As we set off on our walk through the Dargle Nature Reserve, two Cape Parrots called nearby – an auspicious start to a celebratory day.
We crossed the footbridge into the Kilgobbin forest where it was cool and quiet
and we wandered along the old logging paths.
Barend is one of the local landowners who are keen to share the splendour of their surroundings and regular, guided walks take place in Kilgobbin and Lemonwood forests. These are popular with those who don’t usually have access to the countryside, and serve to inspire everyone to cherish the biodiversity and to understand the eco-system goods and services which these areas provide humanity.
We didn’t dawdle too much as we had a long walk ahead of us, but everyone was encouraged to ask questions if they were curious about something.
All three Podocarpus (Yellowwood) species are found here. Podocarpus henkelii (Henkels or Drooping-leaf Yellowwood) is endemic to the inland forests of KZN and the Eastern Cape. Podocarpus falcatus (Small leaf or Common Yellowwood) and Podocarpus latifolius (Real or Broad-leafed Yelllowwood) are dominant canopy trees of the forest, reaching heights of up to 25m. Some specimens are believed to be 1000 years old.
Yellowwoods developed in the cold climes of Southern Gondwana before the continents drifted apart millions of years ago and are also found in South America and Australasia, but not on any Northern continent. A fascinating fact is that once they have germinated on the forest floor, they grow to a meter or two high and then wait, patiently, for as many years as it takes for a gap to open in the canopy (when another tree falls) and then they start to grow again.
Podocarpus falcatus is important to the survival of the endangered Cape Parrot which make their nests in dead trees and along with other birds and mammals feed on the fruit. We found seeds cracked open by the parrots and pigeons on the forest floor.
Newly built log path led us through a pine plantation.
Then we climbed the stone steps through the forest on Carlisle Farm
to catch our breath at the top of the hill with views right across the valley.
Then we traversed the wide open, golden grasslands of Carlisle and Old Kilgobbin Farm
Past stone walls built by Italian prisoners during the Second World War.
For many years, Dargle Conservancy has been working towards having a large area of private land officially proclaimed as part of the KZN Biodiversity Stewardship Programme to protect areas which contain critically important habitats, including Midlands Mist-belt Grasslands and indigenous Eastern Mist-belt Forests, home to many endangered species. The 1100ha Dargle Nature Reserve should be proclaimed by the end of this year incorporating 5 properties.
These forward-thinking landowners are to be commended for their impressive contribution to conservation and for taking seriously their role as custodians of an important water catchment and some of the most vulnerable biodiversity in South Africa. They are demonstrating that farming and conservation can co-exist.
Senecio speciosus was flowering in the unburnt grassland. It was a different species to the one we had seen the day before on Inhlosane. Peter did some research: “The plant is not so hairy, leaf edges are toothed, and joined rather than grasping the stem”.
Photography is always a good excuse to stop for a break!
Tiny Morea modesta is easy to overlook in the grass – a reward for getting down on your knees.
We paused to drink from a small stream (there are many springs along the ridge),
and cooled our feet.
Clumps of Fine Leafed Ursinia (Ursinia tenuiloba) was flowering in the firebreaks. It is a South African endemic which, after David Johnson’s talk on Friday evening, we know is of special importance. Ursinia is one of the first flowers to come out after a fire, the issues of which were so elegantly explained by Kate Fennell at a Dargle Conservancy gathering earlier in the year. The black of the burnt grass is suddenly transformed into a carpet of flowers and life renews itself again. “It is not just another daisy, it is something special.” said Peter.
The little ones were getting weary, but transport, with fabulous views was on offer
Perfect for a little nap.
We stopped often to chat as country folk do.
Made new friends,
Explored a derelict cottage
and took more photos.
Clambering over the stone wall, we came across Leucosidea serica flowering along the forest edge.
The mauve stripes and dots are not just for decoration but to guide the insects to the nectar and thus spread the pollen. Before the grasslands midlands were settled by Europeans, there were few trees besides those clustered in damp or rocky places. Leucosidea is one of the original Midlands trees. Traditionally used to make the framework for sleighs to carry grass, fuel or harvest. In mountainous areas the presence of Leocosidea was taken as an indication that streams were suitable for trout stocking.
We crossed a small stream and entered the ‘amphitheatre’ – grassland surrounded on three sides by towering forest.
Kim Goodwin’s Earth Pod sculpture was nestled in the long grass. He had created it especially to celebrate the landscape of Dargle – with the inaugural viewing today.
Unfortunately, installation day on Friday was one of the coldest and wettest this winter and the team were not able to get it to stand on its very tall legs. Kim was building an Earth Pod in Plettenberg Bay as part of a series which will criss-cross South Africa, so unable to join us, he sent this message: “Making land art in Nature is really a difficult thing for me because Nature has it all already – the beauty and perfection is there. To put something above the Lemonwood forest that enhances the area and gives the birds, animals and people something to look at was a challenge.”
We spent some quiet time beside the sculpture,
before heading past a pixie lurking in the grass,
and into Lemonwood forest.
and a gentleman who declared the celebrations ‘a triumph’.
Emerging into the sunlight at Lemonwood homestead, Katie served up delicious vegetable soup and warm bread as we relaxed and recalled the highlights of our three and a half hour walk..
Everyone’s favourite vet, Pete Johnson, commented “Awesome! Great weather, fantastic scenery and excellent company!” Christie Exall concurred, “I enjoyed every moment of the weekend, eating, dancing, climbing and walking and best of all – the friends.”
John Fourie agreed to take anyone who had missed out up through the forest on Sunday 18th August and 19th September to see the Earth Pod. Contact him to book 074 370 8189
Photos in this post are by Ashley Crookes, Peter Warren, Barry Downard and Nikki Brighton There are more in our photo album on facebook: dargle.kzn