There have been a few months recently when walking, beyond our garden, was not encouraged and I began to despair that I would ever manage 59 different walks before next June. However, despite lockdown challenges, I have found lots of lovely local spots to explore, and have kept walking each day in my usual places. Now I am thinking that there is absolutely no reason to leave the province at all. As I suspected, we do live in the center of the Universe. You can read about my previous 19 different walks here.
Walk 20 – Yarrow Falls
Such a lovely 10km stroll to Yarrow Falls through farmland, with friends. This walk was one of the first wanders I did as part of the Midlands Conservancies Forum series of walks. It was spring then and very different, as you can see here. The Karkloof Conservancy is re-igniting many wonderful walks in the area, so it is definitely worth following them if you also like to explore the neighbourhood.
A bonus treat on our return from the falls was a flock of crowned cranes landing in the pan. This walk costs R30. Bookings are absolutely essential. email@example.com
Walk 21 – Groundcover
10 years ago, Justin McCarthy died. Justin had a lasting impact on many lives and despite all this time, is still mentioned in conversations. Today, Charlene Russell and I followed the pink ribbons around the trail at Groundcover Leather Company, remembering Justin and enjoying the winter’s day. The very first post on my Midlands Mosaic blog post honoured Justin, so I share it now.
Walk 22 – Midmar
A damp and cloudy morning – or as my friend Annie Waterhouse’s Aunt Jane would describe it – ‘dreich’. This is an old Scottish word meaning dreary and bleak. The wide skies, rolling hills and still water was definitely reminiscent of Scotland today.
Midmar is such a lovely place to walk, or picnic, or play, just a few minutes out of town. The focus is obviously on damming water to supply towns downstream, but the surrounding reserve is a quiet and lovely place to spend a few hours. We saw reedbuck and spotted porcupine quills as we strolled along the road. Entrance is R40.
Walk 23 – kwaNogqaza
Howick is famous for the falls. kwaNogqaza (place of the tall one) drops 97m into the uMngeni river valley over dolerite cliffs. While visiting the top is popular with tourists, traipsing to the bottom through the forest is not. I do love it though and my friend Julie Ann joined me on a perfect morning. We reminisced about other times we had been down there – the ‘old days’ and how different our lives were now. This is such an easy spot to access, right in town, but not loved as much as it should be. The entrance to the path is unclear via the dilapidated and recently burnt down building of Bush Golf. Bryan Roberts and other volunteers have done a lot of work in the area, clearing invasive vegetation and litter. If it is your first visit, you should join one of his group walks which cost R30 pp. Book 083 421 1938
Sitting in the spray at the base, it is easy to understand why the area has spiritual significance for traditional healers. As are many rivers and waterfalls, kwaNoqgaza is sacred to the San and Zulu people and part of the ancestral consciousness that sangomas work with, believing in the power of the waterfall as a place of sacred energy. To this day, sangomas honour the river, the waterfall and sacred sites – interacting with them through ritual and ceremony. Many people believe that a large snake, Inkanyamba, lives in the pool at the bottom of the falls.
Walk 24 – Old Furth Estate
Forests are all about textures and sounds in winter. Bushbuck tiptoeing through the crunchy undergrowth, robins rustling between shadows and barely trickling streams.
Old Furth Estate at the base of Inhlosane, just along the road to Impendle, is a lovely spot for a few nights away from it all. However, if you can’t stay over, with prior arrangement, you can walk there for R50. There are almost 12 kms of trails to wander around and I do want to go back to walk to the waterfall. Probably in summer when I will feel like a dip. Contact Malvina 082 561 0757
Walk 25 – Cattle Paths
Today, my friend Sue and I should have been setting off on our iMfolozi Wilderness Trail, so we simply had to have a micro-adventure instead. We headed up to the fantastic new Cattle Paths just outside Estcourt on the way to Weenen. What a find this was! 24kms of well laid out trails along the Bushman’s River, over farmland and natural scrub. Loads of birds (very colourful bee eaters), and the warthogs! A whole tribe nonchalantly scoffing the cattle food. We swam in the river, had lunch on the banks and whiled away a lovely warm day.
