Walks: Get in touch with nature

2008-01-14 00:00

Here are five walks in and around Pietermaritzburg for those interested in getting to know their surrounds.

World’s View

Drive to the top of Roberts Road and park in front of The Wykeham Collegiate School. You are now in Villiers Drive. Take the first road to the right, Voortrekker Road, which becomes the Voortrekker wagon trail. The trekker wagon had a narrow wheelbase and was inclined to topple over on sloping ground, so the Voortrekkers and subsequent transport riders sought out the crests of ridges that they could follow from the higher ground to the northwest into the valley of the Msunduzi. Walking straight up, the route followed by today’s Capital Climb, will bring you to World’s View and, on a clear day, its splendid vistas over the city spread out below and beyond.

Breakfast Rock

This is in the Ferncliffe forest just below the crest of the escarpment and was so named by the Ramblers who, in the old days, would start out early from town and hike there for breakfast en route yet further afield.

Drive to the very end of Town Bush Road, park at the D. V. Harris Waterworks and start off along the forestry track. You can either stay on it until you reach the picnic site below the old forester’s cottage, or else, at a point where it turns sharp right, branch off upwards to the left into the indigenous bush along the Lemonwood Trail (which will also bring you out at the forester’s cottage).

From in front of the cottage, take another path that angles right through the trees. This takes you upwards past Bat’s Cave and after sundry meanderings will eventually bring you to the base of the overhanging Breakfast Rock. As you face the rock, you will see a way to scramble up its left-hand side to the flat top. Here you will find a fine stone bench, erected in 1991 by the Pietermaritzburg Ramblers’ Club to mark its 70th anniversary. Rest here and enjoy the view.

To get back, reverse the scramble down the side of the rock and then take one or other of the two paths that lead downwards to the main forestry road. Turn right and follow it past the forester’s cottage to where you parked.

Whaleback

Drive up Mayor’s Walk, which becomes Sweetwaters (Mbubu) Road, and turn left into Uplands Road. Carry on up Highfield Road, past the former Uplands School, and park in front of the little St Mary’s Anglican church. Head off towards the ridge above you, crossing the bridge over what was the original railway line out of Pietermaritzburg, which remained in use until the great floods of September 1987 did such damage that the railway authorities decided to close it.

Head upwards to the right past the last few houses and then along a forestry track. This will eventually bring you out on the edge of open grassland at the northern end of Blackridge (aka Whaleback). Turn left and traverse the ridge. You will get good views of the Edendale Valley and beyond to your right, and, as you reach the other end of the ridge, over Pietermaritzburg lying in front of you and to your left.

Here you are on another of the Voortrekker trails into the valley below, which, if you were to follow it all the way down, would take you to Plessislaer (where a trekker named Du Plessis originally had his laager).

Instead, angle your way down to the left, a route that will eventually take you to the top of Morcom Road. But your car is at St Mary’s, so make a hairpin turn back towards where you started from. There are paths across the veld and soon you will pick up a road that will get you there.

Cumberland

The Cumberland Nature Reserve lies 20 kilometres out of Pietermaritzburg on the southern banks of the Umgeni River. Twenty years ago it was an over-exploited and run-down farm. Today it is a conservation gem, increasingly enjoyed by visitors. It includes at least three different ecosystems: grassland, acacia woodland and riverine forest. There is a small campsite and ample facilities for picnicking under spreading acacias. There is a nominal five rand per person entrance fee and one places one’s money in an honesty box at the gate.

You can do various walks, but the most challenging and rewarding is that to the top of the krantz. Start either along the track that goes off to the right at the end of the picnic area or else walk back the way you have driven in, past the honesty box, and take the first track to the left. Whichever route you choose, you will end up in front of Krantz Hut. From there on the clearly marked path goes up increasingly steeply, for part of the way running next to the fence that separates Cumberland from the adjoining farm.

As you reach the flat ground at the top, you turn sharply left to a spot at the top of the cliff where you can sit down, catch your breath, drink your juice and take in the stunning views of the grassland below, the Umgeni running deep in its gorge, and far beyond to the Karkloof on the distant horizon.

Returning, retrace your steps down as far as the Krantz Hut. There turn right on a little path that takes you to the lip of the Umgeni gorge. Turning left, the track will then take you along the edge all the way back to the picnic site, offering endless different vistas of the river below.

To get there follow Manning Road out of town. It becomes Baynes Drift Road. Past the engineering works and the new township layout there is a turnoff to the right marked Table Mountain. Take it and then angle off left after a kilometre or two on to the first district road. Follow that as far as it goes to the Cumberland entrance.

Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve

This is situated on the right-hand side of the Karkloof Road just out of Howick (the entrance is directly opposite that of Amberglen). There is an entrance charge of R11 per head, payable at the office. Pick up a free map so that you can see exactly the variety of walks on offer. A good one to start with is the Black Eagle trail. Drive to the Inkonka car park and start walking. The path leads downwards initially and then turns left, more or less parallel to the road and below it. One traverses grassland with the river far below and can enjoy fine views out towards Albert Falls dam. The path comes out at Hepburn Cottage and the next (Indulo) car park. You can then walk back along the road to where you left your car.

As a longer variant, instead of turning left along the Black Eagle trail, continue down to the Inkonka Camp. Then walk along the track next to the Umgeni. Turn up at the Indulo Camp. You then slog uphill along the concrete road which comes up at the Hepburn Cottage. Then walk the Black Eagle trail in reverse back to your car. Whichever you choose, you’ll be well exercised.

If you are reluctant to walk on your own, then the Ramblers Club or its offshoot, the Amblers Club, are for you. Both organise walks every Saturday afternoon, rain or shine — with the Ramblers being the more energetic and challenging of the two. The Amblers also have a walk every Thursday morning. With either group you will get to know these walks and a good many more. To ascertain the starting point for each walk, phone Francois Marais (Ramblers) at 033 044 2754 or Ariel Calitz (Amblers) at 033 3450 7502.

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