Leader: Cecil Hackney
Photo report: Rod Hart (CLICK ON PHOTOS TO ENLARGE)

The hike started off with meeting just up from Amber Valley on the Karkloof road, signing the hike register and then setting off in convoy to the Everdon Estates, here Keith picked up Cecil and we travelled through the Estate grounds to our start venue next to a dam. Cecil, Keith and Margaret had previously reconnoitred the planned hike, and after some banter from Keith, Dave and Peter relating to the Karkloof Spa (Everdon Estates overlooks the Karkloof Spa valley) and the luxuries it provides, Keith handed over to Cecil Hackney our guide who, having been on the estate for 29 years, is without doubt most qualified to take us around this inaugural hike around the estate. Cecil explained something of the history of the estate and the lineage through which it came into the Hans Merensky holdings. More about the produce of the estate can be seen at www.westfalia.co.za

First stop on our hike after a steep climb was for Cecil to point out (pic 1) (which I missed) what I think was a Black Eagles nest on the cliff face, which is something of a point to consider that besides being a productive estate, concern is also given to the preservation of wildlife on the estate and pride obviously taken in these achievements. We had been warned that there were to be several fence crossings where we would need to help each other through which is demonstrated in pic 2. Andrew Friedman (of Wildways Adventures) shows how to get through a fence with graceful style (pic 3) while our chairman Dave Sclanders (pic 4) shows an alternate style!

Next set of pics is devoted to the Cabbage tree, on the left of our hikers in pic 1, which when looking back on it (pic 2) I realised that it appears to have split the rock it is wedged between (pic 3) I imagine the rock was already split when the seed germinated and it has pushed the rock apart as it grew.

While crossing a meadow (pic 1), three warthogs bolted before I could get a pic of them (I do get pics from an encounter with a warthog later), we came across a circle filled with porcupine quills, Cecil later explained that these could have been through two males having a fight or through a porcupine being attacked by a jackal of which there is a pack of 6 or 7 which periodically cause problems attacking game and cattle on the estate. With no thoughts of danger the next pic (3) shows a contented cow and her calf suckling in a tranquil scene.

There were not many flowers along the way, but some low level flowers were there if you kept a lookout for them. One of the problems taking pics of the flowers was that the delicate stems were being blown about by the wind – one minute it is sharp in view and then “click” you have a blurred pic. Dave took revengeful photo opportunity for my earlier pic of him climbing through the fence by taking a pic of what he calls “Rod collapsing along the path… again” (pic 1 – courtesy Dave), I was actually of course (so I say) taking some flower pics! (pics 2, 3). The point about the flower photos is that there are some really delicate and attractive flowers out there in the veld if one gets up close and looks at them – even the dandelion’s symmetry (pic 4) is quite awesome looked at closely.

Rose Dix pointed out this pair of flowers - male of the variety (pic 1), female (pic 2) this is another whole sphere of interest that Rose takes delight in, spotting and identifying flowers which adds to the interest of a hike, though I must confess to not being able to remember the names she tells me it is interesting to see the flowers identified. Next stop on top of the hill was a tea break (pic 3), with a view looking out towards Albert Falls Dam in the distance (pic 4). Our picnic spot was shared by a colourful not so little grasshopper (pic 5), which from my subsequent research appears to be the “Koppie Foam Grasshopper” aka “Toxic Milkweed Grasshopper” which feeds on the toxic milkwood plant, storing the toxins in its body and exuding them in a type of foam from its joints. The vivid coloration is a warning to other animals that it is poisonous or at best foul tasting – hmm I won’t get so closeup next time. Talking of getting closeup brings me to the pic of Dave with his nifty monopod come hiking stick – the cap on top of the stick screws off allowing a camera to be mounted on the post (pic 6) very nifty for steadying the camera.

