Cape Town - One of the things that I love most about nature is that you never really know what is going to happen. It’s not like TV, all on a schedule – you just have to get out there and wait for the curtain to go up, and invariably someone puts on a show.
This past Sunday morning I headed out for a walk on a trail that, although well-known, I had not visited. The Kleinplaas Trail at the top of Red Hill above Simon’s Town. It was recommended by a friend as a pleasant and not overly arduous walk, just the thing for the early part of summer when fitness isn’t at its peak and the legs need a bit of running in.
I headed out just after dawn, the sun low in the sky and the rock faces around Muizenberg and Elsie’s Peak infused with that magical light that occurs only at the extremes of the day, a light that seems to give even inanimate rock a lifelike inner glow. The morning seemed filled with promise.
Having driven the winding switchbacks of Red Hill to the top, I parked and headed along the clearly marked and well-worn trail. It really is a simple hike with no chance of becoming lost or over-exerting oneself. There was still just a hint of winter chill in the stiff breeze and I kept my jersey on, but already it was apparent that the sun would win the battle and things would warm up shortly.
Despite the overall barren aspect of the land there was plenty to brighten the view: the yellow pincushion proteas were in flower, hundreds of pelargoniums, brilliant crimson-veined petals bobbing gently in the slight breeze, lined the path, bright Cape gorse formed swathes of glowing yellows and greens, and the rosy tops of the Mimetes glowed, as though on fire, in the early sunshine.
Once away from the road it was as quiet as a church and the only sounds were the slight rustle of the restios in the weakening breeze and the constant chirping and twittering of unseen birdlife, tucked away in the tangles of gorse branches.
There were a few options along the path, but I took a detour to visit the summit of Grootkop, a rocky outcrop with the most wonderfully convoluted gargoylesque rock formations. A place of gullies and eroded rock, exposed tree roots, collages of coloured lichens, and fantastic views all the way along the coast to Cape Point.
On the way back down to rejoin the main path I stopped to take some photographs of the proteas and gorse flowers, and had just switched camera lenses to get a closer view when an orange-breasted sunbird popped up and sat right in front of me on the low branches. I adore sunbirds, they always appear so fragile and at the same time so busy. But they seem to be dreadfully camera-shy, and this time was no different, wrong lens at the right time and my brightly-hued tormentor simply flitted away before I could get the camera bag out. I swopped the macro lens and determined to wait it out – I was going to get pictures of those birds, come hell or high water.
Then the game began. The sunbirds would arrive in a miniature flock and twitter and titter to themselves, mocking my efforts while hidden under the gorse, only to pop up with a quick fliiiiiiiirt fliiiiiirt of their tiny wings, hang in the air for a few seconds before disappearing once more. Up they would pop, in their characteristic staccato flight, hover on buzzing wings, suspended briefly above the bushes, before diving back into the brush for another bout of chuckling, just as I got them into focus.
I sat and waited, camera poised, the birds tittered to themselves as we engaged in an impromptu avian variation of “Whack a Mole”. Eventually, over a couple of hours, the birds settled down a little, lingering a fraction longer on a gorse flower as they became more used to my presence, and I was finally able to get photographs. It proved to be a wonderfully relaxing and entertaining game.
The path led me to Kleinplaas dam, still full from the winter rains, and I returned on an alternative route, bypassing Grootkop and walking by way of Maylands back to the car, a minor diversion offering slightly different scenery.
I am looking forward to my next walk, but I don’t know what will be showing. It is one of the great joys of the outdoor world that you have to get out there to see what’s on. - Sunday Argus