Bubbling streams and foaming waterfalls: The Silvermine river walk in wintertime

A couple o’ weeks ago, at the end of a rather wet winter’s week, we were eager to get out into the world of nature once more. We thus met up with L and V and their little girl N (with whom we had recently picnicked at Green Point Urban Park and walked from Newlands Forest to Kirstenbosch and from Constantia Nek to Kirstenbosch) at the parking area near the Silvermine reservoir. As they hadn’t walked in this area for a long time, we were planning a hike up to the Elephant’s Eye Cave (previous hikes describes here and here). After all, this is one of the most well-known routes in the reserve, and the views from up there are particularly rewarding on a clear day.

The Silvermine reservoir under a steely grey sky

Unfortunately, the weather had other plans. Even though we had someweatherproof clothing with us, and Little N was warmly dressed and snugly tucked up in her sling, we were definitely not equipped to deal with the blustery wind, the billowing fog and the damp drizzle that was apparently waiting for us higher up the mountain. As a result, we decided to go for an easy level stroll around the reservoir instead. Nonetheless, it was decidedly chilly out there, with banks of grey fog sweeping in across the western ridge, and threatening a thorough drenching any moment. Brrrrr…

By the time we had wandered around the circumference of the reservoir, however, patches of blue sky were emerging from the grey, and we didn’t quite feel like ending our hike just yet. So we followed the signs down to the River Walk. The last time we had followed this route, in March and then again in April), there had been no river to speak of at all. Dusty grey leaves and squelchy mud, yes, but no burbling streams or splashy pools.

A river of light

This time, however, we were rewarded with the glorious sight of water rushing across mossy rocks, flowing around sturdy tree-trunks and carving its way through rain-softened earth. There was even a sensational waterfall, where I got completely engrossed by playing around with different apertures and shutter speeds.

By now, the sun had come out fully, and it had turned into one of those perfect sunshiny winter days with a luminous blue sky and twinkling mist-droplets on leaves creating that refreshing “just washed” look.

Beautiful scenery

Oh, and we were hungry. Fortunately, the most perfect picnic place awaited us on the opposite side of a bridge with a weir from a small and tranquil dam. We later noticed a sign that announced this as the Uthango Group Braai Area– “by reservation only”. Er, oops. We also saw signs pointing to two other venues that could be booked, namely, the Yellowwood Corporate Braai Area and the Doringboom Group Braai Area. All of them look like superlative venues for a group braai.

Tummies pleasantly full with bread rolls, croissants and tea, we made our way back to the parking area by following the main access road through the fynbos. Now is clearly a good time of year to see lots of flowering proteas! Suddenly, something caught my eye – a bird of prey sitting on a branch high up among a stand of young trees. With its yellow eyes, grey head and barred red-brown front, I think it was an African Goshawk. It sat on its branch, not moving, hardly blinking, and transfixed me with its stare. It commanded respect – and received it.

An African Goshawk with startling yellow eyes

What an awe-filled moment to conclude our hike in peaceful Silvermine Nature Reserve.

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29 thoughts on “Bubbling streams and foaming waterfalls: The Silvermine river walk in wintertime

    • Thanks, Slamdunk. With weather in Cape Town and particularly on the mountain being a little unpredictable, and given the microclimates in different suburbs, it really could’ve gone either way – we could’ve been caught in a torrential downpour, or we could’ve been lucky (as we were!) and had sunny clear skies. Lesson learnt: take extra wind-and-weather protection along, even if it looks fine at home. It *is* winter down here, after all! πŸ™‚

    • Thank you, Glynnis, and am glad you like the background picture; it’s the first time I’ve managed to figure out how to insert it. I just hope it doesn’t slow down the initial opening of the website.

    • Hello Sher – thanks! Actually, I wasn’t using my zoom lens. I have a Canon EFS 18-55 mm wide-angle lens and was using its 55mm focal length, aperture of f/8 and shutter speed of 1/166 in landscape mode. I was standing quite far from the bird, so I ended up zooming in and cropping as tightly as I could in the imaging software. When hiking, there’s usually not enough time to swap between wide-angle and telephoto (particularly because birds are FAST!) – apart from that, swapping lenses out in the field (dust, wind, etc.) is not ideal. It was one of those moments where one longs for a compact digital like the Canon SX30 IS, whose zoom FAAAAR exceeds my wide-angle’s ‘zoom’. πŸ™‚

    • Hello Rosie, yes, you are definitely right. The Cape is beautiful throughout the year, not only during summer tourist season. Personally, I prefer autumn and winter, because those clear radiant days with their crisp fresh air stand out so much more – and it is nice not to have to slather on yucky sunscreen. Of course, the risk in winter is that the nice days do not coincide with the weekend!

