A cold, wet and windy hike near Jonkersdam

Saturday dawned bright and beautiful, with a clear blue sky arching above the Cape Flats. It was the perfect day for a hike. I quickly packed a picnic, water, sunscreen, hats, and a spare jacket into our rucksack, and we set off towards the Silvermine Nature Reserve at the top of Ou Kaapse Weg. We were planning to tackle the climb up to the top of Constantiaberg, which we hadn’t done yet, because it looked a little daunting on the last two occasions we visited Silvermine.

As we drove through Newlands, Constantia and Tokai, however, it became increasingly apparent that there was no way we’d be going up the Constantiaberg today: thick clouds swirled above the entire mountain range from above Newlands Forest all the way past Constantia. By the time we cruised up Ou Kaapse Weg, encountering more and more cars with their headlights on because of the dense clouds, we knew it would be very uncomfortable and cold, and possibly dangerous, to attempt a long hike here.

So I consulted Shirley Brossy’s A Walking Guide for the Hout Bay to Simon’s Town Mountains (the copy I have dates back to 2000, and it’s definitely not up to date, but it’s all we had with us).

Our Route near Jonkersdam

A screen-capture of Google Earth, showing our route:

Our there-and-back route

We decided to explore completely new territory by taking the Glencairn Expressway from Noordhoek towards Glencairn, and pulling into the gravel parking area at the start of the hike to Jonkersdam. Although the clouds were low, at least it wasn’t raining.

Sign indicating the start of the Jonkersdam hiking trail

There was another car parked there, so at least we weren’t alone, which was nice to know. What wasn’t so nice to see was the sign reminding us that there were Chacma baboons living here too. The sign said, sternly:

“Never try to take your food or belongings back from baboons – they may become aggressive!”

Sign explaining that there are troops of Chacma baboons living in ‘them thar hills’

O-o-o-kay, we’ll remember that. We just had to hope that they wouldn’t be interested in our picnic of buttered salty pretzels and water, and willing to accept apples and bananas as a peace offering instead.

Flowering fynbos

Zipped snugly into my spare windbreaker (man, was I glad that I’d packed that!), we set off along the sandy track, which looked as though it had been traversed by a couple of horses very recently, judging from the numerous hoof prints.

Easy sandy path leading us through the kopjes

The kopjes (hillocks) all around were covered with a dense growth of fynbos, their white and yellow flowers standing out against the various shades of dull green.

Hillsides densely overgrown with fynbos

And a splash of startling orange-red chasmanthe [thank you, Helen!]:

Startling orange-red chasmanthe aethiopica

Between the small hills, we could see the village of Noordhoek, bounded along the western side by a long straight stretch of sandy beach and a wetland. Actually, it’s no longer a village, as pretty much the entire low-lying valley is covered in houses and housing estates now.

In the distance, before the far mountains, lies the pretty vale of Noordhoek

As we emerged onto a broader jeep track, we passed this flowering protea bush. Richard, curious, stuck his nose into one of the flowers, and reported with delight that they had a sweet fragrance, reminding him of fynbos honey! (Of course I had to check that – and yes, it’s true. :-))

Yes, indeed, the sweet fragrance of the Sugarbush protea reminds me of fynbos honey… hmmmm….

Close-up of protea – I think this is a ‘Real Sugarbush’ or Protea repens. Gorgeous, isn’t it?

A close-up of Protea repens

Our jeep track led us between kopjes, whose sandstone rocks had been weathered into strange shapes, like this one. It looks like a snake sticking out its neck, don’t you think?

Is that a rock snake?

Aloes were flowering high up on the rocks. Isn’t it amazing, how they seem to grow right out of the stones?

Aloe up on the rocks

We trudged along, buffeted by a cold and damp wind. Brrr….

Amazingly, the birds didn’t mind the wintry weather: all around us, they flitted and soared, and chirped and cheeped, alighting on a swaying branch or a fragrant flower, just for a moment, before taking to the air once more. I was lucky to snap a quick picture of this sunbird.

(Apologies for the granulated image, but I had to zoom in quite far, and increase my ISO because of the dark grey skies, and the strong wind wasn’t exactly helping my camera to focus.)

It’s a sunbird!

I really liked the bright pink-red colours of these Erica plukenetii, which stood out in this landscape of grey skies and dark green veld.

Pink-red Erica plukenetii, swaying in the wind

And don’t you just love these pale-blue flowers with their delicate pink heart centres?

The delicate blue-pink flowers of Lobostemon fruticosus

These are the flowers of Lobostemon fruticosus, which is also known as the pajama bush (cute!) and in Afrikaans as agtdaegeneesbos (or eight-day healing bush). Apparently this refers to the belief that the plant could heal certain ailments within eight days.

