19 Walks

On my 59th birthday, I completed 19 of my proposed #59Walks before I turn 60.

In March, I wasn’t hurrying as I thought I had heaps of time to fit them all in. I didn’t count on 3 months without doing any new walks! Of course, I do walk everyday – my usual walks. My intention was 59 different walks, so these can’t count. Although, now that I am feeling the pressure, who knows what might count as a walk?

These are my first 19. I will post again after 39 and then the last 20 at 59 (hopefully before I turn 60 next June). Looks like they will mostly be close to home – at least for the next few months. Luckily, I live in walking heaven.

Walk 1 – Kilgobbin Forest & Grassland

On the first Thursday of each month, I lead a walk on behalf of Dargle Conservancy from Crab Apple Cottages through mist-belt forest and grassland. These properties are part of the Dargle Nature Reserve. Every month the walk is completely different. In spring the new leaves on the Celtis africana trees bath us in luminous green, while in winter the leaves on the forest floor crunch underfoot. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Dargle Conservancy a few years ago, a large group of us set off along the old logging trails. It was a wonderful occasion. Read about that here.

Today we ambled along listening to the Emerald Cuckoo call and admiring the trees and flowers. Special flower sightings for me were Littonia modesta , Harveya speciosa and Disa stachoides. For many years, when I lived at Old Kilgobbin Farm, I explored the forest and this grassland – so it is a real treat to have this regular opportunity to visit again.

This walk costs R50 pp, with proceeds going to the Dargle Conservancy. You need to book by sending me a message on 083 473 3074.

Walk 2 – Weed Walk

I was joined by visitors from Gauteng, Zambia and Denmark for a Weed Walk along the banks of the uMngeni river, followed by a wild lunch. All the things I love to do rolled into one – and they paid me! I forage along these paths almost daily, so it is always interesting to share the area with visitors. I host a Weed Walk on Airbnb Experiences that raises funds for Slow Food International. My guests were amazed at this treasure right in suburbia and nibbled on plantain (tastes like mushroom) and chickweed (tastes like baby corn) as we wandered. Later in the summer, there were different plants to taste – like carroty guta kola and nettles which taste a little like walnuts, Read more about this Weed Walk here.

Walk 3 – Highmoor

A summer hike across Highmoor is wonderful – but do be aware that there is no shade. On this day I walked to Caracal Cave with some of my favourite young people. It was an absolutely perfect day, and as usua,l Highmoor delivered spectacular views. One really gets the feeling that you are right in the mountains here, surrounded by grassland. There must have been a big hailstorm in the last few days as the plants were battered and there were no flowers to photograph – besides one interesting white Aristea that I have never seen before. A splendid chameleon carefully crossing the bridge had us entranced.

To get to Highmoor, one heads along the Kamberg Road and past Cleopatra. Entrance free is R40 per person. Another wonderful walk in Highmoor is to Aasvoel Cave. This is the perfect place for an easy walk in the mountains – and there are dams to dip in.

Walk 4 – Hilton College Estate

My lovely friend Bridget Krone invited me for a Sunday saunter on Hilton College Estate where she lives. There were gorgeous yellow and black blister beetles everywhere, lots of butterflies, blue cranes and beautiful views all the way to the Berg and over Albert Falls dam. Bridget supplied great conversation (her latest book Small Mercies has just been published) and welcome homemade lemon juice. This walk is not open to the public.

Walk 5 – uMngeni River Path downstream

Afternoon walks along the river bank are always calm and lovely. Sometimes we bump onto a few fishermen, a jogger or learners on their way home, but usually we have it all to ourselves. I’ve never worked out the distance, but I can walk for a couple of hours at least along this stretch of river. In summer, the shade is welcome through the forested part (mostly invasive aliens, but pleasant nonetheless) and in winter, I know the spot where the last rays of sunshine fall. It is lovely to bask on the warm rocks as the pigeons and hadedas do, while a family of ducks with dark beaks paddle about.

The river curves around the suburbs, some parts of the banks are manicured, others a bit disheveled. It is here that people who live on the other side take a short cut, clambering across the boulders in the river. Mills Falls is a beautiful cascade that is not very well known – I guess the spectacular Howick Falls takes all the glory – but is certainly worth visiting if you are wandering along the river banks. We are so fortunate to have this treasure in suburbia, maintained by voluntary effort and donations from residents.

