Leader: Dave Tighe
Report: Kathy Roberts; Photos: Ron

Joint Midlands & MBC hike from farmhouse Minerva Heights In the Byrne area. After the crisp winter morning meeting point at Settlers Church, Byrne, we went in convoy to Minerva Cottage/Farmhouse, where we parked our vehicles and began our day along a rough 4x4 track on a steady uphill grade known as Cunningham Castle, to a lookout point with a good view of the beautiful Byrne valley. On a clear day the whole of the Southern Drakensberg is seen from this point. The track then rises to the highest point of this hike, the relay masts which are 1556m above sea level.Whilst only 100km from the sea it has an occasional heavy snow fall in winter when conditions permit & is well worth a visit. The weather was already warming up and it promised to be a magnificent day.

The route turned west and entered Newborough Grange property to follow the Nyamakazi Ridge as far as Vultures Rock, then descended a short pass and into Zeelies Plantation, passing under Wattle, Blue gum, & Pine trees for about 2km. We then left the plantation and re-entered Minerva Heights Nature Reserve, wending our way past Porcupine dam [known for viewing Porcupines late at night]. The route we took then climbed back through grasslands where we noted a herd of Bless buck, before returning to the main 4x4 track. As lunch was due we entered the Indigenous forest along the Woodcutters trail to a cool spot, which proved to be a good choice as it had warmed up considerably. The bird life in the forest was welcome company while we ate and chatted. After lunch we headed off to Picnic rock, below which the exploration of the caves added an exciting dimension to this hike - the group thoroughly enjoyed the experience, climbing down (and back up of course) the very sturdily constructed chain ladders. The experience was well worth it, and it was fabulous to hear of some of the rich history of the caves from Dave.

The hike back to the farmhouse went by in a flash, with the “striders” of the group being able to stretch their legs and the “strollers” enjoying a more leisurely pace. Unfortunately Kathy’s hiking boot had a blowout – thankfully Dave came to the rescue with extra insulation tape, and Ron developed a very large blister under his toe, which forced him into “straggler” mode near the end of the hike. We all arrived safely back at the farmhouse in plenty of time to visit the museum, which is an added and entertaining bonus to this hike with its very good collection of exhibits on display, some depicting the history of this area. The photos herewith (thanks Ron) ought to pique your interest if you haven’t yet done this hike, or take you down memory lane if you have.

Feedback from the variety of different nationalities that made up the group was that they thoroughly enjoyed the experience and look forward to many more. A BIG thank you to Dave and all those who help him with the hard work of keeping the trails cut and viable for enthusiastic hikers.

HIKERS: Leader: Dave T – Craig, Ron, Ace, Angie, Max, Richard, Yuriy, Donelle, Kathy, Desiree, Neville, Bridget, Mike, Peter, Dave H, Sebastian.