Steep but sensational

The southeaster that is currently blowing a hoolie across the Peninsula, with shipping warnings for small boats and Fish Hoek residents hardly daring to venture outdoors was, as expected, almost entirely absent in the mountains above Kirstenbosch. We who have lived in Cape Town for most of our lives know where the sheltered spots are, and the forests and ravines of the Peninsula provide welcome shade in the absence of the cooling sea breezes.

The walk through Cecilia plantation (or what is left of it) is relentlessly upward, but we know this and know it well, doing the trek up to the waterfall at least four times a year to see it in its various stages of trickle to torrent, and particularly to see the beautiful Disa Uniflora that clings to its mossy cliffs in late summer. There are frequent mumblings of ‘I don’t remember the path being this steep’ or ‘shouldn’t we have turned left back there’ and yet we always get there in one piece, perhaps a little weary in the legs and puffing, but soon recovering as we take our favourite seats on fallen giants at the foot of the waterfall. We gaze up at unfallen giants clinging by just the shallowest of roots and wonder when they will join the tumbled trunks, and whether we will see them fall, or do trees only fall unobserved?

A paradise flycatcher flits in the branches, its long tail whip-like, and the russet feathers a giveaway. Gone in an instant. LBJs disturb the leaves but remain unidentified overhead. The waterfall is midway to a trickle and can still give a good shower if you are so inclined and don’t mind the icy water. Many trees have fallen during lockdown and a great deal of chainsawing and general brush clearing has taken place since we were last here, leaving the sides of the path looking rather raw and ravaged, but no doubt new growth will soon hide the jagged ends of branches and soften the landscape again. The sawn trunks, cut in short lengths and left in a jumble sadly do not have the aesthetic appeal of those that lie strewn like pick-up sticks across the ravine, having been left to nature’s tender mercies, and it is unlikely that a four-foot log will ever be taken down the steep path to be chopped up for firewood. And so Man’s hand has again not enhanced the environment. Tissues and plastic bottles remain carelessly tossed by other trail users who apparently go home unconcerned that their litter will still be there for untold decades, and one wonders why they go to the trouble of hiking in places of great natural beauty when they have nothing to contribute to its survival. It seems to be easy to carry a full bottle uphill but impossible to carry the empty bottle downhill. Littering is a thing I find intolerable.

Aside from that, the aristeas are arrestingly beautiful in extensive displays, their intense blue a striking contrast among the pink watsonias and yellow fynbos – somehow the colours mingle perfectly and nothing ever clashes. The aptly named comb flower line the jeep track, and the elegant silver trees sway gently in the breeze against the dark green backdrop of the mountain. We have to watch our footing as the path is steep and the roots treacherous, but nobody ever says ‘I don’t think I’ll do that one again’.

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