Otter Trail Dec 2014

Last week I got the opportunity to hike the Otter Trail. One of the most well known and popular hikes in South Africa, I was checking the booking website daily several months before we hiked, waiting for a cancellation, and all I managed to get was 4 out of a maximum 12 slots, but I took these with pleasure. During the summer and school holidays the route tends to be fully booked months in advance. If you’re able to go out of season you can get a slot with relative ease.

Mushroom

Mushroom

The hike is about 40km over 5 days, averaging 4 hours of hiking a day. Not the most hectic of hikes, but the four hours a day you do hike are tough hours, with lots of up and down as you traverse the Cape coastline, some sections on the beach and rocks, but majority of the time spent up on the cliffs or in the forests lining the coast. Each night there are two comfortable wood cabins, each housing two triple bunk beds, a counter and two benches. Along with this is a communal lapa, and a flush toilet and cold water shower, both featuring stunning views. Drinking water and fire wood are usually available at all 4 night’s accommodation.

Day 1

Starting weather

The hike starts from the Storms River Mouth camp of the Tsitsikamma National Park, heading down the coast and ending at Nature’s Valley. A car can be left at the De Vasselot camp-site (Also a SANPark) in Nature’s valley where one anyway has to sign out on the last day. Note the start and end points of the hike are on opposite sides of the Tsitsikamma toll plaza, meaning you’re going to be paying that toll a silly amount of times. Map and tide table along with full explanation of everything you need to know are provided to you on booking in at Storms River. The cost for us was R1,010 per person for the hike, and an additional 4 days conservation fee at R42 per day, totalling R1,178 for the 5 days and 4 nights.

Waterfall on Day 1

Waterfall on Day 1

We started on a miserable day and hiked with a constant light drizzle. This was not enough to put off day visitors though and we crossed many in the first hour. Along the route is a cave which holds some interest, but a bit further on is a waterfall into a pool right on the rocks next to the sea. We opted for a short stop and swim here regardless of the weather. Although the hike can be tough, distances are short and there is plenty of time to stop and enjoy the features the hike has to offer. Day 1’s 4.8km (~2h) puts you at the Ngubu hut.

Exploring the Kleinbos River

Exploring the Kleinbos River

Day 2 was free of rain, but still overcast, a slightly longer 7.9km (~4h) takes you to hut Scott. Along the way you cross the Kleinbos River, for us this meant taking off shoes and socks to ensure our backpacks made it across the river dry. If you have the time (which you should) do a bit of exploring up the river, there are some great pools and rapids that you can work your way up for a few 100m.

Camp Scott

Camp Scott

For us, day 2 was also new years eve. The camp is situated at the mouth of a small river, and we celebrated the new year with a bottle of champagne (note: champagne bottles are heavy) as the sun went down and the clouds withdrew. We also managed to glimpse of the hike’s namesake as a family of three Cape Clawless Otters made their way into the bay from the other side of the river. Unfortunately already too dark to get any pictures.

Swimming Day 3

Swimming Day 3

Day 3 is another 7.7km (~4h) along. Jump some rocks to cross the river and you start a long ascent. About half an hour into the hike you’ll pass some rock pools to your left. The sun had finally come out, and we spent a good half hour there. The water was beautifully clear and some choice rocks offer a good platform to jump from. The first obstacle is the Elandsbos river. Although very low when we got there, a lack of rocks necessitates the removing of shoes once again.

Crossing the Lottering

Crossing the Lottering

The day ends with the crossing of the Lottering River. As you come over the hill you’ll see the Oakhurst huts, before dropping down inland a bit to cross the river. Low tide will help with this crossing, we got there spot on high-tide, but placed our bags on our shoulders still made for an easy crossing. There are some nice trees and good swimming places if you feel like taking a lunch break, otherwise the huts are another 20min along.

Voetjies

Voetjies

Day 4 is the big day, at 13.8km (~6h) it is the longest day and also has the infamous Bloukrans river crossing. The crossing is 4 hours from the start of the hike and it is always recommended to be there at low-tide. However previous day’s rain, general sea conditions and other factors can influence the crossing too. Low-tide for us was at 08h10 in the morning. That is early. We decided to go for it in any case, waking up at 04h30 and leaving camp at 05h10.

bo Bloukrans

bo Bloukrans

We were a group of 4, and kept a steady pace to get to Bloukrans after 03h30. A separate group who were hiking the same time as us left Oakhurst at 03h30, getting to the river shortly before us. So we arrived shortly after low-tide, evaluating the situation we were able to take our shoes off and walk across the river, I lifted my bag to my shoulder, but others left theirs on their backs without problem. One of our group had hike the Otter before and was amazed at the state of the river compared to when they had done it previously, and it seams everyone you speak to has a different experience. We were just very fortunate. If you run into problems there is an escape route just before the crossing.

