Michaelhouse Nature Reserve Hike
Sunday 15 May 2016

Leader: Penny Purchase. Report and photos by Penny Purchase

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

The hiking group

14 hikers met at Piggly Wiggly on a warm autumn day. 12 ladies and 2 gents: Penny Purchase, visitor Frank Emmett, Julia Lloyd, Annie Waterhouse, Carolee Thompson, Jill Plummer, Margaret Usher, Tanya and Michael Adey, Rose Smith, new member Cavashu Ankiah and her friend, Ingrid, and visitor Anita.

We set out for the Michaelhouse gates where the necessary papers had been left by the Michaelhouse Conservation Manager. The pin oaks at the gate glowed with their red, russet and burgundy colours. Autumn in the Midlands – so beautiful and the perfect season for hiking. We drove around the school up the Sarsden road. All vehicles negotiated the short stretch of strip road successfully although the drivers of the smaller cars felt it was something of an adventure as in some spots the road crumbled.

We managed the combination lock on the big gate and parked just inside the reserve. As the leader, I explained how the nature reserve came into being, my long connection with Michaelhouse and read an article in the Michaelhouse News about the animals and birds to be seen in the reserve. The reserve is open, rolling grassland. The tracks are broad and clear which makes for easy walking. A few kilometres from the start and we reached the lapa, a brick building where the boys can sleep on the verandah. There, some of us braved the long drop toilets surrounded by green netting, all quite eco friendly and very transparent! OK for schoolboys … but ladies? However, it’s one step up from crouching in the bush.

The next part of the trail was a pretty path alongside a stream with a downward gradient. The indigenous bush was thick with tall trees and creepers and moss covered rocks, so the pace was slower as we ducked the branches and trod carefully. A scuffle in the bush ahead and I saw a bush buck hurriedly retreating, its drink in the stream rudely interrupted.

The trail opened up and we passed Alex Dam where a hammerkop was sighted by Rose.Next we were surprised by a snake slithering across the path. Then followed a steep hill and we trudged up to a rocky outcrop where we enjoyed our snacks. The views across Michaelhouse and the Balgowan valley were stunning as the air was crisp and clear. Some of the party chose to sit safely in the middle of the path …. not wanting to encounter a snake from under a rock!

2. View from the start down the valley across wild grasses
3. View across to Michaelhouse in its autumn splendour
4. With Frank leading the way, trudging uphill with brief stops, to appreciate the view behind
5. Snack stop, the adventurous ones on rocks, those apprehensive about snakes, sit on the track!

Refreshed despite the heat, we followed the broad track and passed a beautiful herd of grazing Ngunis, who gazed at us contentedly and quizzically. We continued up another hill and round the bend and there was the resident herd of blesbok chasing down the hill, many with their young. A lovely sight.

On the homeward path, we came to an obstacle – a muddy patch where there was a stream. The new hikers learnt that hiking is not without its challenges. Everyone crossed in their own way, some jumped carefully, some slushed through the mud, one person left her shoe behind in the mud! The 2 doctors in the group, Cavashu and Ingrid, were both victims of mud slush, one, Cavashu, still clutching her umbrella stylishly throughout the ordeal! And from under her large floppy pink hat came peals of laughter. Much mirth and entertainment for the watching crew on the other side.

We stopped for another snack on a grassy bank where the road forks with scenic views down the valley. Another 45 minutes of walking and we were back at the vehicles by 1 pm. We had a final photo shoot of the relaxed, happy and fresh-looking group. It was an easy hike in perfect weather with a nice blend of experienced and new hikers with only a few challenges along the way.

6. Leonotis or wild dagga in full bloom
7. A herd of curious Ngunis
8. Contented Ngunis
9. With some anguish, Lesley takes on the challenge of traversing the mud, Margaret is willing her on!
10. The two doctors in the group, Cavashu and Ingrid, tried to traverse the muddy stream stylishly with umbrellas and hat .... but didn't escape the mud!
11. Snack stop no 2
12. Happy, relaxed and still fresh after a morning’s hiking in the beautiful Midlands in autumn