The fragrance of Buddleja auriculata enveloped us as we gathered beside the Karkloof forest for a three day hike in the hills.
“mmm,,, wild honey” commented one participant, while another said “urgh, that smells like a wet dog or something fermenting.” This scent is a well known feature of Midlands winters, when indigenous Buddlejia bushes blossom profusely. Clearly not every human loves it, but the bees and butterflies do.
I was fortunate to join Julia Colvin of Spekboom Tours for her Falls2Falls slack pack and followed the group into the forest on Bushwillow Park. We stopped often to chat about the trees we came across. Visitors from other parts of South Africa were fascinated to learn about medicinal and cultural uses of the various species.
There were many, many Lemonwoods – Xymalos monospora – probably an indication of how heavily the other trees in this forest had been harvested by pioneer settlers.
We puzzled for ages over a guava like tree – with orange patchy bark. Andrea Abbott thought it was probably an Ochna and we settled on Ochna arborea as a probable ID. The common name is Coldbark Ochna – it was very cold to touch, much colder than other trees. The Karkloof Charaxes butterfly breeds on these trees.
Penny Rees commented that it really felt that we were in the lungs of Mother Earth, someone else quipped “and we are giving her emphysema!” Parts of the forest floor were densely covered with Clivia which must be an absolute picture in Spring.
After a couple of hours, we emerged into the sunshine above the forest with incredible views of the Karkloof Valley. Here on the edges, the Giant Daisy Bush (Printzia) was in flower.
We wandered along to the top of Grey Mare’s Tail Falls. The stream was trickling over the edge, but not enough to create the famous swishing tail. We peered over the cliff into the forest below and filled out water bottles with delicious cold water straight out of the hillside.
After a restorative snack on the edge, the group split in two – with those keen for an energetic hike heading off with gusto, while the others spent more time looking at flowers, ambling along taking photos and soaking up the small details.
The golden grassland had us entranced, with sun faded everlastings catching the light.
We picnicked on wraps filled with roasted veggies on a ridge with wrap around views. As we feasted we could see Swartkop, Midmar, Inhosane, Kamberg, Giant’s Castle, Amphitheatre, Mount Gilboa, Blinkwater, Albert Falls Dam, Table Mountain and Otto’s Bluff!
Surrounded by stones standing silently, we discussed how they may have come to be so upright. With such an interesting group of women theories ranged from scientific to mystical – with many tales shared of other places where they occurred – like the Karkloof Standing Stones in the plantations below.
We descended slowly on a steep path through the forest. Trees dripping with lichen and moss, the forest floor thick with ferns. This part of the forest was so completely different from the area we had climbed up through, so we were pleased to have taken this path even though it was quite challenging and slow going.
In need of a cup of tea, we often wondered if we were EVER going to get to the bottom, but once we smelt the Buddleja we knew we were nearly home. Just as the sun dipped behind the forest tops 600m above, we got back to Bushwillow, tired but thrilled to have had such a beautiful day in such good company.
The next morning dawned cold and wet. It was hard to get going and venture out. It was clear that we would not be able to do our scheduled trek to the Karkloof Falls. By mid day our toes were twitching so we put on our gloves and rain gear and set off into the mist anyway.
A brisk walk on farmlands with lots of friendly chatter was just what we needed. Julia pointed out at one point that we would have a great view of both Midmar and Albert Falls dam from that spot, but we would have to rely on our imaginations instead! After a couple of hours, we admitted defeat and turned around with spirits still high.
On the way back to the fireplace and sherry decanter at Amber Avenue Guesthouse, we spotted a couple of warthogs who didn’t seem to mind the weather at all.
We could hardly believe out luck when Sunday dawned crisp but clear. A few of the group swung in the trees at the Karkloof Canopy Tours before we all set off through the avocado plantations of Everdon Estate.
This time we could see the views and they were beautiful. Across Howick to Inhlosane and over Albert Falls on the other side.
Skirting below KwaWula estate we entered uMngeni Valley Nature Reserve at the furthest corner. The Aloe maculata in full bloom were spectacular and we were pleased to have many opportunities to stop and photograph them, wondering at the range of colours.
We enjoyed a quick snack at View Site before setting off along the ridge through the old gold grass dotted with mauve Athrixia phylicoides (Bushman’s Tea). A wide variety of seed heads and shriveled leaves in burnt purple, faded copper and deep brown meant we stopped often to marvel at the textures.
The mass of blossoms bursting from the branches of Halleria lucida amazed everyone who had not seen this before. Providing a good mid-winter feast for insects and birds and living up to it’s isiZulu name utshwala bezinyoni – beer for the birds.
Beside the path we saw, Buddleja dysophylla with frothy clusters of flowers, with protruding stamens, on the ends of branches. The silvery foliage is very attractive too.
At Hepburn Cottage, a picnic lunch complete with champagne greeted us. We took off our hats and packs and settled down for a little relaxation – and more conversation.
From here, we continued along the Black Eagle Trail. Sadly, the eagles are no longer resident, but we marvelled at the views, puzzled over animal spoor and scats and enjoyed this sunbird singing amongst the red leaves and copper pods of Combretum erythrophyllum.
This is one of my favourite trails in uMngeni Valley as you walk through different types vegetation – rocky areas with aloes and figs clinging to the cliffs, grassland and bush scrub and at the end, across a stream and through the forest.
Once again the sweet honey fragrance reminded us it was mid-winter. Buddleja salviifolia with wrinkled leaves and mauve flowers is host to the Phalanta phalantha butterfly.
With the end almost in sight and the late afternoon sun giving us many photographic opportunities we walked along the Sunset Trail beneath the Paperbark thorn trees (Vachellia sieberiana) and past a small herd of zebras.
The view of Howick Falls across the gorge, with Inhlosane in the background never fails to delight me and had our visitors in awe too. It was a fitting end to our fabulous Falls2Falls hike.
If you have a chance, do join one of Julia’s slack-pack hikes. There are such treasures to discover right on our doorstep. Coming up soon is the Dargle Samango Trail in October and another Karkloof Falls2Falls in November. She is even planning a 10 day Midlands ‘Camino’ next year which sounds absolutely unmissable.