Bloukrans River Mouth

Bloukrans River Mouth

A second breakfast other side of the river and a further two hoursish of hiking put us at the last camp of the hike, camp Andre, at 11h00 with a full day of rest ahead. Amongst other things Andre has the shower with the best view, but is also rather open to the surroundings. Many card games and some reading later put us to bed.

Camp Andre

Camp Andre

The last day is 6.8km (~3h) but besides the initial mean climb, is a rather fast and easy hike. Not much to see along the way, except some stunning views and an ending onto the pristine beach at Nature’s Valley. When you drop down on to the beach there is a route marked out to de Vasselot (I’m not sure how long this takes), but we opted to spend some time on the beach and took the main road back to the camp.

Nature's Valley

Nature’s Valley

We went to bed most nights before 22h00, waking up sometime after 07h00 the next day, usually leaving camp around 09h00. There is no rush in this hike. Relax, enjoy yourselves, stop and enjoy the area. Up-hills can be tough and tiring, but take your time, there’s plenty of it. We were a group of only four fairly fit people, so generally hiked in in a shorter time than the advised times, excluding stops. The other group that hiked had one or two slower people, meaning they took quite a bit longer. use the first day to gauge your speed.

Stormsriver Entrance

Stormsriver Entrance

If it’s a nice day you can spend a bit more time at Stormsriver, go down to the restaurant or the suspension bridge at the mouth. When we got to the camp it was packed with day visitors, but it was still nice to go have a look around.

2014 Mercedes-Benz A200 (W176)

So after saying goodbye to my C350 earlier this year after a short three months, I switched back to my Audi, but last month got my hands on a new A200. Which I’ll most likely be driving for the next year. And it’s nice.

The model I have is pretty much stock. It’s got the 7 Speed dual clutch auto (7G-DCT) (although I would have preferred a manual), and cruise-control, but otherwise as stock as it gets. It does not have a spare tyre, not even a space-saver. Which isn’t great for our roads, but I’m hoping to not have to test out the run-flats in any case. They didn’t have stock of tow-bars when I ordered it, but a Westfalia fold-away-able ball was installed shortly thereafter.

benz badge

The car goes well. Front-wheel drive, with a 1.6 litre turbo-charged engine producing somewhere around 115kw. A good 20 more than my Audi, although it does weigh an extra 200kg, putting it at close to 1.5tons. It still manages a 0-100 speed of 8.6s though and has plenty of umph for overtaking.

The car itself is comfortable. At 6’2″ I fit in quite nicely, with enough space for an equally sized person to sit behind me (although preferably only two people in the back). Manual seat adjustments are adequate along with the steering adjustment, pretty standard on current day cars. I’ll be doing a 1,000km trip at the end of the year so I’ll see what it’s like for extended periods then, up till now I’ve done a 200km trip without hassle.

2015-01-07 19.33.46

Fuel economy is not as good as I expected. Obviously how you drive does affect this. The car only has a 50l tank, which is a bit frustrating for me coming from the 65l in my Audi. Around town I’m usually only getting around 10l/100km, maybe slightly less. If I put some effort into it I can bring that down to 9. This is not necessarily only my driving style, but the type of driving I have to do.

On the open road I managed 7.9l/100km, but I’m quite sure I can improve on that, and will be testing it out again this coming weekend (EDIT: Got it down to 6.8l/100km). This is better than what my Audi got :)

A200 Instrument Panel

In typical Mercedes style, the ride itself is comfortable and rattles and wind-noise are minimal. At highway cruising speeds you don’t notice anything and the car feels like it can handle much higher speeds with ease. With a top speed of 220km/h, it’d be nice to get the car on a track some time.

The steering wheel, radio and much of the controls are straight out of the previous C-Class (204). So I felt right at home. Centre console and armrest are slightly different, with the gear lever now located off the steering column on the right, following the latest Merc trend. This gives a bit extra space for compartments. There are also small compartments in front of each of the front seats, as well as a nice sunglasses pocket by the review mirror which my sunglasses don’t fit in.

keylights

A moderate boot can be expanded immensely by the 60-40 split rear seats, large enough for a MTB bike without its wheels, or large TV. Ski’s may still provide a challenge, alas not one I will face. Climate control is a R7 500 extra, something I didn’t think I’d miss until I started driving this car. It handles well enough, sticks nicely in the corners, although body roll is noticeable at speed. It has a sensor for if it thinks you are driving too close behind someone. A red light comes on on the dash. And it beeps at you if it thinks you are going to crash into them. It has beeped at me many times, not always because of my ‘bad’ driving style at the time.

