Leader: Allison Gunning
Report by: Dave Tighe

Medicinally it has been well documented that regular exercise has a positive effect mentally and physical in our stressful daily city life. What more enjoyable exercise can one get than a regular weekend day hike to one of many beautiful protected areas of natural vegetation in Natal, where one can have the pleasure breathing fresh air.

The sound of gentle rain during the night did not put a damper on our planned hike to the beautiful natural heritage site of Cumberland Nature Reserve. I had met up with Max and Rose at Max’s farm in Peacevale and we traveled up to the reserve in Rose’s brand new car, where we meet up with our leader Allison who had done all the spade work in organizing this hike. The rest of the group comprising of Sandy, Dee, Ron, Marina, and Kathy all raring to go and explore the Kranz trail, which is one of the six trails in the reserve The weather conditions were overcast with a light drizzle from time to time. One could say ideal weather for hiking.

A short walk from the picnic site where we had parked, lead to a wooden bridge which crosses the Rietspruit a tributary of Umgeni River, the route then follows the edge of the escarpment overlooking the deep richly-foliaged Rietspruit gorge. The grasslands to our left were a complete contrast in comparison, as this is the start of thorn tree country, which supports a diversity of thornveld plants and bird species. A variety of Acacias trees were scattered well apart and made a beautiful sight, other notable plants were the very tall Aloes Arborescens and Candelabrum. One would have to wait for winter to see the scarlet splendor of these magnificent aloes in bloom.

After about a kilometre we had reached the end of the escarpment and started the careful descent into the gorge, the wet mossy rocks and boulders proved quite a challenge for some members of the group. The route then follows the base of the sandstone krantzes and going through a meter-wide crevice in an otherwise sheer kranz this was a highlight for some, other highlights along this route were the variety of ferns which were at there best after the recent good rains .This ancient and primitive plant does not bear flowers or seeds, but produces wind-blown spores and are dependent on moisture for reproduction.

After another steep descent we arrived at the bottom of the breathtaking Rietspruit water fall, that cascades into the gorge, at the base of the falls was a large pool which would have been irresistible on a hot day. This was an ideal spot for a break and Allison called for a lunch break.

With lunch over we were back on the trail which winds itself along the forest floor and follows the river with some boulder-hopping at the river crossings, to emerge at the confluence with the Umgeni River where the forest opens up to north facing shrub vegetation where the gorge is hotter and would be perfect snake country previous hikers have been fortunate to have caught glimpses of rock python and black mamber in this area. Leaving the river we now started our steep up hill climb back to the thornveld plateau and back along the escarpment to the starting point where we had a welcome break under the umbrella canopy of an Acacia tree.

As there was enough time we decided to get our moneys worth (R10) and take a look at the Kranz Hut as well as the spectacular view from the opposite side of the gorge. The physical exertion was well rewarded by the magnificent sweeping view into the deep wilderness-like gorge with the waterfall in the distance. The walk back was all down hill and time to reflect on the day, it is through hikes such as this that we can view life from a fresh and often new perception and can elevate beyond the day to day troubles of modern living.