This is such a great set up – open on Wednesdays for walkers and on weekends for mountain bikers and trail runners too. Book 068 595 6444 – it is just R49pp. You are guaranteed a friendly welcome from Carolyn and Geraldine and on weekends there is pizza, cake and homemade ice cream available. We will certainly be back to explore in summer.
Walk 26 – Giant’s Castle
There is nothing like the cold air (and water) of the Drakensberg to freshen up a smokey winter day. With my pal Judy Bell, we had a quick trip to Giant’s Castle, one of my favourite places in the Berg. I love the riverbanks lined with Merxmuellera macrowanii, forests of Olinia emarginata trees, Myrsine africana in the understory, birds perched on rocks, red grass, smooth river stones, baboon families and caves. We didn’t meet any other hikers.
Giants Castle, proclaimed in 1903, is 34 638 ha in extent and easily accessible from the Howick – it took us an hour and a half to get there along the very potholed road. Entrance is just R45.
A visit to the Main Caves museum to learn about the lives of the Bushmen who once thrived in this area is a good idea. I did that a few years ago, you can read about it here – Thunderstorms, Termites and Tarns.
Walk 27 – Trek to the Old Oak Tree
For 20 years, I lived in this part of the Midlands and occasionally walked to a big, old oak tree planted on a ridge at the spot where stone walls and fences meet, demarcating different properties. Stories relating to the tree are aplenty!
So it was fun to visit these hills again with a few friends. We started at Kilgobbin Cottage and climbed up through the wonderfully calm and refreshing forest. After inhaling the fragrance of Leucosidea and Buddleija in flower on the forest edge, we walked across the farmland. Cattle were grazing in a field filled with wild turnip and wild horseradish is full bloom. The bees were loving the flowers in the otherwise dry landscape and we picked and nibbled the stems as we walked – so delicious! A treat at the top was the fresh new leaves on the old oak. Views forever, albeit hazy with smoke and dust. Apodolirion buchananii (Natal crocus) – always the first bulb to flower in Spring had popped up already.
Thank you to my old neighbours, I appreciate being able to wander in these hills.
Walk 28 – Garden Castle
The colours of winter in the Drakensberg are astonishing – grasses burnished bronze and blush, cold rock pools glow gold, watsonia leaves turn copper, sandstone cliffs show off contrasting textures against the blue sky, the eland blend quietly and elegantly. With the stimulating company of Christeen Grant and Sue Derwent, I explored the Mashai River Valley up to Sleeping Beauty Cave in Garden Castle. The rock formation known as The Monk lead us towards the mountains – across streams and grasslands and through forest patches. We were tempted to detour to the right up a valley known as The Abbey, but decided to stick with our plan to get to the cave. While I wouldn’t particularly want to spend the night there, it is spectacularly cavernous with a stream trickling through it.
We came across no other humans as we hiked – this is a luxury almost impossible to describe, and so accessible to those of us who live in KwaZulu-Natal. On the way down, to our delight, we spotted eland on the hillsides, a few more in the forest and then a heavily pregnant one not far ahead of us on the path. She walked on elegantly, stopping to chew Watsonia leaves and look over her shoulder at us occasionally, leading us back to the unreal world.
Sue commented “It was disconcerting starting our hike in a cold and howling wind that threatened to toss us off the path. Still, the crazy wind that blasted across the hills and flung itself up against the red and rust cliffs, tossing the swirling, burnt-blond and orange grasses back and forth in an insane dance of icy air, rather fabulously just added to our sense of adventure, leaving us feeling invigorated and so completely alive.”
I slept in a cave here a few years ago, which was magical. Entrance is R45.
