Walk Report – March 2018

Botsoc Kogelberg Walk Report
– By Tim Attwell (17th February 2018)

It seemed a good idea at the time. February serves up the best of summer in the Kogelberg; not much wind, little chance of rain and warm sunny days. The prospect of a swim in the Palmiet River was too good to resist.

And so it proved. Except that the swimming spot we chose, the famous ‘Beach’ on the Palmiet River, deep in the Kogelberg Nature Reserve, was five kilometres from the parking spot and there was indeed little cooling breeze, negligible cloud cover and plenty of sun. A swim was never won so hard.

It got tougher. The chosen route home was the Jeep Track, high on the mountainside above the river, completely devoid of shade and at midday when only mad dogs and Englishmen venture out. It took courage, guts and determination to survive the ten kilometre round trip. But it’s in one of the most beautiful valleys in all the Fynbos Kingdom.

The Palmiet River valley in the Kogelberg Nature Reserve

The mountain slopes on either side of the Palmiet River Trail showcase four typical fynbos types: proteoid in deeper, relatively fertile soils, ericaceous fynbos with its wetter soils and higher content of organic matter, drier asteraceous fynbos and restioid fynbos supported by shallower soils. One of the delights of the route is observing the changes as you go. It also takes your mind off the discomforting realisation that this trail is taking a long time.

Another way to avoid asking the increasingly urgent question, ‘are we there yet?’ is to take note of the distinctive riverine vegetation. Ubiquitous ‘Palmiet’, Prionium serratum, filters water and stabilizes the river bank. Look for Wild Almond, Brabejum stellatifolium, surprisingly of the family Proteaceae, the almond like fruit of which famously contains cyanogenic glycosides that could kill you in a wink. Then there is Waterwitels or Water White Alder, Brachylaena neriifolia, which is not an Alder (genus Alnus of the Birch family Betulaceae) at all, but a member of the family Asteraceae – making it an exceptionally large daisy bush. Other Alders that aren’t Alders are the Red Alder or Rooiels (Cunonia capensis) and the White Alder or Witels (Platylophus trifoliolatus). They are the only two members of the Cunoniaceae family left in South Africa. Like so many South African families, the rest emigrated to Australia and environs. They were a step ahead though. They left about 180 million years ago when the supercontinent Gondwana broke up.

The distinctive trifoliolate (three leaflet) compound leaves of Platylophus trifoliolatus, White Alder or Witels.

One of the smallest yellowwoods, Breede River Yellowwood, Podocarpus elongatus, also has a predilection for river banks, as does, of course, Podalyria calyptrata, which has more common names than you can shake a stick at. Here’s a short list: keurtjie, keurblom (not to be confused with ‘keurboom’ which is something else entirely), ertjieblom, waterkeurtjie, water blossom pea, Cape sweet pea and sweet pea bush. That’s why scientific names are useful. Fine leaved willowy Psoralea pinnata, Fonteinbos or Fountain bush, signals damp conditions underfoot.

The Jeep Track takes you higher up the mountainside. If you were wondering, the school of hard knocks taught us that, as a return route, the Jeep Track is neither quicker nor easier than simply retracing your steps along the riverside path.

The views over the valley are splendid, that is if you aren’t preoccupied with mere survival. Unsurprisingly the vegetation lacks the trees and shade of the riverside, but that doesn’t mean it lacks interest. Frequent crossings of drainage lines, alternating wet and dry areas, rocky stretches and the occasional exposure of shale ensure a varied display of fynbos to divert your attention from personal discomfort.

Rugged and beautiful, the Jeep Track in the Kogelberg Nature Reserve

We Kogelbergers can become blasé, wandering past so many rare species without sparing them a thought. One such is Erica thomae, named by famed botanist Louisa Bolus after the legendary amateur botanical explorer of the Kogelberg, Thomas. P. Stokoe. There they were, in all their glory.

Only in the Kogelberg Mountains, rare Erica thomae

Anther rare and endemic wonder of the Kogelberg, the iridescent blue Nivenia stokoei, also named after T. P. Stokoe, was coming into flower as we passed.

Endemic to the Kogelberg, Nivenia stokoei

But spare some time for the extraordinarily tough Syncarpha canescens, aka Pienksewejaartjie. It exploits cracks in the rocks in the most unlikely places, providing a cheerful aspect to a long and winding road.

Rooisewejaartjie, Syncarpha canescens

Then there is the shy and surprisingly dull ground flowering, mouse pollinated Protea cordata, often found where shale has decomposed into fine grained clay. Exposures of shale derived clay along the Jeep Track are home to this extraordinary little protea, the flowers of which you have to search for at the base of the plant, after you have noticed the heart shaped leaves with their reddish stems and veining, evoking blood vessels.

Yes, that dull looking artichoke like object in shadow at the base of the plant is a Protea cordata flowerhead.

Then, just to remind us that the Kogelberg is not only about plants and flowers, we come across a camera trap. Its purpose? The plate on the camera tells us it is the property of the Cape Leopard Trust. Wonderful to spend a day where leopards get their photos taken.

Cape Leopard Trust camera trap.