It’s a nice car. I’m really enjoying it. Visibility isn’t great, but I suspect the car will handle a roll quite well with the massive C pillars. Fuel consumption isn’t as good as I was expecting. I would have to spend more time in the Audi and BMW competitors before I could make a decision, But the ‘new’ A-class is definitely a hit and well up to standard.

Logitech Z506 demise and disassembly

Back in varsity I had a set of 2.1 channel Logitech speakers. They were great, simple and provided good sound. Alas one day they stopped working, never found out why, even after taking it apart (one had to saw open the wooden sub box) and getting several friends and family members to analyse it. In any case, I ended up purchasing a Logitech Z506 5.1ch set to replace them.

And they’ve done me well. Until recently. I’ve had them for about 3 years; I would have expected a longer life but I fear the recent spate of load shedding (and related grid instability) might have given them a knock (oddly I think it’s what happened to my last set too).

Anyway, they stopped working unexpectedly, so logically I took them apart. You can see the process below. It’s quite nicely put together, but also not with the intent of it being taken apart again later.

In any case I looked around a bit and saw that what I still believe is a fuse was not letting any current through (marked T3.15A250V). So, lacking a replacement fuse, I shorted the fuse and thought I’d fixed the problem, alas I fear there was another reason why the fuse had gone as I plugged the power back in.

Cue loud bang, my lights going out and enough flames to give me a fright. 10 o’clock at night, I made my way to my tripboard and reset the plugs, unfortunately I had also managed to trip the switch in my landlord’s house. Fortunately they were still awake and didn’t ask too many questions as I asked if I could check their tripboard quickly.

So I’m once again in the market for new speakers, but for others who might have more luck than me, here are instructions to disassemble.

Unscrew the 10 screws on the backpanel. Unscrew the 4 screws mounting the speaker to the bottom of the box. Pull the speaker out. You will notice bendy wire clips stapled to the case holding cables in place, loosen these as required.

Undo screws on back and bottom of speaker

Undo screws on back and bottom of speaker

If you have small hands you can unplug the speaker, but otherwise rest it on top. The backpanel slides out, but there is a bit of double-sided tape holding it in place at the back under the panel. You can release this by pulling the PC-Board away from the side of the box. You can then pull the backpanel and PCB out. This will let you unplug the two plugs on the power supply.

Plugs to unscrew and mounting points

Plugs to unscrew and mounting points

With the main board out, you can loosen the two screws holding the PSU in place and slide it out.

partsSimple as that, above you can see where the fuse I shorted was, and also a bit of the transformer which I think I burnt out. Oops :(

 

SA Driver’s Licence codes, old vs new

It constantly frustrates me how although since 1998 (16 years ago) the official licence system has made use of a system of letters to distinguish between different licence codes, to this day, people still, on a regular basis, refer to licence codes by the old number system.

To make things easier for people who are getting confused, I’ve pulled the data from the Road Traffic Act and put it together here, first the learner’s licence, then driver’s licence info. The system has undergone several changes over the decades and the time frame that each refers to is specified at the top of each column

I’ve also added a copy of a current driver’s licence to show what the current codes refer to.

Learner’s Licence system

learner’s licence issued before 1 March 1998 New/Current Learner’s Licence What this currently entails
Code 01, 02, 03, 04 and 15 Code 1 Motorbike / trike
Code 05, 06, 07, 08 Code 2 LMV
code 10, 11, 13 and 14 Code 3 HMV or LMV

Driver’s Licence

Current [1995 – 1998] [01.06.1990 – 1995) [31.12.1985 – 01.06.1990) [01.02.1972 – 31.12.1985) [01.01.1967 – 01.02.1972) [… – 01.01.1967)
A1 Code 01 Code 01 Code 01 Code 01 Code 01 Code 01
A Code 15 Code 02
Code 15
Code 03
Code 04
Code 02
Code 03
Code 04
Code 02
Code 03
Code 04
Code 02
Code 03
Code 02
Code 03
B Code 05
Code 07
Code 05
Code 07
Code 05
Code 07
Code 05
Code 07
agricultural / industrial vehicles
EB Code 08 Code 08 Code 08 Code 08 Code 08 Code 08
EC1 Code 10 Code 10 Code 10 Code 9
EC Code 11
Code 13
Code 14
Code 11
Code 13
Code 14
Code 11
Code 13
Code 14
Code 10
Code 11
Code 10
Code 11
Code 10
SA Driver's Licence

Current SA driver’s licence codes

A code 6 licence could be given for any category licence referring to an electrically powered vehicle.
A code 12 licence could be given for any category licence referring to a vehicle that is specially adapted for use by a physically disabled person.

All info is from the Road Traffic Act, Regulations, Chapter V: Fitness of Drivers, Part ll: Learner’s and driving licences and it goes into a lot more detail than I’ve displayed here. You can click the following terms if you would like more info on the SA Driver’s licence system or the Professional Driver’s Permit.