Walk 29 – Sunset Path to The Saddle
During August, uMngeni Valley is a froth of Dombeya rotundifolia blossom. Such a delight when the landscape is mostly brown and gold. On this morning I joined Alison Engelbrecht who has just completed walking 2020 kms this year (and is aiming now to walk 8000km – the equivalent of right across Canada!). Alison grew up in this valley when it was her parents’ farm, so besides admiring the flora and fauna, I learned some fascinating history too. We started along Sunset Path though the grassland and Vachellia sieberiana (Paperbark Thorn), then along the little path on the edge of the Shelter Falls valley to The Saddle with views of the uMngeni River, Howick Falls and Shiyabazali. Three large grey mongoose dashed across the path and there was plenty of evidence of game in the scat on the track. On the way back, we passed the zebra clan – a ubiquitous uMngeni Valley sighting. One of the herd had very unusual markings on its back – almost spotty. How lucky are we that our Monday mornings can start like this and we can be back at our desks while some people are still commuting?
There are many fabulous walks in WESSA Umngeni Valley, so keep reading for others as spring and summer roll around. Entrance is R30.
Walk 30 – Cumberland
You know you are having an adventure when you wake up to different birdsong.
Krantz Hut on the edge of the uMngeni River gorge at Cumberland Nature Reserve is off-grid, out of signal and completely isolated. It is a treat.
There are some fabulous trails to enjoy while staying in this reserve. In the afternoon I walked the Lolombazo trail to the bottom of Big Falls – interesting trees, the chance of seeing a crocodile and heaps of birds including Narina trogon beneath the cliffs. The next morning, I walked back and forth along the top of the cliffs as the sun rose, up onto the Krantz peering into the spectacular gorge and admiring the plants – many of which don’t occur in my usual mist-belt habitat – like Strychnos, Cotyledon and Boekenhout (Faurea saligna). On a previous visit a month ago, I spotted the journey of giraffe with a 4 day old baby. What a treasure this wild place is, right on the edge of suburban Pietermaritzburg.
Cumberland Nature Reserve host regular walks with specialists in different fields – like trees, rocks, birds or spiders – the reserve is not open to day visitors. Do follow them on social media so that you don’t miss out on the interesting excursions.
Walk 31 – Poort Stream
Andrew Fowler invited me to join him on his mission to find the Poort Falls. This stream is a tributary of the uMngeni river. It rises in kwaNovuka vlei in Impendle. Andrew’s work on restoring this catchment is inspiring – see Uplands River Conservation. The forest was bursting with fresh new greens after the recent rainfall and the stream flowing strongly. About 750m before the waterfall, it became necessary to rock hop up the riverbed. Well, not much hopping on my part – there were enormous boulders to scramble over. After a short way, my already dodgy back began to complain, so I stopped and sat on the bank watching baboons frolic in the cliffs and listening to the birds. Andrew kindly took a photo of the falls to show me when he had scrambled back down. It does not bother me that I didn’t reach the destination, I enjoyed being in this unfamiliar place and was well entertained on the drive back home with stories of stowaways and fighter pilots – the mavericks and mayhem that litter South African history. Thanks for the adventure.
Walk 32 – Karkloof Forest
Exploring natural places with John Roff is always marvellous. Exploring the forest at Karkloof Canopy Tours, one of his favourite places on Earth which he knows intimately, is certainly worth making an effort for. Despite knowing this, I was not tempted when I saw the words “extremely challenging” on the advert, until a few days ago when John convinced me that I would manage the Giant’s Ridge and Giant’s Top trails just fine. It certainly was a challenging day – many steep sections required us to pull ourselves up or down on ropes, scramble over tree roots and there were no streams to fill our bottles when our water ran out. I was glad I had my lovely hiking sticks for this adventure.
On the way to the ridge we found many treasures, with John expertly explaining what everything was. Particular delights for me were the caracal scratching post, the Pine Emperor caterpillar feasting on Morella (waxberry), iridescent fungi (according to John – green elf cap), the fragrance of the bark of endangered umnukani (Ocotea bullata), a crested guinea fowl feather with blue stripes through the white spots, Forest saffron (Elaeodendron croceum) much prized for magic and medicine, Urginea capitata (often one of the first flowers in spring, a forest edge seep full of bright yellow Cyrtanthus breviflora, the gorgeous magenta of fresh Senecio flowers and Alberta magna (Krantz flame-tree) clinging to the cliffs.
