Report and photos by Keith Ashton (additional photo courtesy Rose Dix)

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

This hike was down on the fixture list as the HOWICK MEANDER but I changed it to this hike as the Symmonds Stream section of the Howick Meander was completely overgrown when Margaret & I checked it out on a recce ahead of the hike.

However, although we have done many hikes in the Umgeni Valley everyone was happy as I change our routes on each visit.

So on an absolutely beautiful day, 10 participants, namely Diana Patoir, Julia Preece, Rose Dix, Sue McMahon, Neville Lee, Chris Dobson, Sean Ebraham, Peter Wedge & Margaret & Keith Ashton made our way into the reserve from the office after our formalities had been completed.

Firstly we made our way into areas rarely visited & soon saw a large herd of wildebeest, then set off to have some fun close to the Shelter Camp & check-out the obstacle course where some of our agile members demonstrated their "skills" (Check the photos for details). We continued onwards into a forest area downstream of Shelter Falls to view "Slide Falls" but none of our group decided to try the quick flowing water slide.(Actually called the Bum Slide). From here we made our way upstream into the very deep gorge under the canopy of trees with lovely flowering aloes protruding from shear rock faces until we reached the cascades & pool at the bottom of Shelter falls - a wonderful sight. Then we climbed out of the gorge to view the same falls from the top - another lovely sight.

1. A large group of wildebeest
2. The obstacle (poses) no problem for Rose
3. Neville getting in on the act with Rose
4. The swinging leader (photo by Rose)
5. Neville waves as he networks
6. Neville thinks this is harder than it looks
7. Our group in the forest at slide falls
8. Making our way up the gorge to the bottom of Shelter Falls
9. Shelter Falls and pool
10. A good place for photos at the bottom of Shelter Falls

Next we carefully made our way along the rock-strewn banks of Nkobongo Stream & crossed the stream before climbing up to the top track above the gorge. Soon we came across several zebra on the track but as we approached they peacefully & gently made room for us & posed as we took some photos of them with a beautiful back-drop of Howick Falls in the distance. A few more km along this track we arrived at the "saddle" above Inkonka Camp & dropped down to join the very scenic Black Eagle track looking down the valley to the Umgeni River far below. We soon encountered & disturbed a lone zebra on the narrow track & it had no option but to continue in front of us until we reached Hepburn & Anniversary Cottages where we stopped for a leisurely lunch & were able to recharge our water bottles in a lovely relaxing setting.

After lunch we continued along the top of the escarpment, with great views of Albert Falls Dam in the distance, now being nearly 60% full (Midmar Dam still overflowing at the moment & feeding Albert Falls). After reaching the far picnic & view site we had a short rest before making our way back to the office along the top track.

11. A peaceful scene with a group of zebra
12. A mother and child have earned their stripes
13. A nice view of Howick Falls with a zebra family in foreground
14. Chris striding out as others take more photos
15. Another lone zebra leads us along a very narrow track
16. Recently planted trees with their protective covers

It is certainly worth mentioning that Rose (a keen & expert flower spotter) found a pink dispersis orchid in the long grass along the escarpment track, which had not been seen for years & this has caused some excitement & the university intend to visit the site to take detailed photographs - well done Rose.

We completed over 16 km & climbed over 400 metres on a perfect & very enjoyable day.

Thanks to all our participants for sharing another special day with us in the great outdoors - here's to the next times.

Keith & Margaret