“Used by the KhoiKhoi, the settlers and Malays, this little shrub was a much respected herb of the Cape people. A tea made of the leaves drunk first thing in the morning, was said to be a sure cure for ringworm in humans and animals-hence the Afrikaans common name, douwurmbos.

The fresh leaves and branch tips were used with Hermannia hyssopifolia and Psoralea decumbens to make an ointment used for roos (erysipelas or eczema). An ointment made by frying the leaves and flowers of Lobostemon fruticosus in butter with leaves of Melianthus major, Melianthus comosus and the bulbs of Cyanella lutea was applied to wounds.” (Plantz Africa website)

Some bushes were covered in in these fluffy white flowers that looked like cottonballs. Do you perhaps know what they are? (Update: Thanks to Mariana, I can now tell you with authority that these balls of fluff belong to Tarchonanthus camphoratus – Wild Camphor Bush, which grows throughout Southern Africa. The birds like to use the fluff to line their nests.”)

Fluffy balls of cottonwool?

These tiny yellow flowers were being buffeted by the rain-laden wind, making it impossible to get a good focus on them.

Yellow blossoms being whipped by the wind

A view of Welcome Glen opened up on our left, across a hillside awash in bright yellow bushes; I think these are Leucadendron coniferum. Against the misty grey clouds spitting drizzle-drops, they looked like hundreds of brightly glowing fairy lanterns, lit up from within. They sure lifted the spirit!

What a view into the valley below!

This is a close-up:

Zooming into a cluster of Leucadendron coniferum

And zoomed right in, so that you can glimpse the inside of these ‘flowers’. I wonder what they’ll look like when they are actually… um… flowering?

A close-up of one of the ‘flowers’

Shortly afterwards, we ignored a turn-off to the left, and continued along the jeep track, which seemed to lead straight towards a high fence. Not having been here before, I was curious to see what the sign at the top said, and whether it would be possible to walk further.

Into the Solole nature reserve

As it turned out, this was the boundary of the Solole Nature Reserve, just outside Kommetjie, and our jeep track led straight through a wide gap in the fence. A sign warned hikers that NO DOGS were allowed beyond this point – ‘EVER’:

“If you love your pets, TURN AROUND!”

Mountaintop entrance to the Solole nature reserve

Luckily, we didn’t have a dog, and so we proceeded confidently along the jeep track, in the hope that we would come to the crest of the hill and be rewarded with glorious views across the entire Noordhoek Valley. Sadly, we weren’t. After trudging along for a bit into the cold wind, we returned back up the hill, and took a little sandy track to the right.

Sandy path among the restios

Marching through the soft sand was heavy going, until I figured out a kind of forward shuffle, taking small, quick steps and scuffing my boots through the sand without lifting my feet off the ground much. Was this what it felt like to walk through deep snow? Sheesh.

Look – an ant’s eye view of the sand:

Very soft and heavy sand

It is quite odd to think that this area must have been under the sea at some stage (see here, where you can also find this map):

“Almost 50% of the Cape Peninsula and Cape Flats area is blanketed by weakly cemented marine sands. Sea-levels fluctuated between -120 to +200 m from present mean sea level during the Pliocene and subsequent Pleistocene ice-age between 2 million and 15000 years ago as a result of fluctuating global temperature and variable amounts of water accumulated in polar ice caps. At times the sea covered the Cape Flats and Noordhoek valley and the Cape Peninsula was then a group of islands. Beach sands with shell fragments and estuarine muds were deposited and later overlain by calcrete-cemented dune sands as the sea retreated.” (UCT website)

Isn’t that remarkable? And here we were trudging through age-old beach sand, quite some distance from any actual beach!

At a junction with another jeep track, these tiny yellow flowers emerged from the sand, their leaves speckled with dew drops. I wonder what they are? Do you know? (Update: Thanks to blog-reader Mariana, I now know that these are a type of Oxalis.)

Teeny-tiny dew-speckled yellow flowers

Port Jacksons

Many of the shrubs along this stretch were covered in strange brown blobs; the ones that had only a few of these blobs looked otherwise healthy, but some had so many blobs on their branches, that there were hardly any new green shoots or leaves on the plant.

A Port Jackson bush

It was only when I did some research on the internet after our hike, that I realised that these had to be Port Jacksons (Wikipedia: Acacia saligna), infested with something known as a gall rust fungus (Uromycladium tepperianum).

Port Jacksons, which come from Australia, were first introduced into South Africa sometime in the 19th century to produce tan bark or tannin that was used in the tanning industry (Wikipedia: Tanning). These shrubs were also planted to stabilise sand dunes.