Walk 6 – Hlogoma, Underberg

I was invited to talk to the Underberg Garden Club about edible weeds and in the afternoon the charming owners of The Lemon Tree, Huck and Elsabe Orban, who are keen hikers, accompanied me to the top of Hlogoma. The hill (1904m) looms over the village and is a popular walk with locals. The views across to the Drakensberg, and of the uMzimkulu River valley are splendid. I lalways enjoy Huck’s spectacular photos on UnderbergCalling, so it was marvellous to see the views for myself. On the summit, we met Todd Collins, well-known vet and writer, who explained that the word Hlogoma means ‘echoes of falling water’.

Walk 7 – Cobham Nature Reserve

How incredible to pay just R45 entrance fee and have hundreds of hectares of wilderness all to myself. Grassland to explore, rivers to swim in, flowers to photograph, birds, butterflies and beetles to watch, endless skies and absolute silence. Not a soul in sight. This ‘walk’ was more of a swim actually, as I couldn’t resist a dip in every deep pool, cascade, clear stream, rock ledge and waterfall.

Just outside of Himeville, the 52 000ha reserve has incredibly rich biodiversity including many endemic species. I have visited Cobham a few times now and it is always marvellous – even when it is freezing cold. There is a nice parking area if you are just doing a day walk. Accommodation is either camping or the very basic Pholela Hut which is used by hikers during the Giants Cup Trail.

Walk 8 – Tillietudlem

I have never visited Tillietudlem Nature Reserve, so when I was asked to assist with flower identification on a walk, I was pleased to add it to my #59Walks. 1200ha of the 2000ha property is proclaimed as a nature reserve. A spectacular herd of Nguni cattle (with lots of egrets in attendance) roam the grasslands. Basil Roth, the manager, is a knowledgeable guide and enchanted us with tales of poisonous (not venomous) grasshoppers, Monach butterflies and milkweeds, and demonstrations of the twisting action of spear grass (when dampened) to drill the seed into the ground. We walked up a gorge formed by the headwaters of the Elands River, admiring the flowers and nibbling on the minty leaves of Satureja reptans (Bushman’s sweets). Our floral finds included Pterygodium magnum amongst the ouhout trees, Schizoglossum hamatum with striped caterpillars, Jamesbritennia breviflora and Felicia filifolia. It was a lovely outing, which included a delicious tea and lunch on the beautiful veranda of Ograms House. When another opportunity to explore this usually private place comes around, don’t pass it up.

Walk 9 – Shuttleworth’s in Fort Nottingham

As I trundled along the back roads towards Nottingham Road, I marvelled at the spectacular day I had chosen to walk in the hills. Freshly washed, blue skies and not too hot – perfect. At my first appointment in the village, I sweltered and took off as many layers as possible, over lunch outdoors, I put them back on. By the time I was due to set off for my walk with the Shuttleworth family there was thunder and rain! We walked in the mist, through forest and grassland -it was magical. Flowers we paid particular attention to were Silene burchellii (gunpowder plant), Cycnium racemosum (ink plant), Inigofera (not sure of species), Polygala hottentotta, Protea dracomontana and Cyanotis speciosa (doll’s powder puff) with a bright green crab spider clasping a bee.

Back in their interesting home, under construction in the trees, Silver served hot tea and homemade bread to warm us up. We chatted life in the midlands and how fortunate we are to live here. Read more about this creative Midlands family.

Walk 10 – West along uMngeni River

Beans and I walk upstream along the river almost every morning at dawn, all the way to the Scout Hall. While we are most often alone, we do enjoy meeting dog friends – Maggie, Monty, Hamilton, Emily, Sammy, Badger, Cody and Mia. Together, the dogs race along the paths, romp in the grass, paddle in the river, hop on the rocks, sniff a lot and make all their human companions smile. There is a surprising amount of wildlife here. On a couple of occasions recently, we spotted a white-tailed mongoose, there are always herons, often crowned cranes and we used to regularly see a large monitor lizard but don’t anymore. I have never spotted the otters, however, their midden beside one of the benches tells us they are still around. There must be a hundred hadedas that herald the morning. Some very vocal Egyptian geese and a clattering pair of kingfishers don’t appear to disturb the woolly necked storks who stand silhouetted on single legs, high in a tree. Flowering crinums in spring and red hot pokers in autumn are always spectacular.

