Report and photos courtesy of Keith Ashton

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

Well over 20 participants had put their names down for this popular venue, however 18 of us arrived at the reserve on a beautiful sunny but sweltering hot day.

There are 6 recognised trails in the reserve but to give a variety of routes I mix & match them to give regular participants a variety of hikes & always add some off-the- beaten track variations to add a bit of spice to each hike. This time was no exception & we were on our way hiking at about 08h15 after the formalities at the Wessa Office. Initially I took a route well away from the normal areas & not included on any map of the reserve to a spectacular rarely visited view of Howick Falls, far better than the official view point or any other view of the falls from the reserve.The photos illustrate this well. On our way to this magnificent view, is a favourite area for the wildlife to graze, well away from any of the normal routes & soon we saw a group of wildebeest as well as zebra & blesbok.

1. A wildebeest spots us
2. The wildebeest group keeps a wary eye on us
3. Two of the many zebra we encountered
4. Four of the many blesbok we saw - Howick in the background
5. The best view point of Howick Falls from a rarely visited spot
6. A closer view of the Falls from the same spot
7. An even closer view with women from the squatter camp doing their washing

After feasting our eyes on the beautiful view of Howick Falls, now with more water flowing (as Midmar Dam sluice gates have opened a bit more now that the dam had reached 97% full) we did a bit of off-the-beaten track towards Shelter Falls on the Nkobongo Stream. We then descended to the top of Shelter Falls to look way down to the pool well below, also a good photo opportunity. Next we hiked up-stream & then crossed Nkobongo Stream before the stiff climb out of the this valley & near the top we took in the lovely view of the Cascades Falls. Our hike then continued along the top of the valley, opposite Shelter Falls Camp, which could be seen well below on the other side of Nkobongo Stream. We were on a track but it was quite overgrown, however we descended a bit further to branch onto another route which was completely overgrown, towards the Black Eagle Trail.

8. Heading back from Howick Falls towards Shelter Falls
9. Making our way down to Shelter Falls
10.Top of Shelter Falls with Ross & Anthony living on the edge
11. One of the many St Josephs Lilies (Amaryllis)
12. One of many dianthus
13. A colourful group of red hot pokers
14. A lovely pelargonium luridum
15. A nice view of Cascades Falls on the Nkobongo Stream

By now we were perspiring profusely as we eventually reached some shade at the beginning of the Black Eagle Trail to take a well earned rest & to quench our thirst & have a snack. Soon we were on our way again along the Black Eagle Trail for a few more km & to take in magnificent views of the Umgeni River Valley, Fish Jump Falls, other side of the valley & in the distance Albert Falls Dam (volume at this stage increased from about 22% but only to about 24% full until Midmar Dam overflows which should be soon). Everyone was very happy when we reached our lunch spot next to Anniversary & Hepworth Cottages after nearly 9 km in scorching conditions. Here we were able to recharge our batteries with tasty food & snacks as well as re-fill our water bottles from the taps adjacent to the cottages

16. Making our way on an overgrown route before we reach the Black Eagle Trail
17. Looking down to the Umgeni River & Fish Jump Falls
18. A closer view of Fish Jump Falls from the Black Eagle Trail
19. View across the Valley & Umgeni River from the Black Eagle Trail
20. View towards Albert Falls from the Black Eagle Trail

After lunch & a rest, most of our group were still feeling a bit fatigued due to the intense heat so I suggested two options from this point, one being to take a shorter route back with Margaret A leading or I was prepared to continue leading along the Dwarfs Dawdle Trail & return along the top of the escarpment. About 60% of the group decided to take the shorter route back with Margaret & I continued to lead the rest along the Dwarfs Dawdle which traverses along in the forest under the cliffs of the escarpment. The good news was that we were in the shade but it was still hot & humid & it was more of an obstacle course than normal due to the recent heavy rains, with broken branches across our route at times, but it is still lovely route through the indigenous forest. Eventually we climbed out of the Dwarfs Dawdle back into the heat & scorching sun as we made our return route back to our parking area near the Wessa Office. Those who did the shorter route still completed about 14 km & those on the longer route did over 18 km.

21. Vanessa, Ross & Anthony near the start of the Dwarfs Dawdle Trail
22. Vanessa carefully descends a slippery ladder on the Dwarfs Dawdle
23. Another scenic small stream crossing on the Dwarfs Dawdle
24. Harry & Anthony stand in amazement under a massive cycad
25. Starting our climb out of the Dwarfs Dawdle Trail
26. Still climbing out
27. Nearly at the top of the Dwarfs Dawdle Trail
28. The three musketeers - Libby in between two Margarets at the end of the hike

Thanks to all of you who participated, as it was clear everyone enjoyed the hike in this beautiful area in spite of the heat - we did of course avoid going right down into the valley which would have been unbearable in the heat. Keep hiking & keep fit.- Do what you can while you can.