  1. Reggie
    Thanks for the detailed information. I have the same lens for my Nikon, and I am still impressed you could get that shot without a zoom. I’m super interested in photographing birds out on Mule Springs farm, and I am so excited to begin experimenting…I agree about changing lenses. I had the wrong lens on when I encountered a young red tailed hawk, and he stayed for a long time, but I was slower…sigh. He sprang just as the new lens clicked in place…another sigh.

    • Thanks, Lisa. πŸ™‚

      While we were walking down towards the waterfall, we were met by a couple of hikers on their way up. One of them was a guy with a stunning Canon D-SLR. He must have noticed me as a fellow photie, because he smiled and said, “When you get to the waterfall, use the slowest shutter-speed you can and the smallest aperture you can – F/22 or thereabouts, you will need to stabilise the camera, maybe on a rock, or on the railing… You’ll get the river all blurry and flowing… like this… ” And he showed me the picture he had taken, which was rather like mine, just looking more crisp.

      It was such great advice! I ended up using F/22 and an exposure of 0.8 seconds, and kept to ISO 100 to prevent graininess. The trickiest part was finding a rock/railing to stabilise the camera, because at that shutter speed it’s impossible to do hand-held. And with the spray from the waterfall in the air, it was particularly tricky. I didn’t want to get my lens wet, as I’d left my lens-pen in the car.

    • What a helpful guy! I actually was wondering whether you carried a tripod with you. We have just got a tripod which we want to use on our Kalahari trip in August. Have been practising with it and it really does help a lot – my hands sometimes shake.

  2. I love meeting friendly hikers along the way – it always makes it so much more memorable if you connect with people who, like you, also love being outdoors.

    I don’t carry my tripod on hikes – it’s too bulky, and it takes too long to set up. Apart from that, finding sufficiently level ground for all three legs isn’t always possible. I tend to use rocks or boulders… (which can be a little hazardous for the camera!).

    Also, when I’m hiking with others, I’m very conscious of not dawdling too long, though that is really hard sometimes… when you stop to look around, thinking about angles and framing and how to set up an interesting photo, and what settings would be good to use, it takes TIME. Other people aren’t always as patient… It can be quite frustrating. As a result, I usually end up using one of the auto settings – landscape, macro, portrait – “happy snapping”.

    • Love the photos you took on another great hike, Reggie!

      I’m thinking we should all someday try and do a photowalk together, then we can dawdle together all we like πŸ˜‰ I tend to forget all about time when I really get into “the zone”.

      By the way, I too like your background! It is a nice surprise and quite fitting I think.

      • Thank you, Clouded.

        As to the photowalk – I totally agree. I would really love to do a photowalk with you and Lisa and our ‘significant others’, if they don’t mind waiting and discussing manly things while we get side-tracked by the scenery, birds in the trees, mushrooms growing on tree stumps, or peculiar rock formations! πŸ˜‰ We must simply plan a trip to the South/SouthEast Coast, and maybe we can hook up?

  3. This is one of those posts from you that I LOVE! – so many fine and beautiful photos from this amazing area – I can’t stop starting dreams of being there and experiencing this place myself……

  4. Such a fantastic nature, your photos and story are food for imagination of a wonderful country offering endless numbers of experiences. The light waterfall photo is beautiful.

  5. You did such a lovely job with your waterfall, Reggie! I would have loved to have been a bird on your shoulder watching how you did it. It’s beautiful. Another wonderful hike…

  6. What a gorgeous day out! I love what you did with the waterfall, slow speed I think, but you managed to get everything else in focus, lovely shot. And then, that bird! What a sight. My idea of a perfect day!

    • Hello Lynne, I am pleased you like the waterfall photo. Ideally, I would have liked to have a tripod with me, and to use a self-timer setup to prevent blurriness even more. But I like it too.

    • Spotting the goshawk was such a stroke of good luck – I happened to pause briefly in my walking, looked up, noticed something unusual out of the corner of my eyes, and zoomed right in on the goshawk sitting in the middle of those trees. We locked eyes, and that was that.

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