted to a handful of mountain streams the place their habitat stays intact and there’s an absence of invasive fish. So uncommon actually are these ruddy redfins, that they’re listed on the IUCN Crimson Checklist as critically endangered, one badly timed fishing journey from extinction.  

It didn’t take lengthy for Nico’s “Rambo” foreshadowing to turn into actuality as, simply 75m from the automotive – below a bridge, previous a picnic website – we stood on the river’s rocky shoreline, Nico grinning knowingly. 

‘That’s the strolling accomplished,’ he mentioned. ‘From right here on, we swim.’

He urged that I preserve my footwear on to grapple with sharp and slippery rocks, and with that, we slipped into Rambo mode, drybag in tow, boots slip-sliding over rocks, tripod on my head. 

Whereas all this was occurring, and I used to be making an attempt to not fall, Nico defined how alien fish species had invaded and brought over the setting. How, in consequence, there was little or no life. No bugs, no small fish.

Virtually a century in the past, he mentioned, species corresponding to bass and trout have been launched into Western Cape river streams. With no pure predators they shortly tailored to their new setting, inflicting the decimation of populations of smaller indigenous freshwater fish such because the redfin. In sure instances, as within the Eerste River, this induced the whole native extinction of redfins. 

After about 25 minutes of Ramboing, we reached “The Wall”, a piece of bedrock too excessive for invasive fish species to leap over. Past this, Nico mentioned, we might discover Breede redfin. 

We arrange a basecamp on a big flat part of rock overlooking a deep pool of water that leaned towards a granite cliff face. It was brutally uncovered to the solar. However, instantly, there was a noticeable distinction within the water high quality. There was a hanging distinction, too, within the life round us. Bugs floated on the floor of the swimming pools and watergrass swayed within the ripples. 

As we donned our masks, Nico defined that redfins are fairly shy. The trick to discovering, he mentioned, was to snorkel slowly and make efforts to not disturb the algae. 

On the pool’s edge, we plunged in. In comparison with the Atlantic, the water was pleasantly heat. Snorkel-breathing with my head submerged gave me that sense of getting entered a distinct world. We inched our approach across the pool, trying in cracks and crevices to see what we might discover. 

Not as elusive as I’d imagined, it wasn’t too lengthy earlier than we noticed them – a gaggle of about 15 redfin, shimmering in a shoal of vitality. Every was in regards to the size of a finger, their scales reflecting beams of daylight filtering via the floor as they flashed their distinctive vibrant purple fins.

We remained semi-submerged, faces within the water, misplaced on this otherworld, making an attempt to not transfer, fingers prolonged, holding on to the rocky mattress to maintain ourselves below water. 

It was a magical expertise as dozens of redfins and Cape kurper (Sandelia capensis) got here nearer. They swam via, between and round our fingers and in entrance of our masks, nearly urging us to remain just a bit longer. 

What struck me in these moments was a robust sense of impermanence, figuring out that these uncommon creatures may at any second now not exist in any respect. Right here I used to be in an enchanted alien world, communing with one thing alive and important and on the very brink of extinction. For a short whereas, all the things else stopped mattering and that underwater bubble turned my total universe.

‘It’s the silence,’ mentioned Nico, after we lastly emerged from the water. ‘That’s what will get me. Once you dip your head under water, it’s such as you’re in a distinct world. It’s so quiet and peaceable. And the longer you keep that approach, the nearer the redfins come to you.’ 

It was satisfying to have spent cherished time with these underhyped, unheralded endangered creatures, however it was nice to really feel the new solar on my shivering physique. The pool may not be as icy because the Atlantic, however I doubt even Stallone would final too lengthy in that pure mountain run-off.

Quickly, what had been a delicate breeze after we arrived was choosing up, the wind now chopping the water’s floor, disturbing the pool’s serenity. It was time to pack up.

As we navigated again via the winding river, our footwear soaked, our necks sunburnt, I puzzled if these fish would nonetheless be right here by the point my very own youngsters have been sufficiently old to observe Rambo reruns with me. 

The info

In 2019, the South African Nationwide Biodiversity Institute discovered {that a} third of South Africa’s freshwater fish species are threatened with extinction. 

At current, 20 Western Cape endemic species are thought-about “susceptible”, “endangered” or “critically endangered” by the Worldwide Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The Breede redfin is taken into account to be critically endangered, one step away from extinction. 

Half of South Africa’s freshwater fish species are endemic (discovered nowhere else on Earth). 

In line with the World Wildlife Fund’s World’s Forgotten Fishes report launched final yr, freshwater biodiversity is declining at twice the speed of that within the oceans or forests. A 3rd of freshwater fish species globally are threatened with extinction. Populations of migratory freshwater fish have plunged by 76% since 1970, and megafish by a staggering 94%. 

*You may contribute in the direction of fish and redfin conservation tasks by donating to the Freshwater Analysis Centre. frcsa.org.za


To observe in Rambo’s footsteps, you’ll want a day move from Cape Nature, and go ready with eco-friendly sunscreen, hat, masks and snorkel, water waders (or boots you don’t thoughts getting moist), and are available ready to get moist on the best way there, too. 

Alternatively, ebook a visit with Nico Meyer’s WILDcape, a Paarl-based tour firm aiming to attach travellers with their setting and hopefully instil a deeper appreciation of the pure world. Nico conducts excursions all around the Western Cape – from disa looking on Desk Mountain to multiday Whale Path hikes. 083 263 8206 wildcapesa.co.za

Not eager to observe in Rambo’s footsteps? 

Relax at one of many Tweede Tol picnic websites whereas your folks Rambo it up the river. Permits are R50 per grownup, R30 per little one (free for Wild Card  holders). Solely 120 guests are permitted per day. Gates are open from 8am to 6pm. capenature.co.za

Sleep over

Stonewood Mountain Cabin
On the Bree River, this picket cabin provides a laid again rusticity retreat for as much as six individuals. From R2 100 pn on weekdays. stonewoodmountaincabin.com 

Arum Lily Cottage and Log Cabin

A 30-minute drive from Bainskloof and positioned on the sting of a dam, these two family-sized home-from-home choices are nice if you could relaxation up after your Rambo mission. From R1 600 pp pn. arumlilycottage.co.za 

AfriCamps at Doolhof

In Wellington’s picturesque backcountry, you’ll be able to glamp at Doolhof Wine Property, the place mountain biking, wine tasting and spa remedies are on supply. From R1 940 for 2, though tents accommodate 5 individuals.  africamps.com 

Redfin titbits 

The Breede redfin grows to about 120mm, in regards to the size of your index finger.  As their title suggests, they are often recognized by their distinctive purple fins. 

The fry and juveniles kind giant shoals, whereas adults happen in small teams.They’re backside to midwater feeders. They prey on something from tiny invertebrates to bugs, larvae, in addition to zooplankton and algae. 

The best season to swim with the Breede redfin is summer season, when the climate is heat and – in preparation for breeding season – their colouring is at its most hanging, the males placing on their finest present to draw females.

This text initially appeared within the print subject of Getaway in June 2022

Phrases and pictures by Jay Caboz

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