Report courtesy of Hettie Randall. Photos courtesy of Dave Sclanders and various other participants on the hike

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

This was to be my first visit to Cumberland. I was worried about the heat forecasted but Libby's agenda was to break the day by coming back to the cars for lunch and then doing an afternoon walk in the other direction, which meant we only needed water and possibly a snack - no pack necessary.

I set off in anticipation. If our drive from the gate, through the lush grass and thorn trees, dotted with zebra, impala and blesbok, lazily chewing as they watched us pass by was anything to go by, my expectations were high!

Cumberland in summer is a feast for any nature lover. We arrived at the picnic site, parked under the magnificent Paperbark Thorn trees and were introduced to a yellow billed Kite who indignantly left his meal of a black Mamba hanging over a branch and flew into a tree further along to put a bit of distance between himself and our noisy herd.

We left the cars, walking towards the high road, crossed a little bubbling stream that later dropped down into a waterfall, came across a colony of beautifully painted, green locusts and as we carried on along the top of the Krantz we were curiously watched by giraffe who seemed fascinated by us, wondering what species we were and whether dangerous or not! Far too noisy and animated so we were given the nod.

The path followed the ledge along which rocks and boulders lay strewn, all weathered and coloured into interesting shapes and palettes of red, grey and browns, often finished off with frilly etchings of lichen. Aloes stood proudly, their roots precariously disappearing into crevices, a reminder for my calendar, I have to come back in winter to see their show which promises to be a blockbuster.

The day grew into the high degrees we had anticipated with our group of 20 stopping to cool off at every possible offer of shade from the trees, many in flower, beautifully bedecked with garlands, buzzing with insects.

We stumbled on a Reedbuck lying in the tall grass, who stared at us, completely dumbfounded - it seemed to take several minutes of oohing and aahing from the crowd before he felt uncomfortable and decided to find another quiet nook out of the way.

Libby led us up to the top of the gorge where we could see the Umgeni River meandering far below from the top of the Krantz. The view seemed to roll out around us as far as the eye could see. We sat in the shade of the trees for a while absorbing the beauty, the rocks around us were naturally tiered down to the drop, looking like a professional landscaped garden, each tier boasting aloes or shrubs and small trees with an undergrowth of unknown greenery. A perfect spot for a photo shoot.

A few of us carried on along the top to a viewpoint looking south following the river as it ran its course to the sea. Unfortunately, it was too overgrown with tall trees which were blocking the view. We made our way back on a different path, looping down to the cars, passing a stop and water point at the Krantz Hut, one of the chalets available for overnighting. Rustic but adequate with beautiful views over the serene countryside.

When we arrived back at the picnic site, the yellow billed Kite once again stopped between mouthfuls to wait it out from a distance, leaving a very mangled Mamba hanging enticingly behind.

After lunch, the hardy bunch left for an afternoon walk, it was now very hot and humid. Those that stayed behind sat on the soft grass in the shade of the trees, pulled up a trellis table and sat back, reminiscing, quietly watching a feathery caterpillar climb over a discarded hiking boot.

A while later, the afternoon hikers arrived back, red faced but smiling! We all gathered up our picnic remnants and left Cumberland in the capable hands of nature where life exists without threat or disease, all in harmony. A wonderful day, a wonderful Eden experience.

Hettie Randall