23 August 2015

Leader and report by Penny Purchase

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

19 hikers assembled at Piggly Wiggly and we made our way in 4 cars to the misty Michaelhouse gates. Here keys and a gate code were collected for the Michaelhouse Nature Reserve. All cars managed the short steep strip road to the gate. Andrew Laing, the Michaelhouse Conservation Manager, met us there. He was busy trying to track some blesbuck poachers from the night before.

This was a new hike, graded 1+, as it was along broad tracks across rolling grassy hills with lovely views across the Balgowan valley. We walked 2 kms to the lapa, a new brick building, which was a convenient loo stop for some. Then over a style and down through indigenous forest and shrub, following the course of a little river. The path was narrow and rocky and it was pretty … but not so pretty at the end for Joan T! You had to cross the river by boulder hopping and avoid a low branch at the same time. Joan cut her leg, a surface graze, but managed to complete the walk.

We passed Alex Dam, where Michaelhouse boys and staff fish for trout, and then did a steepish climb to a cluster of big rocks alongside the Woodridge fence. Here we enjoyed our snacks. The Michaelhouse school buildings and fields and the attractive Balgowan farmland and forests lay before us. For me it brought back many happy memories of the 18 years we lived on this attractive estate and taught at this amazing school. The view was a little hazy as it had turned into a warm day.

We carried on down to where the road divided. Sas had lost her glasses and thought they’d slipped out of her pocket on the river walk. So, Sas and her friend, Tessa, accompanied Andrew T, descended back to the lapa. The rest of us continued and were treated to a herd of blesbuck cantering down the hill slope at top speed. We enjoyed lunch near the top of the hill on a rather exposed part as there were no trees. We did have company, however, a herd of Ngunis, beautiful animals. The next trick was to get past the low electric fence and through their paddock! Much bantering about who was going to hold the fence up, it was suggested that the leader should! – but Dave Sclanders bravely held up a post for us to scramble under, to the entertainment of the Ngunis. After admiring their beautiful hides and milling around amongst them, we descended back to the parked cars at the gate. We covered 9+ kms and the hike was over by 1 pm. I’d like to thank Dave Sclanders for his guidance and support on this hike. As a new hike leader, it was invaluable to have an experienced hike leader mentoring you all along the way. I recommend this method of gaining experience.

The Michaelhouse Nature Reserve was established 2 years ago and it is used by boys and staff for field trips, camps and cross country. We were the first hikers from outside the school, so there was no fee charged. It was an easy hike and family friendly but no pets allowed. Thank you, Michaelhouse! We’ll certainly be doing the hike again.

Pic 1: Hiking Group eager to start
Pic 2: The 2 Julias
Pic 3: Lunch stop in the long grass
Pic 4: Lone Nguni
Pic 5: Curious Ngunis
Pic 6: David Sclanders going down to the wire
Pic 7: Hikers and Ngunis - mutual admiration
Pic 8: Ngunis beyond the wire
Pic 9: Felicity leads the way home on the uphill