Bill Speight is the man behind the wonderful river path and the uMngeni River Conservancy – all run by donations and volunteers. As he says “This is such a treasure for our town. Properties along here should be worth millions.” He is right.

Walk 11 – Dargle Hills

I am fortunate that a friend in Dargle allows me to walk on his extensive property. I love to get out into the hills and hear the reedbuck whistle. This morning’s wander was all about the butterflies. I was out early enough to observe them before they set off on their journey eastwards. Besides hundreds of Belenois aurota (Pioneer Caper Whites or Brown-veined Whites), I also spotted a couple of Orange throated longclaws, some lovely flowers including Asclepias macrocarpus, Hypericum lalandii, Kniphofia laxiflora and quite a few Eulophia odontoglossa which have been prolific this summer. Bean spotted a couple reedbuck, which she would have loved to chase, but I keep her on a lead in places like this so she doesn’t disturb the wildlife. If you are interested in wildflowers, I compiled information on some that are found in the area for the Dargle Conservancy.

Walk 12 – Beacon Hill

I love to walk on Beacon Hill on the edge of Howick, with spectacular views across Midmar and the Midlands. Today, I joined others for a morning focussed on identifying some of the grasses found in this 40ha piece of mist-belt grassland. Beacon Hill is unique in that it has not been grazed by livestock for decades and supports many critically endangered plants. Over 100 indigenous flower species have been recorded on Beacon Hill, as well as 19 kinds of grass, six tree species, 62 birds, 10 mammals and many butterflies. It is thanks to individual citizens over the years, who have worked hard to preserve this treasure – that it is now an official Protected Area in the Biodiversity Stewardship Programme. Friends of Beacon Hill is a volunteer group that works towards conserving this precious remnant as a public open space and an area of conservation significance.

On the last Sunday of every month, you can join them for a guided walk on the hill for a small donation. Book with Eve Hughes 082 872 4333

Walk 13 – Symmonds Stream

On Leap Day, it is imperative to watch striped river frogs hopping into streams. I joined the Symmonds Stream Walk and enjoyed birds, butterflies, flowers and human company. The frogs were too quick to capture on camera. Passionate volunteers (particularly Pia Sanchez and Pam McLaren) have worked for many years to protect this urban open space and natural treasure. The stream’s source is below Buchanan Street and it flows approximately 1,6 km through residential Howick before dropping into the uMngeni Valley over the Forgotten Falls. Sadly, some businesses, organisations and residents alongside the stream treat the area with great disrespect. However, the wildflowers on the remaining scrap of mist-belt grassland still host many pollinators, the wetlands slow and clean the water and small mammals and birds use the space.

You can walk all the way from Yard 41 to Beacon Hill along the stream – passing the hidden Muslim cemetery and getting completely different view of our little town. Well done Friends of Symmonds Stream for your dedication and constant effort for the benefit of all Howick humans and other creatures.

Walk 14 – Khutwini

Aaah, Pondoland. Now that is a brilliant place to walk.

My friends and I were based at Mngcambeni village in Khuthwini (Cutwini) for a few days where there are some incredible walks and natural wonders to explore. We were pleased to have the cooling wind as we set off across the grassland on a hot morning. Crossing beautiful streams (the Khutwini River was the first one) admiring wildflowers, spotting birds and chatting to cattle grazing contentedly. Our destination was Mfihlelo Falls – one of the many spectacular waterfalls on this coastline that plunge straight into the sea. The wind was hectic, so we clung onto our hats (and the edge of the cliff) as we admired the views. Next, we headed for the pools and cascades in Khuthwini river to picnic and frolic. Walking AND swimming – my favourite things! Then, we edged our way down a steep seaside hill for the perfect view of Sentinel Rock – a rocky outcrop in the sea, with a tunnel through it. To top off this treat, a large school of dolphins swam up the coast in front of us.

Back up the hill and over the top to one of the secret spots that usual hikers along this coast don’t get to see. Our guide Mlungisi Mbuzwa lives here, and because we were based in one village rather than trekking between them, we got to see lots of special spots that are off the beaten track. Mhlana is an enormous rock that bridges a steep, narrow gorge that runs into the sea, unnoticeable until you are upon it – with a gap that gives one a view of the sea. Gingerly, we peered into the crevice and down to the waves crashing on the rocks. Only the youngsters who herd cattle know of this place, Mlu told us., How many times could we gasp in amazement? The surprises were seemingly endless.

