A challenging hike from Newlands Forest to Kirstenbosch Gardens

The Volunteer Wildfire Service at Newlands Forest was training its recruits this morning. Amidst much yelling of orders and running hither and thither, the brightly clad volunteers practised spraying water on non-existing flames, immersed some sort of water pump to the flowing Newlands stream, and unrolled metres of firehose. A few minutes earlier, we had passed a caravan, which seemed to act as an outdoor control post of the volunteer firemen.


Volunteer firefighters in training

Sadly, we didn’t linger all that long to admire the fit-looking and nicely built firemen – and women, because we were on a mission that involved hiking from Newlands Forestry Station to the Tea Garden at Kirstenbosch for a cup of tea.

On a Sunday morning, quite frankly, I can think of numerous easier and less exhausting ways of having a cup of tea, though perhaps few that are quite as exciting.

Nonetheless, that was our self-imposed mission for the day. According to the route described in my 10-year-old copy of Shirley Brossy’s A Walking Guide for Table Mountain, it should take about 2-and-a-half to 3 hours. We were pretty certain that we wouldn’t want to walk back the whole way too! Hence the second car we’d left at the parking lot outside the lower gate at Kirstenbosch.

I was keen to follow Brossy’s route step by step, but – as usually happens with us – we got… er… well… not really lost per se… because we were still walking in the general direction, but… um…

Well, never mind. We got there in the end!

So, at 9h30 on Sunday morning, we walked past the Newlands Forestry Station, turned left on the main gravel road and then turned right at Newlands Stream, following its southern edge up to the Stone Bridge. Here, we turned left along the wide gravel road.


Broad gravel road climbing gently uphill

There was pine forest on the left, and blue gums on the right.


Pine forest with bracken on the left

According to Brossy’s map, we were supposed to follow the serpentines of the gravel road zig-zagging fairly gently up to a set of steps leading up to the contour path. But, when we saw a track leading straight up the slope, we decided to ‘take the short cut’, in the hope that it would cross the gravel road.

For future reference, it doesn’t.

Mind you, it was a very pretty path.


Pretty path through dense indigenous forest

Suddenly, we came to a stream crossing that we had crossed on previous hikes.


Crossing the stream

There was even water flowing here.


Refreshingly cold mountain water

Looking upstream – always lots of boulders in these mountain streams:


A rock-strewn stream-bed

Unfortunately, I remembered from past hikes that this was definitely not the way up to the contour path. It was taking us down the mountain, instead of up. We emerged from the shady forest into an open area with a great view, and took the next right turn in the general direction of Kirstenbosch.


A great view down a wide valley

We trudged along between hip-high fynbos and bracken and admired the pretty purple geraniums that were in flower here.


Purple geraniums are a-flowering!

The narrow track ended on a broad gravel road, which took us further south and into pine forest once again.


Looking back along the wide forest path

At the next opportunity, we took another narrow track up the mountain. It led us up between reeds and fynbos. Pretty white flowers:


White flowers

Then came another foresty bit. I wonder what kind of tree this is, with this cinnamon coloured bark? It looks so startling.


Cinnamon bark

By now, it was about 10h30, and we’d been walking solidly for an hour.

And then we made the most serendipitous discovery of today’s hike: We found a boardwalk, which was signposted the Fernwood Track!


Look! The Fernwood Track!

It was breathtakingly beautiful up here.


Nicely laid boardwalks between the trees

I was expecting it to be a horizontal kind of walk, rather like the Woodcutters’ Trail, and to run more or less parallel to the contour path. But it didn’t.

It continued south (definitely a good thing, seeing that we had only a vague inkling of where we were in relation to our destination), and it led UP the mountain. Fortunately, not straight up, but we clambered over plenty of rocks and up plenty of steep sections in-between the pleasant, well-maintained boardwalks.


Rocky bits

About 20 minutes later, we came to a T-junction. One boardwalk led slightly upwards to the right, and another led slightly downwards to the left. Man, I do wish someone would put signposts on these! We had no way of knowing how far up the mountain we were, because the indigenous forest was too dense to see our surroundings. I wanted to head right and up, because I was worried that we were still too low down the slope, but luckily hubby’s decision to go left and down was correct! If we’d gone right, we would have returned towards Newlands Forest.

I *think* we had reached the contour path.


The contour path

So there was considerable relief and much cheering when we came to this sign!


Welcome to Kirstenbosch Gardens!

There was even a good map! If you look closely at it, you can see the ‘Big Rock’ on the far right of the map – there, where the Contour Path splits into a downhill and an uphill section. That’s where we were. And our destination was the Restaurant just above Gate 1 and the Visitors’ Centre.



A very good map

After some discussion, we decided that we’d continue up past ‘Dassieklip‘, and to take the next track down the hill near ‘Window Gorge‘.


An informative sign-post

And so, UP we went on the contour path,which was most emphatically no longer a contour path.


Up these steps

And further up. Puff… pant…


Up more steps

Looking down the bit we’d just come up on! Ooof…


Looking down

And still further up. Gasp! Wheeze!


