Exploration Hike
Blinkwater Hiking Trail
Blinkwater Nature Reserve
Kwa Zulu-Natal Midlands
13 – 14 June 2012

Report and photos courtesy of Dave Sclanders

A recce hike of the Blinkwater Hiking Trail by John and Dave for the Midlands Hiking Club . John has a fascination with this area, and really wants to put it back on the clubs list of regular hikes to do.

Nearly all hiking clubs look for new hikes and trails to do as “ongoing growth of the clubs activities”. In the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands there is this old established , multi night hiking trail known as the Blinkwater Hiking Trail. Unfortunately, this trail has rather poorly signed trails and paths , and so gained a not so reputable name as a good trail to do.

With this in mind, and also the fact that John had put this hike down as a future hike for the club, he felt that he should go and recce the hike before the actual event took place. He invited a few hikers from the club to accompany him, as it was a midweek hike, I was the only one able to go with him.

The hike is through indigenous and man made forests, as well as a large expanse of rolling grasslands. A large variety of animals and birds can be seen – the sign at the start of the hike proved to be very interesting

Leaving our car at a safe parking area , we started through the forest, heading for the top of the high ridge that would be our area of hiking. The path very soon showed that good map reading skills, and natural hiking instincts, would be important for the next two days. The path and its markers were here now, and then gone , and then back and gone again. In places battles were had to get through high, thorny patches of grass which hid the path completely.

Pic 4 Old ruin in the forest
Pic 5 The firebreak is not always the path
Pic 6 Good views into the farmlands below
Pic 7 Long grass with lots of brambles
Pic 8 Lots of blood to show for the thorns in the grass
Pic 9 The huts are a welcome sight – just in time for a late lunch

The huts have hot showers ( gas burner) and a toilet. After lunch , with clouds building up, we decided to carry on with our recce. In some places the signs were – well rusted and unreadable, in others – showed the way. After a lot of hard work we discovered the path through the forest to the next hut, and then turned back to our hut. By now the wind was cold, and we still had to get a braai going for the supper meal.

Pic 10 Heavy afternoon clouds with a dash of sunlight
Pic 11 “Wot , no sign?”
Pic 12 This is the way
Pic 13 Our refuge down the hill

First a cup of tea, cut some firewood and get the small stove going in the hut, then start the braai fire , then get the gas going for the hot shower – here we had to get the key for the gas bottles from the nearby EKZN Wildlife staff who live just up the hill, and who look after the area. While this was going on , a beautiful sunset was taking place – nearly missed it in the hard work of the hour.

Pic 14 Sunset
Pic 15 Braai fire doing well
Pic 16 Interior of the main hut – with stove, table , chairs and 2 bunk beds.

After a later breakfast, we left our kit in the hut and explored the rest of the high plateau. At the far end are a number of radio masts and weather monitors. The day was spoiled a bit due to the poor visibility from our high vantage point due to a hazy atmosphere all around as a result of farmers burning their winter firebreaks. It was then back to the hut for lunch, saddle up, and head back to the cars. The path markers pointed to a path that had been cut running steeply down the hillside through the natural bush. This was great – for a while, until we got to where they had stopped clearing the bush. There was no place to go forward, so we had to retrace our steps back to the summit, and use an alternate path home. The major portion of the way back to the cars is through wattle and pine forest, an easy road to follow, but seems to be a long way round as forest limit ones vision.

Pic 17 Sugar fields stretching towards Greytown
Pic 18 The masts at the end of the ridge – the ultimate goal of the hike
Pic 19 Sugar fields stretching towards New Hanover
Pic 20 Dead end path
Pic 21 Shady pines road

If one enjoys a bit of a scramble, and a bit of good map reading, a comfortable place to overnight , and great views – try this hike . Just remember to bring some extra drinking water as potable water is a bit short on top of this ridge. There is water available at the huts , but it must be boiled before drinking. Also bring some candles for lighting in the huts. As always in winter – be aware of the wind , and especially careful around open fires – like at the braai area. Run away grass fires can cause devastation in this area due to the large areas of forestry all around