Unfortunately, Port Jacksons have become one of the most seriously invasive species in the country. To make matters worse, they are very difficult to control and eradicate, because their seeds survive even the fires that frequently race through the fynbos areas of the Cape Floral Region. A combination of mechanical, chemical and biological methods is thus used to keep it in check, but this has proved very challenging.

Aren’t these things weird-looking?

Gall rust fungus

“Biological control of Port Jackson has to date relied mainly on the gall rust fungus Uromycladium tepperianum, introduced from Australia. The fungal spores are dispersed by wind and rain, and when germinating on a Port Jackson plant they send thin filaments into the plant to extract nutrients from the cells.

Eventually the fungus causes galls to develop on the branches and foliage of the Port Jackson plant. These are the spore-producing structures of the fungus, and they further drain the host plant of nutrients that would normally be used for growth and reproduction. A severe infestation of the gall rust fungus will kill the host tree by predisposing it to other stress factors, such as drought stress.

The acacia seed weevil Melanterius compactus has recently been introduced as an additional biocontrol agent for Port Jackson.” (Global Invasive Species Programme)

Isn’t that fascinating?

Anyhow, so now you know what those strange brown blobs are!

Further up the hill

The jeep track descended a little, before climbing gently once more, until we could see a bit more of the beautiful valley of Noordhoek below.

View of Noordhoek valley and Chapman’s Peak beyond

We were keen to see whether it would take us to the top of a hill with an even better view. Brossy’s book had mentioned a track up to a kopje known as Rooikrans, but we hadn’t seen anything like that so far. Suddenly, however, I heard voices approaching up the track behind us – and two women on horseback emerged from between the Port Jacksons. Aah! So these were the horses whose hoofprints we’d seen throughout our hike!

Back on the jeep track

After we had greeted each other in a friendly manner, I asked whether they knew whereto this path led, and whether we would be rewarded for our exertions with a good view. One of the women, sitting easily on a black horse, which was chomping at the bit and raring to go, explained that there was a junction up ahead – the path on the left would take us downhill towards a dam, but this was quite far away, whereas the path on the right would take us further into the mountains.

Calling it quits – for today!

By now, the wind was blowing decidedly wetter and icier than before, and the misty clouds were swirling wetly around us, so we decided, somewhat reluctantly, to head back to the warmth of the car. I don’t particularly like retracing my steps when hiking – I prefer round-trips or circular routes that take you back to the start, so you’re always seeing something new!

But we didn’t have a map of the area and there were no signposts anywhere, and so, in the circumstances, the desire to have something warm to drink somewhere dry and out of this icy wind outweighed my spirit of adventure. πŸ™‚

We’ll just have to come back here another time!

Actually, the best part of spending time out in nature on a cold, wet and windy day, is the reward that awaits one in the form of a bitter-chocolate chococcino, a still-warm and fluffy scone with butter and jam, and a chocolate muffin to replenish all those calories you expended. πŸ˜‰

And we knew just the place where we could get all of those. Even better, it happened to be down the road in quaint Simon’s Town, with its Navy sailors in their spick-and-span white uniforms.

The award-winning Sweetest Thing Patisserie in Simon’s Town

(Just a tip: They don’t accept debit or credit cards, so you’ll need to bring cash. :-))

12 thoughts on “A cold, wet and windy hike near Jonkersdam

  1. Wow, what a very interesting hike! And how different the first days of winter are for you than they are for me. A hike anywhere around here in the last days of December would produce not a single bloom, nor anything still green and growing (with the exception of pine trees.) I agree the lobostemon is lovely!

    Now for an important question: what is bitter-chocolate choccocino? It sounds delicious!

    • Hello Karma –

      The Western Cape is a winter rainfall area with a more mediterranean climate, whereas the rest of the country is (more or less) a summer rainfall area. We are blessed with such a wide variety of flora, that there is always something in flower, even in winter. Also, our winters aren’t so cold that we have snow blanketing entire areas, as is the case in Europe and America – usually we only get a dusting of snow in the higher lying mountains.

      I don’t know whether you know, but this area is also part of the Cape Floral Region (Wikipedia), which encompasses the entire Western Cape up to the boundary with the Eastern Cape. It is “the smallest and richest of the world’s six floral kingdoms – and the only one to be contained within one country” (South Africa Info):

      “South Africa has the third-highest level of biodiversity in the world, thanks in no small part to the Cape floral kingdom. The Table Mountain National Park alone has more plant species within its 22 000 hectares than the whole British Isles or New Zealand.

