The wonders of a Milkwood forest

A walk in a Milkwood forest should be every child’s dream.  These well preserved and ancient environments must be the models on which fairy tales were born.  The gnarled stems and moss-covered branches evoke images of phantom forest creatures.  These are still places, where one can be at peace with one’s surroundings, hearing no more than the call of the Sombre Greenbull or the chirp of a cricket.  Lichens and mosses grow undisturbed on these aged trees, some of which must be around a thousand years old.

Our recent walk at Grootbos gave us a wonderful opportunity to come into contact with these trees and to appreciate the wonder of their preservation in the face of man’s advance and the fires that accompany us, wherever we settle.

White Milkwood, Sideroxylon inerme, is an evergreen tree which occurs in coastal thickets or forests along the south and east coasts of South Africa and into southern Mozambique.

The Fynbos Trail

On Wednesday, Ant and MJ Hooper, and Julian and Tricia Turner joined Renee and me to walk the Fynbos Trail.  It was an inauspicious start as we had to go via Caledon to reach Stanford – this as a result of the approaches to the bridge over the Klein River having been washed away by the recent floods.  It did, however, afford us the opportunity of a lunch at Van Brakel’s Stoor, a very traditional farm stall on the road to Napier.

Map of the Trail
Map of the Trail

From there it was a short drive to our starting point at the Growing the Future project on Steynsbos, where we met our host and guide for day one, Sean Privett.  Needless to say it started drizzling as we set out, but soon cleared and we were able to enjoy a cool walk through a variety of coastal fynbos, an ancient milkwood forest and mountain fynbos.  Sean was an excellent and enthusiastic guide, who kept us well informed along the way, with his detailed knowledge of the flora and fauna.  After 6.5 km we arrived at our overnight destination, Fynbos Retreat, a farm we had previously visited and walked on when it was known as Witvoetskloof and was owned by Chris and Elwyn van Schouwen.

Our hosts for the night were Jan and Perdita and they made sure we did not go hungry with a constant supply of delicious pizzas accompanied by a selection of Lomond wines.

Next morning we met our guide for the next two days, Billy Robertson.  He had a hard act to follow, but handled it with great competence and an ever cheerful and endearing manner, keeping us all amused and appraised of the area and its treasures. Our hike took us through verdant valleys with wonderful forests and fast flowing streams with occasional waterfalls, and then up to the peak at Flower Valley Farm, before dropping down again to Stinkhoutsbos where a delicious lunch awaited us.  Sean met us there and we were each given a tree to plant as part of his project to return this fire-affected forest to its former glory.  From there it was a shortish walk to Sean’s farm Witkrans, where we spent the night, but not before being royally entertained by Sean and Michelle who presented us with a wonderful lamb potjie.  We had completed 12 km on the day and were quite tired as the terrain was anything but flat!

After a hearty breakfast at Sean’s, Billy once more led us off on our last 7 km stretch.  We passed the Bodhi Khaya retreat and headed up a valley towards the back of Grootbos.  The streams were in full flow, but we managed to get by without getting too wet.  Our walk took us up through three ancient forests where we marvelled at the huge white stinkwood and wild peach trees, one of which even had leopard scratch marks on the trunk.  At one point we had to scramble over a new landslide caused by the recent heavy rain.

Eventually we crossed the ridge and descended into the renowned Grootbos milkwood forest where we were once again amazed at the wonderful shapes assumed by the ancient trees, one of which we were assured was around 1500 years old!  From there it was a short walk to Grootbos where we enjoyed a final lunch, before returning to our cars at Steynsbos for the drive home.

Overall it was a wonderful three days and we all agreed that our hosts and guides were of the highest quality.  This walk is recommended for anybody of average fitness.  It was an experience we will never forget.

The Flooded Klein River

The torrential downpours over the Overberg area this last weekend have caused the Klein river to flood.  Travel between Hermanus and Stanford was interrupted when the bridge near Stanford had its approaches washed away.  Muddy water has turned the sea in Walker Bay brown and the beaches are littered with debris.  The photographs below record the estuary of the river and leave little doubt as to the volume of water pouring into the sea.  It will be a while before we can once again enjoy clean beaches and clean seawater.

