Under the shady pines

The dappled pathways of Newlands Forest are always enticing to the hiking public of Cape Town, being so easily accessible from the southern suburbs of the city and a-buzz with dogs and children being exercised on the ‘nursery slopes’ of more serious hikes a bit higher up. Impossibly tall pine trees tower overhead, with glimpses of blue sky and rugged mountains between the trunks, and tinkling streams rushing down to join the Liesbeek RIver. The water supply system constructed in the 1960s is evident in the many pipes that cross the contours, and is considered to be a marvel of engineering. Somehow it is difficult to imagine how these rather ancient-looking pipes are still connected to someone’s tap somewhere, but it is apparently so.

The shade was very welcome on one of the warmer days we have had this Spring, and the thick pine needles were soft under our feet as we took a gently sloping track towards Rhodes Memorial. We reached the edge of the forest where the natural fynbos escaped the devastation of plantations, but turned upwards to the top reaches of the pines rather than step out into the hot sun. Here a number of silver trees have struggled to survive the inhospitable conditions created by the pines, becoming tall and straggly with leaves at the very tips of the branches as they seek a way out of the confines of these invasive trees. No fynbos can survive on the forest floor and the very sensitive ecosystem of this tiny remainder of the once thickly wooded Afro-temperate forest has become threatened and in some places endangered. (A detailed description of the history, flora and fauna and hopes for rehabilitation of the Newlands Forest can be found on Wikipedia – an interesting read.)

We hike this area regularly and it has become a standing joke that it will be a circular route, as nobody quite knows where we will end up or how we will get down – it is easy to get a bit lost here, although not dangerous – going straight down will always bring you back to the jeep track, although a bit of scrambling and slipping may ensue! Today we didn’t set a foot wrong, and the trail wound up into part of the original forest where sprawling wild almonds made fantastical shapes along deep gullies of crystal waters and lush tree ferns, and in the canopy the song of the sombre greenbul followed us from tree to tree. A pair of resident African Harrier-hawks treated us to a special display of synchronised flight as they soared on the thermals near the cliffs, a sight to be stored in the memory bank as of course no camera was handy to preserve this marvellous moment.

On weekends the forest is literally clogged with people, their new-found enthusiasm for exercise and the outdoors being the result of months of lockdown, and we are very fortunate to be able to enjoy relative solitude on our weekday hikes. We will be back soon, I’m sure.

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