Report and photos by Keith Ashton

[CLICK ON PHOTOS TO VIEW FULLSIZE - or view pics in accompanying SIMPLEVIEWER Presentation]

(Group photo taken by Rod)
A meander suggests a stroll around the block but the 3 sections of this hike add up to 15 km.

24 people put their names down for this hike with 7 cancellations at the last minute due to various reasons including poor perceived weather conditions, however 17 happy & keen hikers met opposite Thabos Antiques in Mare Street for the start of the hike up Symmonds Stream. The stream’s source is below Buchanan Street and it flows approximately 1,6 km through residential Howick before dropping into the uMngeni Valley over the Forgotten Falls. The route was instigated & is maintained by keen volunteers "Friends of Symmonds Stream" who know that creating corridors for Biodiversity is crucial.

After a short walk along Currys Post Road it was up a steep banking for the second section of our walk to Beacon Hill where fantastic views over Howick, Midmar Dam & surrounding areas can be seen whilst relaxing for a snack near "The Beacon". 105 indigenous flower species have been recorded, as well as 19 grasses, six tree species, 62 birds (including the endangered Grass Owl), 10 mammals and many butterflies. Among the rare plants found here is Asclepias wooddii, a KZN Midlands endemic which reappeared on the hill recently after not being seen for nearly 100 years. Flowering time is usually December. Beacon Hill is part of the Midlands Conservancies Forum Biodiversity Stewardship Programme and has been assessed as deserving of Protected Environment status. Conservation of the area is important as it is one of the few remaining patches of Midlands Moist Mist belt Grassland. Good news is that Beacon Hill has now been declared a protected area.

Our third & last section of our hike was along the Umgeni River where we enjoyed our lunch right besides with some nearly in the river, before it started to rain, so we continued our way down river & past Mills Falls in the drizzle but still all in very good spirits when we reached Howick Falls which is normally a very popular tourist spot but not so today due to the rain. However it is worth noting that nearly 250000 people visited the Falls during 2014 & in December alone 27291 South African & 2289 overseas visitors were recorded by "Friends on the Falls" volunteers - The busiest day was Sunday 28 December with 3288 visitors. We opted out of the optional walk down the gorge to the bottom of the falls due to the now very poor weather - but if you get a chance, do it, its worth it.

Thanks to all our hikers for your enthusiasm, good humour & your company.

Keith Ashton

1. Large fungus alongside Symmonds Stream
2. Making our way through Symmonds Stream Conservancy
3. Approaching Beacon Hill Conservancy
4. The Beacon & view towards Midmar Dam
5. Time for a snack & enjoy the views
6. Exploring the plants of Beacon Hill
7. Having a chat near the Beacon
8. Closer view of Midmar Dam Wall from the Beacon
9. Rest & lunch time near the Umgeni River
10. Small group lunching on the river
11. Our whole group (except me) at our lovely spot at the Umgeni
12. Mills Falls on the Umgeni River
13. Finally Howick Falls with not much of a flow - but still beautiful
14. Howick Falls own monster legend - see it middle picture