This trail gets its name from the giant trees (some incredible Yellowwoods, an enormous Cussonia being strangled by a fig) and the view of Giant’s Castle on a clear day. There are other less challenging forest trails at Karkloof Canopy Tours that you could easily do on your own, but if you ever have a chance to explore in the company of John Roff, I would highly recommend you do that.
Walk 33 – iMpumakhasi
Today was an utterly spectacular day to hike iMpumakhasi (Loskop) in Karkloof. We slid along the muddy farm roads and set off in the mizzle to clamber through the long grass up the steep slopes. The view from 1315m above sea level was a marvellous reward for our efforts. Mt Gilboa, Inhlosane, Otto’s Bluff – and certainly on a clear day the ‘Berg must be visible. Delicate Merwilla in bloom on the west slopes and clumps of cheerful Nemesia. On the top, lots of Aloe maculata, Kalenchoe and Ursinia tenuiloba, and facing East, fascinating clumps of spikey succulents which I have not managed to ID yet.
Thanks Karkloof Conservancy for getting permission for us to walk here.
Walk 34 – Mpophomeni Hills
Rain doesn’t put me off a good walk, especially when undertaken in the company of friends who love to explore, and a lovely dog. We were fortunate though, that it didn’t bucket down, or we would have been thoroughly soaked. Spring flowers were flowering bravely in the grasslands inhabited by munching cattle. Particularly spectacular was the fan leaved Boophone disticha (iphade), and I was intrigued by the many termite mounds with fungi protruding – apparently farmed by the ants to help with breaking down the grass. While the views were a little limited by the mist, the atmosphere more than made up for it. The Mpophomeni Hills Hike is well worth doing, for a different view of the Midlands. R50 per person. Watch Howickman Hiking Club for dates.
Many years ago, I set off for an Mpophomeni walk along the uMthinzima stream also in the rain. That was an adventure!
Walk 35 – Urban Durban
There is so much to love about Durban. I recall a visit a few years ago when I reveled in the deliciousness. This time, I stayed over in Morningside. I explored old haunts and drank Wolf lager at Lupa Osteria on Florida Road, with my own beautiful Lupa parked outside.
Very early the next morning, I set off for a wander up and down the hills, through the little parks and across the streets. This is a great neighbourhood, with gorgeous old houses, wonderful views of the beautiful Moses Mabidha Stadium and sunrise over the sea. It was rubbish collection day, so there were many young men scavenging through the bags put out by householders. After walking as far as I thought sensible, I sat on the pavement outside Love Coffee for a freshly pressed juice, watching all sorts of different people grabbing coffee, heading to work, walking their dogs.
I had hoped to visit the Bangladesh Market, but it is only open on Fridays and Saturdays. Nevermind, I will simply have to plan another trip.
Walk 36 – Durban Promenade
I adore Durban beachfront. Fortunately, my pal Sue lives in a light-filled flat overlooking the ocean and is always welcoming. I had heard about the new promenade extension so set out to explore the many kilometres of easy walking along the urban beach. The original, beautifully designed, part is always a delight – with rickshaws (did you know there were once 22 000 rickshaws operating in Durban?), skateboarders, tacky snacks, splendid (albeit decaying) Italian POW stonework, gaudy carousels, remnants of Edwardian grandeur, indigenous dune vegetation doing its best to keep the encroaching sand at bay and wild figs finding nooks to grow in. The new part offers new views – especially of the iconic Moses Mabhida stadium. One can now walk all the way to the harbour mouth, with plenty of stops for refreshments and fun to be had along the way. Well done Durbs.
Walk 37 – uMdoni
South Coast scapes are so familiar and nostalgic for me. The orchestra of birdsong, the fragrant damp, songololos, exuberant growth, fireflies at night and railway lines that serve as pedestrian paths. I revisited this magic last week over a couple of days spent at The Cottage in the forest of Umdoni Park Golf Club in Pennington.
