Two weeks ago, we met up with a friend of ours in Somerset West, and decided to explore the Yellow Trail at the Helderberg Nature Reserve. The gates to the reserve only open at 7h30 (unless you have become a Friend of the Reserve, and are lucky enough to get the keys!), and so we joined the queue of cars waiting (im)patiently at the gate.
Once we had paid our entrance fee of R10 a person and R5 for our car, we found parking on the spacious parking area between the Information Centre (Tel: 021 851 4060 and open from 10h00 to 16h30 – it has a topographic model of the reserve and the various trails) and the Oak Café (previously the Duck Inn). They serve breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, and can be contacted on Tel 021 851 7256 or Cell 082 908 3062.
We took a few moments to get our bearings according to the small map I had printed out from the internet.
There are several hiking trails up the mountain: the yellow trail (2.2 km), the black trail (4.4 km), the blue trail (6.5 km), the red trail (8.2 km), the green trail (about 4 hours of walking time), the pink trail (which is to the top of the mountain and requires climbing equipment), and the brown trail (4 km). All of them, except for the brown trail, are circular routes.
As we hadn’t done any hiking in this reserve, and as we wanted to proceed systematically, we decided to tackle the yellow trail first. According to the description, this was also the shortest route. The website estimated that it would take us about 35 minutes walking time – but, as I discovered, this definitely excludes the obligatory photography time! In the end, it took us almost an hour. Roughly speaking, this route goes up the one side of the lower mountain slopes, crosses a densely wooded river valley to the opposite side, and then descends via an easy gravel road back to the parking area.
From time to time, we encountered rustic wooden route markers, like this one. Very handy! Particularly when there are a couple of tracks turning off left and right!
We turned left, vaguely in the direction of the ‘duck pond’, which lay below us to our left, the deep blue of the sky reflected in its clear water. Not long afterwards, the path turned right, up the mountain side.
The tall shrubs lining our path on both sides for most of the ascent gave us a bit of shade, which was most welcome on this hot day, and many of the bushes were covered in flowers. A rich diversity of fynbos species grows here, including countless proteas and ericas.
I didn’t want to irritate my fellow-walkers too much by stopping and taking photos all the time, but nonetheless did spend most of the hike trailing behind further and further because something had caught my eye, and having to trot after them (uphill!) to catch up. Sorry, guys!
Almost all the flowers on this Protea eximia bush (see here) had dried up, but I found one beautiful flower that had survived – perhaps it had waited for me and my camera!
I think this is a Protea aurea (see here), but I’m really not sure.
I don’t know what kind of Protea this is, but I thought it was beautiful with its spoon-shaped bright-pink bracts.
Is this a Protea bush or a Leucospermum? The sun shining through the reddish leaves is so pretty!
And how could one NOT stop to admire, lingeringly, this spectacular Leucospermum cordifolium?
We also heard and saw a number of birds, but they didn’t settle down long enough for me to get a clear picture.
After trudging (and sprinting) uphill for some time, and about 20 minutes after starting our hike, we reached a gate in the fence that seemed to separate the lower part of the reserve from the higher slopes. The text on the green board said, sternly: “Have I killed a buck today? Please close the gate. Dogs kill antelope.”
We dutifully closed the gate behind us.
Now look at this view! Doesn’t it just invite you to stop and gaze and breathe deeply?
Shortly after walking through the gate, the path all but disappeared among thick bracken and ferns. It was refreshingly cool and shady amongst all this greenery. I was very much aware of the fact that we might encounter snakes – such as the Cape Cobra and the Puffadder – on the mountain, so I trod warily here.
After walking more or less on the level for a while, and crossing the little forested river valley to the opposite side, we came to a route marker, which indicated that the blue, black and brown walks went UP, that-a-way! 🙂
Next time, next time!
Today, though, we went through another gate to re-enter the lower reaches of the reserve, and followed the yellow trail markers back down the hill.
Oooh, look! Aren’t these pretty?
While my fellow hikers marched on ahead, speeding up because the path was now leading us steadily down the hill, I lingered on the hillside a little longer, to take in the beauty of our surroundings.
Doesn’t this kind of view make you just breathe deeply?
I wonder how high up the mountain these trails go?
Grasses, fluttering in the breeze.
Judging from the blackened bushes and charred remains of trees, a fire must have swept through this area not so long ago. These curious yellow flowers had sprung up everywhere on the hillside.
I always find it so magical that some flowering plants actually need fire (from time to time) in order for them to grow (see here):
By about quarter to 9h00, we reached the Information Centre and followed the path down to the picnic areas on the opposite side of the road.
When we arrived this morning, I’d spotted a group of bontebok (this is what they look like) right next to the road, and I was keen to see whether we could find them again. Of course, they had disappeared. After an extensive search proved inconclusive, we went up to the restaurant to reward ourselves for our exertions with a bite to eat at the Oak Café.
Breakfast was okay, but nothing spectacular – I think hubby and I had something called ‘Acorn’. This included no acorns (whew!), but instead a fried egg, two rashers of bacon, and a slice of toast; the lettuce and tomato on the side of the plate, though, had definitely seen better days, and we couldn’t bring ourselves to eat them. Our friend had a passable French toast. Next time, I think we’ll bring a picnic instead!
A little stream, hidden among the dense vegetation, tinkled and splashed alongside the restaurant. I quite liked these unusual bulrushes…
… and the flowering agapanthus(es).
Not quite ready to leave just yet, we decided to stroll around the duck pond, which we had glimpsed earlier. Some very hardworking people at the Reserve had constructed a wonderful and sturdy wooden walkway all around the large pond. And someone had put up a most useful information board with drawings of the various birds living in the reserve and their names.
I learned, for instance, that this was a spur-winged goose. Beautiful, no?
The whole area just exuded peace and tranquility. Benches dotted about invited the visitor to take a break from the stress of everyday life and work, and to relax, deeply. Hmmmm…..
Blue-ish water lilies were growing along the sides of the pond.
Red hot pokers (which I think belong to the geophytes) were growing near the water’s edge.
What a view!
We definitely want to come back here and to explore more of the trails available in the reserve. What a wonderful, magical place!