Filled to the brim with marvels, adventures and interesting stories we headed home to Noxolile Dwetye’s home for tea and freshly braaied mealies, then up to Phumlani’s shop for cold beer to enjoy as the moon rose above the mealie field. Such a marvellous day we exclaimed; how could anything beat it?

Walk 15 – Mtambalala

On a previous visit to this village, I spent time at Mtambalala Falls and was utterly enchanted. This river rises just South of Mngcambeni and tumbles towards the sea in an endless succession of cascades. Most hikers cross it at the top on their way towards Mbotyi, where it is pretty enough with big flat rocks, an abundant Syzigium cordata bearing fruit and the first of the waterfalls dissapearing into the gorge below.

We went the long way around on the first day via Mgcagcama Hill and the beach. Lots of cattle trudging across the sand, so we could get photos of this classic Wildcoast scene. We swam in the sea and in the lovely lagoon, basked on the banks and explored the dune forest. Then, after a glimpse of the waterfalls in the forest above, we crossed the Mnyengane (eel) River with the best tasting water around, to find them. Water bottles filled to the brim we climbed through the forest on the path that Khuthwini locals use to get to the clinic in Mbotyi. We tried to imagine someone who wasn’t feeling well scrambling up and over the rocks that doubled at the cattle path too.It is a magical thing to swim in freshwater pools with spectacular views of the ocean and beach below. Our occasional company a few goats, a herdsman and his dog, and a lone bull who traipsed through the river and up the hill. We wallowed, enjoyed waterfall massages, read, dreamt and sunbathed on the warm rocks. Glorious. We clambered over the boulders in the river to find a little plant, Urticularia sandersonii, that I had seen on a previous visit and which Christeen was very keen to photograph. Yay! It was flowering profusely, and we waded across the pool clutching our cameras. Sue thought she would ‘just see’ what was on the next level and we kept rock climbing up the cascades, finding more pools and beautiful falls and special plants, quite hidden from the path below. Feeling we had stumbled upon Eden we stripped off, splashed and sang in an impromptu celebration of Sue’s sixtieth birthday. There could not possibly be a better place for this auspicious occasion. Once all our snacks had run out and we felt like a cup of tea, we climbed up to the village on a path along a steep hillside – with the Mtambalala River far below and the troop of goats following behind.

The next day we headed down the hillside path as quick as we could, to spend as much time as we could in paradise. Christeen cleverly remembered that there was a special Cussionia species on the edge of the forest here, so we searched and were delighted to find it. Named after botanist Tony Abbott who was an expert on plants found in the Pondoland Centre of Endemism. Then we peered over the top of the falls, wondering if we could climb down… the boulders were enormous, and we walked down through the grassland instead. Rather than the view of the ocean, we chose to spend the day in the dappled shade between one spectacular set of cascades and another. Dragonflies, frogs and butterflies galore were our only company today.

Our guide Mlungisi Mbuzwa was pretty sure that even people in his community didn’t know of this spot, as their focus when walking in the area was to get to the clinic, not explore rivers. After another perfect day we headed home filled with mineral rich water, hearts singing and Mtambalala memories that will last a lifetime. What does Mtambalala mean? we asked. “Your body relaxes when you swim in this river and you will sleep.” replied Mlu. We certainly did.

Walk 16 – Midlands in Winter

Midlands countryside walks are often defined by barbed wire fences and cattle. Obviously these things are recent additions to our ecosystems, but have completely transformed many Midlands landscapes, along with alien invasive plants like American bramble and black jack.

Barbed wire prevents free movement of cattle and is a favourite place for a shrike to store meals – stuck onto the sharp barbs. In America barbed wire used to be known as devil’s rope – referring to the impact it had on wide open prairies. In my view, barbed wire is better than Bonnox and other types of fence, because at least wild animals have a chance of getting through. I once came upon a barely alive Oribi trapped in one. One way to ensure a fence is a bit friendlier to the original wildlife inhabitants, is to leave off the bottom strand so it is easy to creep underneath. However, I would far prefer there to be fewer fences – they are perfect places to set snares.

