MINERVA HEIGHTS, BYRNE 12th JULY

Leader: Dave Tighe
Photo report: Rod Hart (CLICK ON PHOTOS TO ENLARGE)

At 8am we met outside St Mary Magdalene Church at Byrne and traveled in convoy along the rather steep and dusty road to the Minerva Heights farmhouse. There Dave explained that this was scheduled to be an approximate 6hr hike, down through the indigenous forest which we would be in for about 2 hours from there we were to pick up the contour path along which a duct had been built by hand to convey water. Dave also pointed out that we would be the first group to be folowing this specific route.

Quite obviously to go from Minerva heights meant some steep descents along the way, with the inevitable odd tumble. Whilst it did get a bit chilly in the shade when the cloud cover came over it was otherwise perfect hiking conditions and we made good time. The first pic below shows one of the many interesting shaped trees in the indigenous forest. Along the way Dave pointed out a "sawpit" where the nineteenth century woodcutters would dig a pit beneath a large felled tree so that they could saw them into plank with one person holding the saw above and one below. In the second pic Dave briefs us with regard to what to expect from the next descent. Third pic in this set is of a delicate fern frond as it unfolds. Not so delicate and rather resembling a stack of space invaders the orange flower of the wild ginger is rather intimidating and certainly invasive as you can see from the following pic where we are walking through a shoulder height (and higher) growth of plants - further along I noted that there had been an attempt to control these plants with a control poison painted on the cut back stubs.



Shortly out of the indigenous forest Dave called a "mid-morning break" and we settled down for a breather and some sustanance. Here I noted the strange phenomenon (see large pic below) of a tree that had been uprooted and was being supported in the reclining position by either new growth that has come from the roots that remained bedded in the ground or a tree that had been growing in a symbiotic relationship with the tree that was uprooted - most interesting. In the same vicinity was another tree with deep ribs of rugged bark (third pic in this section).



A little further along the track we came across an area where an early forestors house had presumeably once been - this we gathered from the presence of flowers which are more typically found in an English country garden. In the pics the yellow daisy, pic taken higher up the track, is added for balance!



Walking from indigenous forest to plantation shows the stark difference in design with the intertwined growth of some of the indigenous trees contrasting starkly with the tall orderly patterns found in the plantations, both providing a pleasant backdrop for a days hiking. One gully between the trees shows an abundance of bracken growing in the water course.



Right in the center of the road track we discovered a pod of grasshopper nymphs emerging from the ground. The newly hatched nymphs appeared very uncertain in the bright new world and were sensitive to sound, appearing to align themselves and pose when the camera was brought close. The group shot shows our intrepid band of hikers (excluding myself). At this point we took a group decision to put off our lunch stop until we were through the next stage of our hike where we travelled along a track through a pine plantation, where a rather novel sign sketches the picture that some form of buck may be found - not that we saw any.



Lunch was a relatively quick stop atop some rocks once we had broken through the forest and were in sight of the Voortrekker track that we would be picking up to guide us towards the highest point from where we would head back to the Minerva Heights farmhouse. On our way back we met up with some Pietermaritzburg Ramblers who had been doing a day hike on the opposite side of the heights, we walked a short way with some of them then Dave directed us to a viewpoint where a rocky outcrop, seperated from the escarpement, stood out. Covered with aloes it must be a picturesque sight when the aloes are in flower. Using a zoom function I managed to find some aloes still in bloom.



Dave explains that he has plans to develop a hike from the lower route to the base of the outcrop - a future hike to look forward to. And indeed we are privideged to have association with leaders such as Dave who are so willing and prepared to share these hikes - thanks Dave for a great day!

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