A new Blog

The Hermanus Botanical Society has asked me to take over the publishing of their quarterly newsletter, HERBS.  Whilst at first reluctant to do this, I decided that if it could be in the form of a blog, I might be able to handle it.  I have, accordingly, started a new blog which can be accessed by pressing the link in the right hand column of this blog.  Whether the new HERBS will be a quarterly bulletin, or a needs generated series of articles remains to be seen, but I look forward to keeping the botanical community up to date regarding matters of interest from our surrounding flora.

Remember that if you wish to be kept up to date with new postings, you need only press the ‘Follow’ button on the right and an email will be sent to you advising of the new posting.


Storm in Hermanus

We awoke this morning after a night of heavy rain to see the Mossel River in spate below our house.  When I went to measure the rainfall, we had had 127 mm in 24 hours!  This means that there is every likelihood that our annual rainfall will exceed 1000 mm for the first time since I started measuring nearly 15 years ago.

The road to Stanford is closed due to flooding.  Waterfalls are in evidence all along the mountain and we saw a landslip above Voelklip, something that only occurs in these spells of very heavy rain brought about by the cut-off low pressure systems such as the one affecting this region at present.

Where am I?

Its amazing to think that I have been blogging for 3 years this month.  Yesterday one of my readers suggested that it might be about time to let other readers from distant parts know exactly where I am and where all these beautiful flowers that I keep photographing occur, so I am, at this late satge, providing what should have been done at the start; presenting a map showing where my home town Hermanus is.  As you can see, we are close to the southern tip of Africa, an area I would not change for anything!

Map showing where Hermanus is situated
Map showing where Hermanus is situated

The things we miss

This morning we walked past hundreds of Leucospermum trunculatum, but I wonder if anybody even noticed them.  Sometimes one needs to take a photograph to see what is not immediately evident without a close look.  The image below really illustrates what a beautiful flower this is and seeing a number of blooms in a bunch, some yet to open, some open and some already past their splendour, is a real treat!

Leocospermum truncatulum
Leocospermum truncatulum

Walking on Vredehoek

Keith and Debby put on their usual high class act today when we were invited to hike at their farm, Vredehoek.  Not only did we enjoy an excellent 8.4km walk through some of the most stunning fynbos, but we had good weather, good company and they treated us to a light lunch at their cottage on our return to the farmstead.

The flowers were magnificent and we were lucky to also see some good birds, including the characteristic Cape Clapper Lark which entertained us throughout the morning.  There was also an encounter with a very viscious baboon spider and a number of other interesting insects.

Then, on the way home, we were amazed by the abundant Moraea ramosissima, a post fire bloomer along the road between Stanford and Hermanus.  There were thousands of them and for most of us, it was a first.

Vogelgat after the fire

A huge fire raged through the Vogelgat Reserve last December and many members realised that their walks would be interrupted for a considerable while.  Thus, when the Hurriers decided to walk there on Wednesday, there was a good turn-out despite the gale force north-westerly wind.  I was unable to attend, having just had some surgery on my nose, so Renee and I went this morning.

The weather was perfect for walking and we went up Lex’s Gulley and then down past the newly constructed and very smart Sip Lodge (the previous one was destoyed by the fire) to Quark and then back to the base.  Normally a walk of this nature is characterised by proteas, but the only ones we saw were Mimetes.  For the rest we were quite amazed at the wonderful new species (for us, anyway) that proliferated in certain areas.  It was incredible to see vast tracts of bare rock and then to suddenly come on an area full of blooms.  The Pillansia templemanii were particularly impressive, as were the Disas and Gladiolus between Sip and Quark.  If it weren’t for the fire many species would not have been visible.

We did not see many birds, but did manage to spot a Cape Siskin and a pair of Sentinel Rock Thrushes, so were very pleased.  A fresh leopard spoor was yet another bonus!