Cattle have a huge impact on the forbs and grasses in grassland. Eating their favourites and leaving the less palatable grasses to flourish. Trampling by these heavy animals often damages ancient bulbs forever. I have seen remarkable results on degraded grasslands, where cattle have been excluded for some years and the floral diversity has managed to bounce back.

However, I do enjoy walking along the paths the cattle make, find black jack seeds attractive and barbed wire picturesque.

Walk 17 – Street Walks

One of my favourite things about living in Howick is that one can walk to the shops, ballet class or hairdresser easily. The streets are quiet, the verges are wide and there is lots of interest along the way.

I also love that you get to chat to people you might not normally meet – gardeners, housekeepers, the guys who pack the shelves at Spar or deliver the newspapers. On my way to pilates class, I regularly meet Mr Mchunu and Bongiwe who live on the other side of the river in Siphumelele (Mthandubisi). They rock hop across to save them the taxi fare, or a very long walk. Many school children do this too. I think of all the people with those wristbands that earnestly count their steps, while domestic workers probably do far more than 10 000 steps simply getting to work.

Special treats on today’s walk were egrets on Main Road Common and a troop of monkeys enjoying the sun. I love peering into people’s gardens, spotting quirky signs, shuffling through the fallen leaves.

Walk 18 – Karkloof Conservation Centre

There are dozens of crowned cranes in the fields around the Karkloof Conservation Centre in winter, and blue cranes, and wattled cranes too. Hundreds of water fowl and other birds too. Such a delight on our doorstep. It is an easy stroll to get to the hides and a very popular outing for Howick birders. The Gartmore Hide has views of spectacular sunsets and is a great spot to take photos (or enjoy sundowers). The Loskop Hide is on the edge of a pan and here, in the early evening, masses and masses of birds arrive to roost. It is a spectacular sight.

If you haven’t visited before, it costs R30. If you want to go at peak birdwatching times (R50), you need to book so that social distancing is ensured in the hides. conservation@karkloof.co.za

Walk 19 – Inhlosane

My 59th birthday was spent exploring my favourite hill – Inhlosane. I have walked here often, in Winter, in Summer, with a crowd, or on my own. This iconic hill is visible from just about anywhere in the Midlands.  At 1976 metres above sea level, it is one of the highest peaks before the Drakensberg – which can be clearly seen from the top.

The shape of the hill, viewed from the east, inspired its name which means the ‘developing breast of a young girl’. During the Bambatha Rebellion, Inhlosane was the furthest point that Bambatha’s men came – their cries from the top of the peak chilling the blood of the pioneer settlers in the valley.   In 1945 a big fire was lit on the peak of Inhlosane to celebrate the end of World War 2. 

The last part of the ascent to the ridge is very steep through large dolerite boulders.  Grassland flowers are splendid during summer, including swathes of pink Watsonia and blue Wahlenbergia.  In winter the honey fragrance of Buddleja is a treat. Buddleja loricata occurs here – I have only ever seen in the Drakensberg before. Baboons and Natal Red Rock Rabbits are often seen on the slopes.

The trail from Mount Park Guest Farm is lovely – through forest and grassland and onto the ridge. It costs R50 and there is a self service cup of tea at the end if you need it.

So just 40 more unique walks in 52 weeks to go…

8 Comments Add yours

  1. naturebackin says:

    I really enjoyed these virtual walks, having done only a few of them in actual reality. Thanks very much for the link to the useful flower listings on the Dargle Conservancy website. Your dog Bean is beautiful, but you already know that 🙂
    I hope you meet your target of 59 walks before your birthday – what a lovely idea.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Carol. It would be nice for the story if I reached it before my 60th, but I am not too bothered actually. There are just so many walks I can do so close to home… Would be nice to come and stroll in your ‘backyard’ sometime too.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. naturebackin says:

        It is great you have access to so many lovely walks. We are staying close to home in these Covid times, especially now with cases escalating around here. Once things are a bit more settled you are more than welcome to come and stroll in our neck of the woods (or rather plantation). In the meantime, take care.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Christeen says:

    So very lovely and feel honoured to have shared a few with you, you are an inspiration Nikki! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are far too sweet, Christeen. The privilege is mine.

      Liked by 1 person

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