Report and photos by Keith Ashton

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

I have led many hikes in the Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve which is always very well attended by club members and I vary the routes and try to introduce new areas for exploring each time we visit.

Our participants this time on a beautiful sunny but hot day were Sharyn, Andy, Julia P, Julia L, Eric, Daryll, Loga, Harry, Stella, Helge, Sue and Margaret and Keith.

Having done many write-ups previously of hikes in this reserve I am keeping this one short by just outlining our route and will let the photos illustrate our hike.

It is just worth noting now that having gained entry through the first electric gate in vehicles towards the office, there is a further electrically operated gate a bit further into the reserve and if you have not paid your entry fee and obtained a numbered ticket you will not be able to drive further and you need to contact the office again and advise them of your ticket number or the gate will not be opened. This is due to people entering the reserve and not paying the entrance fee - if walking into the reserve you may now also be stopped and be asked if you have paid your fee and entered your name in the office register. Its also important to do this in case of any emergency.

We parked our vehicles just outside the office, paid our fees and signed the register then made our way on a different route further into the reserve before diverting onto private land (no barrier fence at the moment) where you can normally see a herd of wildebeest, plenty of zebra and blesbok etc. This land is earmarked for development in the future. However having explored this area several times previously I led our group to a track which leads to the best view point for Howick Falls, however there is now a sign near the top of the track on the private land (depicted on one of the photos). We made our way down this delightful track through the forest to the best view of the falls (again depicted on the photos) - from here we followed an old track, back through another forested area and eventually back onto WESSA land.

1. Our group next to the new sign for the best view of Howick Falls - on private land
2. Howick Falls
3. A closer view of Howick Falls
4. An even closer view showing local people doing their washing above the falls
5. A memorial plaque next to the small track on private land

Once on WESSA land we made our way down to Shelter Falls Camp, then to the bottom of Shelter Falls before climbing back up the track to the top of Shelter Falls. Next it was along the Shelter Falls stream before crossing it and climbing steeply to another small track which is along the top of the Shelter Falls Valley but on the opposite side from the Camp. We continued along this track passing another good viewpoint of Howick Falls and the official tourist viewpoint in the distance.

6. Back on WESSA land heading down to Shelter Falls Camp
7. Helga, Deon and Eric look out from one of the huts at Shelter Falls Camp
8. The lecture area at Shelter Falls Camp
9. Harry demonstrating what happens to club members not paying their subs
10. But Harry can smile as he has paid his subs
11. Shelter Falls from the bottom - the figure illustrates the height of the falls
12. Helge in the foreground looking up at the falls
13. Making our way to the top of Shelter Falls
14. The view from the top of Shelter Falls - shout I resign Harry if you fall

We reached the rangers 4x4 track down into the Umgeni Valley but we deviated into the indigenous forest along a small track which gave us welcome shade from the intense heat of the sun. After reaching the saddle we dropped down and then continued along the Black Eagle Trail with beautiful views into the valley and eventually towards Albert Falls Dam in the distance. We eventually reached our lunch spot destination after nearly 9 km which was Hepburn Cottage - It was unoccupied so we were able to relax in the shade of the covered veranda and the nearby acacia tree as it was now swelteringly hot.

15. Making our way through the forest then along Shelter Falls stream
16. A view of Fish-Jump falls from the Black Eagle Trail
17. Time for a rest and Lunch in the shade at Hepburn Cottage
18. A nice relaxing lunch for Sharyn (left) and Daryll (right)
19. Harry, Stella, Julia L and Helge chat under the tree and enjoy lunch
20. More of our group enjoying a relaxing lunch
21. The Hepburn Cottage plaque outlining its history

After a leisurely and enjoyable lunch we retraced some of our route but then took a shorter route back as it was extremely hot, so we did about 15 km and climbed about 400 metres which was enough for most participants on this lovely but extremely hot day.

Thanks to all who participated - here's to the next time