Just off from where we stopped was an old Vulture “restaurant”, Cecil explains (pic 1) that the feeding was stopped because most of the cattle are treated with an anti-inflammatory which is toxic for the birds of prey. Keith used the opportunity to explain how to tell, from a cow’s jawbone, whether it is male or female… you will need to ask Keith for the explanation if you really have to know! Off we set towards ordered rows of avocado trees (pic 2), along the way we got the promised view overlooking Karkloof Spa – very grand it is and blends in well with the surroundings (pic 3). The Everdon Estate has it’s own secret little hide-away called “The Shack” which we were privileged to have the opportunity to look around (pics 4 & 5) while one looked very settled in and reluctant to move on (pic 6)!

But move on into the heat of the day we did, a stream crossing (pics 1, & 2) came just after a small hidden ravine in which we spotted a tall tree fern/cycad ? growing sideways from the side of the ravine (pic 3). By now the heat was really being felt and we moved along the exposed hillside (pic 4) toward our lunch spot – along the way a couple more flower pics (5, 6, & 7) which included this “cats tail” (pic 8) which was just lying on the ground unattached to any plant, I have never seen anything quite like it. Another stop to admire the view looking back again towards Albert Falls dam in the distance (pic 9) a further break later shows signs of the heat on the group (pic 10).

A field of flowers (pic 1) was a cooling sight as was the small spring of water just off our path – not 100% clear water but it was most welcome and tasted cool and good (pics 1 & 2). Another addition to my collection of photos of strange relationships between trees are the accompanying pics (3 & 4) of a cabbage tree holding up another much larger unidentified tree which is bent over and supported in a crutch provided by a split in the cabbage trees trunk. Couple more flower pics (5,6 & 7) before a long steep climb with Keith giving words of encouragement (8 & 9).

At last the lunch stop in the cool shelter of some rocks and trees against the hillside (pics 1-4). A welcome opportunity to rest and catch up with news and memories of hikes gone by (pic 5).

A field of ferns hides the hikers as we wait on a track to regroup (pic 1), some take up the option of a car ride (pic 2) up the hill! While those that walked later spotted a lone wildebeest on the crest – soon however it was apparent that this was not a lone wildebeest but the lookout for a herd (pic 3) which showed some mild interest in the passing hikers. By this point the decision had been made, because of the heat of the day, to shortcut back to the cars (pic 4), on the way we passed close by some cattle and Zebra (pics 5 & 6) – Cecil tells us that the zebra stay close to the cows during the calving season which helps ward off attacks from predators (jackals), after calving season the zebra, on their own accord, go off back to their usual haunts. Still feeling the sweltering heat our group shelters in the shade of a line of trees for a rest (pic 7). We had entered the avocado orchards now, pine trees providing shelter for the avocado (pic 8) – here someone spotted a warthog boar in among the avocado trees, I managed to get a couple of photos of him as he, as I thought, moved off – however when I next looked he was standing very defiantly looking ready to charge, from this pose and attitude I got the idea he did not like having his picture taken (not surprising when you are this ugly… (pic 9).

And just when I thought I would not get any “amazing bark on tree” pictures, I came across this pine trunk that had been burned and was covered from base to tip in fungi – in reality the white of the fungi contrasted with the burned black trunk, although in my pic taken looking up the tree the fungi appears more cream coloured (pic 1). Further down the track, a pic for my wife at home – pine needles formed naturally into a heart shape (pic 2). Back across the dam wall (pic 3) then relaxation at the edge of the dam (pics 4-7). Pic 8, courtesy of Rose, comes with the story that she had pushed Christy out on the platform and threatened to leave her there, until she realised that Christy had her car keys!

On the drive back we passed the eery sight of rows of pruned back avocado trees painted white, Cecil explained that the whitewash acts as a "sunscreen" protecting the exposed trunks of the pruned trees. Before leaving the estate Cecil offered to let us sample the avocado, pics 4 & 5 show us helping ourselves from the crated fruit – pic 6 is of the product avocados about to be consumed - very delicious! An interesting hike and what a privilege to be guided around this estate by Cecil – thank you to Cecil and our MHC leaders who arranged the hike.