A WINDOW TO THE UNIVERSE

Our second scouting mission for Izithombe Adventures was to return to the ancient Cederberg Mountain range in the Western Cape of South Africa. It’s astro season and the vast universe begins to reveal itself in all its splendor at this time of year. If you are wanting to take pictures of the milky way this the moment that needs to be seized.

I joined Damien Peterson, founder and adventure photographer for what was going to be quite frankly some of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences that I have ever had the privilege of partaking in.  As it was our first scouting mission as Izithombe Adventures, Damien invited along a young and extremely talented landscape photographer, Devin Wright and his partner Sarah Story.

Previously Damien had  made a trip out to this 450 million old sandstone mountain range that is famous for its rugged terrain and clarity of stars. You can read about that trip here Seeking Izithombe

After a four hour drive from Cape Town we arrived at Sanddrift, which is to be our base camp. The anticipation was building during the drive, excitement was electric, like everyone knew that the next couple of days was going to be something special. When you climb the pass in the loaded car and drop into the valley which is guarded by two massive sentinels in Sneeuberg and Tafelberg mountains, you suddenly get transported into a land untouched and unspoiled by modernity. Sanddrift Camp is an oasis in what is a martian type landscape of rock and heat. The Sanddrfit river that is surrounded by lush shade providing trees and green grass for weary bodies provides welcome relief. As you step out the air conditioned environment of the car you feel the heat immediately.

We set up camp and Damien immediately briefs us on what to expect. His tone is noticeably excited but not in a puppy exuberant way but in a calm and confident manner that adds feeling of you are in good hands. We are to hike up to the Wolfberg Cracks in the early hours of the following day. We are unfortunately unable to wild camp at the cracks as those privileges have been removed while vegetation is given time to restore after a fire two years ago damaged large parts of this region. That evening we braai and then head out to Maalgat, a stunning rock gorge formed by the Sanddrift river which over millions of years has cut a sizable pool out of the sandstone. It is known for refreshing swimming and high jumps from the surrounding ledges. It also provides framing for landscape, waterfall and astro photography. We arrive at dusk and a waterfall provides a muse for photographers as the sun sets.  We enter the golden and then blue hours, the stars one by one start to reveal themselves.  Not long after sunset the milky way starts to become visible and the stage is set for what we came here to see. That evening was just a warm up as the, milky way was be be at full bloom with its galactic core visible at 4:30am.   Moments captured taken at Maalgat that evening were composed with the juxtapositions of sandstone rock and universal grandeur. Adjusting the ISO, aperture and shutter speed while searching for focus on nearby rocks demonstrated the art and technical skill needed to catch such amazing moments. Just with the naked eye you will be hard pressed to find anywhere in the world that reveal so many stars in such beautiful clarity.

Adjusting the ISO, aperture and shutter speed while searching for focus on nearby rocks demonstrated the art and technical skill needed to catch such amazing moments.

After setting up some camera traps in the hope of seeing the very rarely spotted mountain leopard, we head off for an early night as this little trip was just a curtain raiser to the main show.

 

Window to the Universe. Sandstone framing and light painting.

 

An early rise, and a demanding brisk 1 hour and 20 minutes hike up steep terrain to the Wolfberg Cracks and we were at the window to the universe. We enter the wide Crack and into the cathedral of rock and setup compositions, time is of the essence as this magical hour of galactic splendor is fleeting. The subject matter, in this case the universe, does not disappointed. The milky way, which usually appears to be a white smear across the night sky is now a swirling mass of stars and galaxies that is both exhilarating and humbling. Moments like these really provide not only izithombe (beautiful pictures) but moments of clarity and perspective of our existence on this ancient planet. Izithombe Adventures was founded on these moments. This was truly a window into the universe.

Many more moments are captured through the blue hour as the milky way fades and the sun rises. . The stars retreat and the show is over for the night. We pack up the gear and head through the wide crack to the back of the Wolfberg mountain. After quick breakfast of oats, powered by a very efficient Jet Boil cooking system and setting up some compositions for some early morning alpine glow we head back down via the thin cracks which entails some tight shuffling through some challenging rock formations. This route provides some excellent landscape compositions and the sandstone formations have a aura of ancient and appear out of this world. We make it down before the searing heat of the day takes hold. An ice cold Summit Red IPA beer supplied by Lakeside Brewing Company from the cooler box in the car is was welcomed refreshment and a great end to what was an demanding but exhilarating seven hour round trip.

Lakeside Brewing Summit Red IPA. Wolfberg Cracks, Cederberg. South Africa

Post refreshing beer we headed back to base camp to rest up and replenish as the second leg of our adventure awaited us. Although tired from the the morning star chasing there was a buzz in the group, like we had seen something truly amazing that would live on in our pictures and hearts.

Galatic Core, Maltese Cross. Cederberg. South Africa.

 

 

The iconic Maltese Cross was next, a sandstone formation that looks like it was placed there by giants. It juts from a small boulder field perched on a hill on the plateau just below the imposing Sneeuberg.  The  hike up from the car park is not a long one but it is challenging especially on the back of the Wolfberg Cracks venture. We set off in the evening to avoid the heat of the day, even at 6:30pm the heat was stifling. The cross is a powerful motivator and gets you to push to the next horizon, and when another horizon is revealed you just push on.  Like moths to a bright light we just had to gravitate towards the giant sandstone totem. As you reach the final horizon and onto the plateau you feel a sense of relief but also the gravitational pull gets stronger and your march quickens. It reveals itself in all its randomly placed beauty. It makes the perfect focal point for astro photography and its prime conditions for galaxy shooting. We set up some blue hour compositions. Once again the milky way started to show itself early  and the group was able to get some great early night pictures. The real show began much later. The Galaxy core was captured by Devin’s Canon 5d mk2
with 17-40mm lens and Damien’s  Sony a7iii with Sony 16-35mm f2.8 G-Master lens on a variety of shutter speeds including long exposure which tracked the stars journey and short speeds catching shooting stars above the iconic cross. After a night of stargazing we made our way down leaving no trace.