Surely not more up?!

Until we reached a vast area of boulders, some overgrown with moss, but most just grey with splotches of white or orange lichen dotted about.


A field of boulders

High above us loomed the imposingly steep cliff face of Table Mountain’s eastern slope.


Table Mountain looms above us

Route markers led us across the field of boulders, balancing carefully because some of them were wobbly, the earth beneath them having been hollowed out by rain.

Just on the other side of the boulders, we met a couple with their young girls. They had set out from Kirstenbosch earlier this morning, and were looking for the contour path; they’d been climbing steadily up for over half an hour, and were pretty tired.

We chatted companiably for a while, explaining to them where we’d come from and what the path was like higher up, and then said goodbye. I love these little friendly encounters in the forest with fellow hikers. 🙂

As they had indicated, our path led steeply downhill with helpful steps created by a seriously hard-working roadcrew. I wonder whether they had carried in all the wood and planks and equipment to these high places? Or had they used a helicopter? Either way, they have my utmost admiration.


What a descent!

LOTS of steps.


More steps

It was so steep sometimes, that my natural momentum propelled me forward and I almost had to lean backwards not to break into a run. Hips, lower backs, thighs, calves, knees, ankles… everything was starting to ache and complain. I was leaning more and more on the branch I’d adopted as a walking stick a couple of weeks ago.

Looking up a particularly steep bit I’d almost trotted down.


Looking up a steep section

This ancient tree had grown its roots around a massive boulder, and was holding onto it very firmly.


A tree holding firmly onto a large boulder

Fortunately, there were plenty of helpful signposts at the various intersections. We always chose the one saying ‘Garden’, though – a friendly hint to the staff of Kirstenbosch Gardens – it would’ve been even NICER if it had said ‘TEA Garden’.

Around quarter to 12, we reached a reddish gravel road. Man, do I hate walking downhill on gravel. It’s always so unpredictable and slippery, that I tense up around my ankles and knees because I’m afraid of going for another slide, and pulling a muscle or twisting an ankle. The mountain is not a good place to get hurt. And then you promptly do slide because you’re too tense. Sigh.


Slippery red gravel

We crossed a teensy stream, with a pretty bench next to it, inviting the weary hiker to rest.


A very picturesque setting for a picnic, I believe?

But – we didn’t.

Our reward was waiting for us at the bottom of the Garden. Some nice fellow-hiker had placed a stick-and-stone arrow on the red gravel path, indicating a narrow path that took us downhill and towards our destination more quickly.


A helpful arrow on the ground

And here we ran into Oliver, the friendly tortoise.


Oliver striding confidently towards us

Or rather, he ‘ran’ into us. I swear, he did! He motored up the hill towards us, his curious little eyes watching our every move. Don’t you think he looks really intelligent?


Bright eyes and a friendly smile!

Oddly, he stopped directly in front of us.


We have a little chat with Oliver

I bent down to photograph him and gently stroked his shell. He hissed briefly, and retracted his head, but then turned around to look up at me. I like to think he realised that I meant him no harm.

So I continued stroking his shell and talking to him in a friendly kind of way, telling him that it was still a long way up to the contour path, that there were a LOT of steps, and that maybe living down here in the shady bit was nice enough after all. I was amazed at how trusting he was, and felt quite sad to say goodbye.


Bye, Ollie! Stay safe!

He stalked off into the grass and bushes on the side of the road. Perhaps he’d decided to take my advice?

This pretty little bird was singing so beautifully on a bush that I just had to try and get a photo!


Pretty song bird

It was after 12h00 by the time that we reached the Tea Room, and had a look at the menu. They have an excellent and wide-ranging menu, but the prices were all definitely on the steep side for us. So we headed down to the Fynbos Deli, where we just got a capuccino and a pot of tea to take outside to the wooden tables and chairs.

We supplemented these liquid refreshments with a delicious capuccino muffin and some buttered báirin breac from yesterday, which I’d packed as a picnic ‘just in case’. 🙂

A really nice surprise was to see two Dylan Lewis sculptures (remember our Photo Walk in Stellenbosch?) – one on display near the Tea Room:


A cheetah sculpted by Dylan Lewis

and the other on display lower down near the Restaurant:


I love this leopard

Aren’t they extraordinary?

What an uplifting ending to an exhausting but wonderful hike. 🙂

4 thoughts on “A challenging hike from Newlands Forest to Kirstenbosch Gardens

  1. That was quite the hike. What a steep climb and descent!

    The reddish earth and that cinnamon bark are gorgeous. They make the landscape come alive. The earth has that colour on Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest maritime province, which is known for growing wonderful potatoes.

    • Oooh, it was a steep climb and descent… my knees were really sore on Monday. And yet, I can’t wait for next weekend, hopefully we can go for another exploratory hike! 🙂

      I don’t know what makes the earth red in places, perhaps it’s the iron content? I’ll hazard a guess that it’s weathered Table Mountain Sandstone (Table Mountain Geology; Sandstone).

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