This is the largest continuous area of this type of coastal forest. It was good to greet favourite trees in their natural habitat – umdoni (Syzigium cordatum), of course, Psychotria capensis, Tabernaemonata ventricosa, Commiphora harveya with orange ‘tissue paper’ peeling from the trunk, Strelizia (which I have just learnt has ‘split’ leaves to allow air to pass through, so that they don’t break in the wind), and members of the milkwood family – twisted into fantastical shapes by the wind, or terribly tall with fluted stems. It was exciting to meet the endangered Sandstone quince Dahlgrenodendron natalense, which was discovered right here at Umdoni on the 1980’s, flummoxing the tree experts who tried to identify it.
There are many trails to explore in this reserve – along the ridge, down into the Nkhumba river gorge, trundling through the forest, into tiny patches of remnant grassland and across the extremely neat golf greens. Blue duikers dart in the undergrowth, bushbuck nibble at the forest edges, cinnamon doves flit about, white-eared barbets chatter, crowned eagles build big nests and honestly, the birdsong is deafening. There are options to walk, run, cycle, or sit.
I loved the old-fashioned Cottage – with wooden floors, big rooms and a wide veranda looking right at an enormous fig tree. If you wanted a more glamourous stay, Botha House would be just the spot – the views are incredible, and the décor is wonderful. Perfectly described on their website as “authenticity and style meet tranquil splendour”. Easy lunch at the golf club overlooking the ocean is a must – particularly now when there are whales galore! Sue has just put together a gorgeous book to celebrate 100 years of Umdoni Park, so I was very lucky to get all the inside information.
Walk 38 – Krantzkloof
When I found my destination in Kloof closed, I kept driving along the windy road and was delighted to come upon Krantzkloof Nature Reserve! I hear so much about this area from friends, but have never visited, so this was an unexpected opportunity, and I am so glad I stopped. What a treasure.
There are many trails that crisscross the two river gorges, the Molweni and Nqutu. I perused the lovely clear map in the parking area and selected the short Imphiti Trail which took about two hours to complete and didn’t see another soul. The red-chested cuckoo was calling cheerfully, Pyschotria capensis blooms were abuzz with bees, Striped River frogs plopped into the clear streams, Turacos flashed red overhead and the new leaves on the Albizia adianthifolia (flat crown) were almost translucent. The Imphiti Falls are lovely and the view down the gorge is astonishing – wilderness, surrounded by suburban houses perched on the edges.
I’m very pleased to have visited (entrance fee is R50) and will certainly be back to explore some of the more challenging trails.
Walk 39 – Benvie
Around here, Benvie Garden is well known. I have never visited, so decided to have a stroll among the trees this morning, while the azaleas (for which the garden is famous) were still in bloom.
The garden epitomises the attitude of colonists – trying to recreate something of where they came from and subduing the natural environment. How peculiar it seems now that someone from Europe (garden creator John Geekie was born in Scotland) where there are only 70 indigenous tree species, would think it necessary to import trees to a province where there are over 700 tree species! Anyway, he was wealthy and had a dream to create this arboretum. The enormous trees (mostly conifers) are certainly impressive and there were many that I have never come across before – Bhutan Cypress from the Himalayas and the Cedar of Goa from Mexico. Azaleas and rhododendrons line the shaded pathways that meander around the 31ha garden. Selaginella thrives as a groundcover in the shade. Apparently, the leaves of this indigenous fern repel water which is very likely the reason it is used by birds to line their nests. Particularly the Orange Ground Trush, which occurs abundantly at Benvie. We were fortunate to spot one fossicking amongst the fallen leaves.
The garden is open all year for visitors. Entrance fee is R50. It is about 40kms from Howick along the Karkloof Road.
I set off now on the final 20 of my 59 unique walks before I turn 60 in June next year. I have a long list for inspiration and am grateful to have recommendations too. Let me know your favourite walks in KwaZulu-Natal.