Like moths to a bright light we just had to gravitate towards the giant sandstone totem.

Our adventure was at almost at an end. No adventure would be complete without a visit to the local Cederberg vineyard. With some of SA’s most awarded wines which benefit from the extreme temperature fluctuations of the area, it would be rude not too.

Devin Wright, Izithombe’s first adventurer Captured the Milky way above the Maltese Cross.

 

This could be said to be a once in a lifetime opportunity, yet it is not, Izithombe Adventures can take you there. Damien plans to run a 4 day adventure in this area, “in March 2020 we will organize and four day adventure to the area, including the Wolfberg Cracks and Arch ( Which is closed at present), Maltese Cross, a rest day of wine tasting and swimming and finished off with a visit to Crystal Pools’, Damien excitedly notes. He continues, “we will be spending the rest of 2019 scouting more adventures in areas like the West Coast, Wild Coast, Drakensberg and Namibia. I am really excited about showing the world just how beautiful this part of the Africa is”.

#OffRoadInFrame

More pictures from the adventure below.

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NAMIBIA

COMING 2020

It’s about reconnecting with the planet. Izithombe Adventures will be officially launching March 2020 for immersive guided adventure photography. We will be doing tours throughout Southern Africa including the Cederberg, The Wild Coast, Drakensberg, West Coast and Namibia. Over the next year we will be scouting these regions and mapping out our experiences. Stay in touch with us for news and info and Adventure packages. Follow our blog and social media to get a taste of what is to come.

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DRAKENSBERG ADVENTURE

COMING 2020

It’s about reconnecting with the planet. Izithombe Adventures will be officially launching March 2020 for immersive guided adventure photography. We will be doing tours throughout Southern Africa including the Cederberg, Drakensberg, Namibia. Over the next year we will be scouting these regions and mapping out our experiences. Stay in touch with us for news and info and Adventure packages. Follow our blog and social media to get a taste of what is to come.

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SEEKING IZITHOMBE

Packing the Jeep with my gear before heading off on adventure feels like I am shedding off layers of tension and monotony. I am heading out of Cape Town with a tent and my camera, straight to undoubtedly one of the most beautiful wild and free places that still exist in this world. Adventure on my mind and camera in hand the Cederberg is calling, my spiritual escape and re-connection with the planet await.

Removing oneself from the daily grind of the city can be hard with all the commitments and demands of the modern world. The city helps sustain us materially through convenience as our consumer lifestyles are about efficiency and time management. This, however, has numerous negative effects on the human psyche. You only truly understand this when you leave it behind you.

After a 4hr drive up the west coast and inland to the Cederberg Mountain range, named after the endangered and endemic Clanwilliam Cedar, you can feel those city layers peeling away. I am entering a World Heritage Site which forms part of the Cape Floral Region and encompasses 71 000 hectares of rugged mountainous terrain. The wildness creeps in and my energy is immediately invigorated. The mountain range is rugged and is famous for ancient sandstone rock formations like the Maltese Cross, Wolfberg Arch and Cracks. These mountains hold ancient treasure troves including 450 million old fossils, Khoisan rock art from at least a thousand years ago, leopards and a window to the universe.Adventure on my mind and camera in hand the Cederberg is calling, my spiritual escape and re-connection with the planet await.

I am on a scouting mission for future Izithombe Adventures so I head out on a two-hour hike to the Wolfberg Cracks. I come across a very rare sighting, that of a Leopard spoor and next to it a smaller footprint of its offspring. The Cracks, forged over a hundred million years provides refuge from the brutal heat and martian type landscape. This cavernous cathedral of rock not only provides shelter but also visually humbling and stimulating while offering incredible focal points and sandstone framing. The rock formations offer the opportunity for exploration and bouldering. I am here to find the best possible compositions and campsites for a future adventure. The Wolfberg Cracks and Arch will be providing Izithombe Adventures with the perfect platform for our guided and immersive photographic experiences. We will be curating this experience. We will be waiting, chasing and seeking the Izithombe (Zulu for pretty pictures).

It’s about exploring untouched remote areas that lie well off the beaten track. Immersing yourself in the wilderness through hiking and wild camping under the stars. It’s about searching for the perfect shot, hunting the deep tones and the soft directional light of early morning or late evening, nailing your focus, capturing the moment while leaving no trace.

The four-day adventure that is being planned will afford its adventures not only guidance on photographic techniques and education of the best compositions but will also take them to parts of this incredible natural beauty rich country that will reconnect them with the planet and peel away those layers of urban materialism. You will walk away with a sense of freedom and some amazing landscape and astrophotography to boot.
It’s about searching for the perfect shot, hunting the deep tones and the soft directional light of early morning or late evening, nailing your focus, capturing the moment while leaving no trace.

My day journey to cracks is over as I make my way to base camp in Sandrift. I will be heading back in two weeks to overnight wild camp at the cracks and then onto the Arch and the Maltese Cross to map out our first Izithombe Adventure.

I simply cannot wait to return and to show you through my eyes and lens the extreme natural beauty this world has to offer. It’s about reconnecting with the planet. Izithombe Adventures will be officially launching March 2020 for immersive guided adventure photography. We will be doing tours throughout South Africa including the Cederberg, The Wild Coast, Drakensberg, West Coast and many more. Over the next year, we will be scouting these regions and mapping out our experiences. Stay in touch with us for news and info and Adventure packages and follow our blog and social media to get a taste of what is to come.

Sign up for our newsletter and receive a 10% discount on your first adventure with us.