Silvermine River Ramble and Steenberg Plateau

The day after I had had my head shaved for a good cause at the 2011 CANSA Shavathon, we decided that the weather was just too nice to stay indoors in front of the computer, catching up on emails and work. Quite Frankly, work would have to Wait. Notice the lower-case ‘work’ – putting it in its rightful place. 😉

I did an eenie-meenie-minie-mo on the map of Silvermine Nature Reserve, and picked a route that was described in Shirley Brossy’s helpful “A Walking Guide for the Hout Bay to Simon’s Town Mountains” as Steenberg Plateau and the Stream Path. I imagined breathtaking vistas from the plateau and a tinkling stream winding among lush vegetation – it sounded perfect.

Welcome to the Silvermine River Walk

Fairly early on Sunday morning, we thus pulled into the small parking area adjacent to the guard house at the entrance to Silvermine West. Judging from the lack of parking, we weren’t the only walkers along this route. Boots laced, sunscreen liberally smeared on arms, faces and ears, hats on, and camera at the ready, we set off along the broad jeep track that took us down to the start of the trail. Following a group of young girls in pretty dresses and flipflops – not ideal gear for walking in the veld! –  we turned right onto a sandy track between the bushes.

Dense fynbos all around

The ground was dry, and the vegetation had that dusty grey colour it gets after months of no rain. We soon realised that the stream had almost dried up during the long summer months. What a pity! I imagine that it must be very lush and green here after the rainy season – though probably also quite muddy and squelchy!

Lush riverine forest close to the water

After a bit, we emerged from the bushes, climbing upwards onto a higher contour. Our path was leading us along the slope of a hill, running parallel to the river but a couple of metres away from the streambed with its impenetrably dense vegetation.

A short while later, we found ourselves walking along a series of well-built boardwalks right next to what should have been the stream – but here too, it was quite dry, with even the mud quite hard and the rocks exposed. The roots of the plants and trees must have been anchored deep enough in the soil to reach the ground water, though, because the vegetation was still that juicy, eye-soothing green. We made a mental note to give this path another try after the autumn rains.

A well-constructed boardwalk across a section that probably gets soggy in winter

A little further upstream, there were indeed some small pools of water – the dogs we encountered along the way found these pools impossible to resist! A border collie went bounding into the water, dunking its mouth in to drink; a moment later, it leapt out of the water, its coat nicely soaked, and shook itself – sending droplets flying in all directions. I swear it was smiling, as it galloped past us, leaving a wet trail on the wooden boardwalk.

We came across a number of spider webs – one of them was the home of this interesting-looking spider. Do you have any idea what kind of spider this could be?

Can you see the smiling mouth, the nostrils and the eyes?

About an hour after we had started our walk, we reached the Silvermine reservoir.

The place was a-bustle with groups of picnickers, mainly families with young children. They had spread out their picnic blankets, folding chairs and cooler boxes near the shoreline. Kids and dogs were playing in the shallows, squealing and splashing with delight. One energetic Jack Russell was obediently fetching a stick, by diving straight into the water and paddling confidently over to where the wooden stick was floating. Once he reached it, he seized it firmly in his mouth, u-turned and paddled back to the shore, where he placed it on the ground in front of his owner, clearly demanding that it be thrown into the water again!

The reservoir is such an idyllic place

We walked across the gangway to the northern shore, and made our way to the picnic spot where we had sat the previous Sunday with Lissi – it was hard to believe that it had only been a week! It felt like that whirlwind week had happened months ago!

The perfect picnic spot

We quickly unpacked the thermos flask with tea, and the freshly baked croissants, which we’d picked up on our way south, and found a nice smooth rock to sit on. I climbed up to the top of a couple of boulders, from where I had an even better view of the surroundings.

Aahh… it was an utterly peaceful and idyllic setting for a picnic.

I've found my perch!

As it was a fairly warm day, a number of people were swimming in the reservoir. The best places for getting into the water seemed to be along the southern shoreline. Some swimmers were taking their dip quite seriously, doing a strong and steady crawl all the way around the dam, and around again, and again. Other swimmers were paddling fairly close to the shore and continued chatting with their friends, their voices carrying across the water. There were parents with young children, who needed encouragement getting their feet wet – perhaps it was their first time? They joyfully splashed about in the shallows.

We stayed there for a long time, just absorbing the serenity and tranquility of this beautiful place.

We couldn’t stay here forever, though, so we eventually packed up all our gear, and laced up our boots once more. Instead of retracing our steps to the dam wall, we continued following the circular path, as it curved around the western shoreline.

I am standing about a metre away from these spur fowl - they are so calm!

Suddenly, a family of spur fowl (Cape Francolins) stepped onto the path in front of us. I stopped, and readied my camera, all in one move. It was a pair of adults, with four youngsters. They were so tame that I was standing almost a metre away from them, getting some wonderful close-up shots.

They stepped cautiously towards us, and stopped a little bit away; then, one after the other, they fluttered up onto some boulders next to the path. Here, they proceeded to clean their feathers, wiping them with their beaks. We stood, riveted, and just gazed at them. They were so unphased by our presence, it was quite remarkable. They were communicating with each other by means of a slightly high-pitched fluting sound, almost like a very faint ‘eeeep’.

The wooden bridge at the western shore

We crossed the wooden bridge, above the pretty lilies, and followed the boardwalk along the southern shore, with its multitude of picnickers until we reached the dam wall once more. We didn’t want to retrace our steps along the same path we’d come up, and decided to explore the adjacent and almost-parallel mountain bike trail instead.

After a pleasantly shady section among the trees, we began to ascend a little, along a fairly broad gravel track through the fynbos. The stream was some distance downhill to our left, its course clearly marked by the dense and lush vegetation. On the map, this was marked as the Boekenhout Dell – but as I’ve no idea what kind of trees ‘boekenhouts’ are, I don’t know whether we actually saw them.

Such a lovely, peaceful path through the bracken and fern

Up here on the hillsides covered with fragrant-smelling fynbos, there were hardly any flowers or flowering bushes – even the Cape Everlastings were looking dry and droopy and shrivelled up. Our path climbed gently, curving southwards, away from the river. After some time, we reached an intersection, where we chose the path that curved eastwards and slightly downhill, through a leucadendron field. Can you imagine if all these bushes are flowering? It must be quite a sight!

Interesting protea bush, all lit up by the sun

Here and there, though, we encountered these gorgeous March lilies! You can see them all over the city at the moment, lending lovely splashes of colour to otherwise drab surroundings.

March lilies (Amaryllis belladonna)

The terrain along this route varied between slippery gravel on reddish clay-ey soil, alternating with stretches of packed white chalky sand, where the path-builders had carefully lined the edges of the path with stones, presumably to prevent erosion. Between these two, I much prefer walking along the white sandy bits! Walking on gravel is tiring – and tiresome, because it feels like the hand-brake has to be on all the time, to prevent oneself slipping and losing one’s footing.

A sandy section - muuuch better than the gravel!

On the whole, the path across the Steenberg Plateau was a somewhat disappointing slog… there was no spectacular scenery, no sudden breathtaking vistas, no pretty tinkling streams, no weather-eroded rock formations inviting the brain to play games by ‘recognising’ animals… I don’t think that walking this path in the opposite direction would be much more scenic either. Perhaps we’ll visit this part of the Reserve again if the proteas and the leucadendrons are flowering?

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