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:
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
And a splash of startling orange-red chasmanthe [thank you, Helen!]:
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.
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. :-))
Close-up of protea – I think this is a ‘Real Sugarbush’ or Protea repens. Gorgeous, isn’t it?
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?
Aloes were flowering high up on the rocks. Isn’t it amazing, how they seem to grow right out of the stones?
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.)
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.
And don’t you just love these pale-blue flowers with their delicate pink heart centres?
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.”)
These tiny yellow flowers were being buffeted by the rain-laden wind, making it impossible to get a good focus on them.
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!
This is a close-up:
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?
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!”
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.
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:
“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.)
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.
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?
“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.
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!
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. 🙂
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. 😉
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.
(Just a tip: They don’t accept debit or credit cards, so you’ll need to bring cash. :-))