      A stretch of land and sea spanning 90 000 square kilometres, or 0.05% of the earth’s land area, the Cape floral kingdom contains roughly 3% of the world’s plant species – at about 456 species per 1 000km2.

      Of the 9 600 species of vascular plants (plants with vessels for bearing sap) found in the Cape floral kingdom, about 70% are endemic, ie occur nowhere else on earth.” (South Africa Info)

      Brilliant, isn’t it?

    • Oooh! I forgot to reply to your important question about the choccocino. Well, I really prefer dark and bitter chocolate and cocoa to the otherwise rather sweet stuff you tend to get in the shops (not that I *can* eat much chocolate, sigh…). Anyhow, when I *do* treat myself to a choccocino (which is basically just a capuccino with some chocolate stirred in), I prefer the ones that contain bitter chocolate or cocoa, rather than the sweeter instant hot chocolate powder. It’s supremely decadent, I know, I know! But it’s a great treat after you’ve been hiking in the cold and wet! ;-P

  2. Well, no wonder you have so much to photograph and blog about. It is quite fascinating. I’ve never even heard of floral kingdoms; this has been an education. I’ve been spending some time looking around your site – last night I read about the elephant sanctuary; that sounds like an amazing visit.

    On the choccocino, I must admit it probably wouldn’t appeal afterall; I like my coffee mild and my chocolate sweet! πŸ˜‰

  3. How interesting! I’ve never walked in that area but have seen that signboard on the expressway and been meaning to explore sometime. I can see on the map there is quite a network of paths and jeep tracks on that hillside – it should be possible to plan a sort-of-circular route. One can also walk all the way to Kleinplaas Dam – which I’ve been to, but approached from the Simonstown side. Beautiful spot!
    (And I see there is another small dam and a ghost town called Brooklands – plenty to explore!)
    How nice that you saw so much lovely fynbos. I’m excited about it being protea season! And although its not always fun to walk in cloudy and windy weather fynbos often looks rather wonderful in those conditions doesn’t it πŸ™‚
    I think it would be well worth walking thereabouts again in springtime.
    Reggie, I’m curious about the plant you’ve identified as crocosmia. I know that name! But I can’t find any mention of it in my fynbos books, and that flower looks a little like chasmanthe to me (common name: cobra lily). When I first started to get really interested in fynbos and actually identifying flowers by name (which was about a year ago) that is one name I learnt and for some reason it has stuck (other flower names I have to repeat to myself over and over and I still can’t remember then). I remember seeing carpets of their cheerful dark orange flowers near Elephant’s Eye cave – absolutely stunning. I’ve just looked it up to refresh my memory. There are two varieties: chasmanthe aethiopica, 40-65cm, flowering April to July and chasmanthe floribunda, 45-100cm, flowering July to September (probably saw the latter one at Elephants Eye). I think it possible that you saw the smaller one? The internet tells me crocosmia is a bulb of the iris family and so is chasmanthe, so they probably are related and very similar. Phew, trying to identify flowers correctly is the most fascinating and challenging exercise!

    • Thank you for those route tips, Helen!

      And I am so grateful to you for helping me to identify those orange lilies as chasmanthe, rather than crocosmia; we have crocosmia in our garden, and they looked very similar, so I thought they were the same. πŸ™‚

      I do have a book on wild flowers, but it is so difficult to identify them positively from a photograph, that I sometimes give up, and just describe them visually as “small pink flowers” and “large red leaves” etc.

      I looked up chasmanthe, compared the pictures with my own, and agree with you. That is what these were! πŸ™‚

      I also often look at the photos on YOUR blog for guidance, because you are a lot more knowledgeable than I am. So thank you again for taking the trouble to write. πŸ™‚

  4. Well – that was a great post about a wonderful hike , maybe not in the very best weather – but in a beautiful landscape with a lot of beautiful flowers. In winter we would not see flowers here at all. Thank you for a nice experience!

  5. The tree with the “fluffy balls of cottonwool” is Tarchonanthus camphoratus – Wild Camphor Bush. It grows wide-spread in Southern Africa, from the coast to the dry interior. The seeds are covered in the fluffy cottonwool. The latter is used by birds to line their nests.
    The yellow flowers growing close to the sand, with their leaves speckled with dew drops are of the Oxalis genus. I can’t tell off-hand which species. A bit late to fetch my book now.
    The caterpillar is the larva of the Cape lappet moth – Eutricha capensis.
    I enjoy your blog so much!

    • Ahhh, thank you so much for all that info, Mariana. I am so pleased you found my job – and that you are enjoying it. I’ve had a look at your website and the photos in the album to which you linked here – you have a fantastic job, showing visitors our wonderful country. I love it. I’m going to have a closer read of your site. Bye for now!

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