Having walked from Constantia Nek to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens with our friends L and V, who was carrying little N in a soft carry-pouch (see route here), we were keen to try the approach from the opposite direction, Newlands Forest.
The two of us had tackled that route about two years ago. At the time, we’d gotten a little lost along the way, though we still, surprisingly, managed to find the Big Rock on the contour path that marks the northernmost entrance to Kirstenbosch. (If you’re curious to read a description of that route, have a look here.) We remembered it as a stunningly beautiful walk through dense afromontane forest, although it was also a strenuous route, as it necessitated an inordinate number of steep steps, first up, and then down, until knees, hips and ankles were aching and trembling with exhaustion.
We left one car at Kirstenbosch (so that we wouldn’t have to walk back to the start again), and began our hike at the Newlands Forestry Station.
Before setting off, we had a good look at the map, getting our bearings and planning our optimal route. We headed up along the southern side of Newlands stream until we reached the stone bridge – a useful landmark, as it is also the intersection with a large gravel road. From here we followed part of the Littlewort Trail that goes uphill next to the stream on the northern side. I knew we would have to cross it back again at some stage – but couldn’t remember exactly where the best (or rather, the driest!) crossing place was.
When we found a small footpath down to the edge of the water, we took it – and I promptly got stuck in some vicious brambles, from which L kindly disentangled me before we continued. Alas, despite some creative bundu-bashing, it emerged that it was not possible to cross here – at least not without getting shoes and legs thoroughly wet. Drat. We returned, somehow, to the main path, and continued climbing upwards, until we found a place with enough rocks in the water to hop across without getting soaked.
A couple of metres further on, we found ourselves on a broad red-gravel path, with logs laid across at intervals, most likely to channel any rainwater run-off off the main path and into the dense undergrowth on either side.
Little N, who had briefly woken up during the excitement of bundu-bashing, was looking curiously at the beautiful world of nature that surrounded us. I wonder if she is going to become a passionate hiker and nature lover when she grows up?
We took the next turn-off to the left (if we’d continued along to the right, we would have been on the Woodcutter’s Trail, which we had usually found by accident on previous hikes), and zig-zagged up until we came to this junction, with a wonderfully reassuring sign pointing UP to the Contour Path.
About an hour-and-a-half after we had started our hike at the Forestry Station, we had reached the contour path. I am always amazed at the amount of work that must go into maintaining these paths, keeping them safe, preventing erosion, clearing vegetation on either side, moving dangerous boulders out of the way,… never mind constructing these extraordinary boardwalks. This is serious manpower.
There are long stretches of boardwalks here, alternating with well-trodden forest paths, and fields of moss-overgrown and wobbly boulders that require a keen sense of balance, strong ankles and preferably boots with ankle-support. In summer, there are often trail-runners or joggers on the contour path, but this time, we didn’t see any.
About half an hour later, we reached the entrance to Kirstenbosch that is marked by a gigantic rock (marked as “Big Rock” on the useful map below). We pondered our options:
- We could continue going up, along the “Dassieklip” route, and take the next turn-off down just before Window Gorge, or the turn-off after that at the Waterfall, or the third turn-off at Skeleton Gorge. All of those possibles seemed to have a hang-of-a-lot of STEPS though… (Dassies are rock hyraxes, and “klip” is an Afrikaans word meaning “stone”.)
- We could follow the “Sleeppad” down (also, many steps), catch the next turn-off into Kirstenbosch Garden along the so-called Silvertree Trail, and then zigzag our way down to the Restaurant at the bottom of the mountain. Incidentally, “Sleeppad” does not mean “a road on which you can sleep”, but “sleep” is an Afrikaans word meaning ‘drag’ and “pad” means ‘road’. “Sleeppad” thus refers to a ‘dragging path’, or, more specifically, the path along which timber was dragged through the forest by mules or oxen during the days when this was a timber plantation.
We opted for the Silvertree route, and started to descend rather rapidly down the mountain side, down a path with many, many, oh-so-many steps. Sometimes it was so steep, that I found myself breaking into a slow trot, but that didn’t do my knees any good, as they started to whinge and whine about the impact and the slippery leaves underfoot and the wet logs… Slow and steady, leaning backwards was the safer option. You definitely don’t want to twist an ankle or injure a knee up here.
Although we kinda followed the handy route-markers, at least whenever there was one, I have a sneaking suspicion that we may not have taken the shortest route down to the Restaurant after all. By the time that we finally reached the Restaurant at 16h30, the staff were getting ready to close up for the day, and all the cakes – and scones! – had disappeared.
We consoled ourselves with generous mugs of deliciously creamy hot chocolate, and shared some crunchy biscuits and two slightly battered and squished but nonetheless fabulous chocolate croissants that we’d tucked into our rucksack as a ‘just-in-case’ snack.
Sitting around our familiar picnic table, contentedly sipping hot chocolates, we concurred that this had been another wonderful hike, and that we definitely had to plan another one!