Cape Town - Summer days are fading and the bitter nip in the air is a somewhat unpleasant reminder that winter is scratching on the door. But there is still time to get out and enjoy the more remote parts of the Cape.

Certainly autumn is well set, the leaves of the deciduous trees are changing colour, and among the red-and-gold leaf litter the squirrels are busy as beavers collecting food stores for the onslaught of wet and chilly winter days. Perhaps one needs to plan a little more carefully to avoid being caught up in an unexpected cold front. But the reserves and parks still have much to offer and, perhaps in some ways, an outdoor adventure is all the better without stifling heat.

Over the Easter weekend we enjoyed a lovely walk through Newlands forest. The streams are barely flowing but there was just enough water tumbling over the boulders to provide some background musical accompaniment to the rustle of the leaves underfoot. It was encouraging to see how many people were taking advantage of the pleasant weather to introduce their children to the wonders of the outdoors, because the Cape is truly a place for those of us who appreciate the natural world.

Of course, people enjoy the outdoors for many varied reasons and with numerous different objectives, from rock climbing to the simple pleasures of a picnic, but surely we are all better off for having such options on our doorstep.

Later in the week, I ventured out for what might well be the last trout fishing foray of the season. It could, for that matter, be the last trout fishing trip, full stop. New regulations as part of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (NEM:BA) threaten this simple pleasure as trout are designated as alien and invasive species. This is a designation that many dispute as both legally and scientifically flawed and currently the Federation of South African Fly Fishers (Fosaf) has submitted a highly detailed 67-page objection to the act.

Notwithstanding the technical arguments, it should be borne in mind that our environmental legislation is anthropomorphic in nature. Simply put: the well-being of the people is paramount in terms of any regulation.

Something that encourages people to explore the natural world, to venture out of the urban frame and seek some quiet enjoyment in a sustainable manner surely has to be good, both for the individuals concerned and society as a whole. For me, at least, the prospects of hiking, climbing and fishing are what make living in the Cape so special and so rewarding. These activities provide both me and many others with gainful employment and serve as highly positive tourist attractions as well.

On this recent trip I was able to initiate a youngster into the joys of the Cape’s natural resources: that the fishing was the reason for the outing doesn’t detract from the benefits of having young people gain an understanding and appreciation of nature as a whole. In the end we enjoyed a good hike, some entertaining fishing and spectacular scenery.

We watched a fish eagle soar and a giant kingfisher race up the river valley but, perhaps more to the point, the venture set a young man on the way to being a protector of our environment for generations to come. His enjoyment and passion for the outdoor world were infectious and it made me realise all over again the benefits of simply “getting out there” for whatever reason.

The onset of winter will temporarily curtail these pleasures, but the high water and cold weather days will pass. Poorly thought-out legislation, whether related to fishing, hiking, or sustainable use of any of our natural resources, may well represent a more permanent threat. Being able to enjoy our natural environment for whatever purpose, so long as it is sustainable, is surely a birthright and one which benefits us all both economically and in terms of society as a whole.

Right now, though, weather and regulations aside, there is still time to pull on those hiking boots, pack a rain jacket, a light lunch and make the most of the autumn days in any one of a number of our parks and reserves. It is gorgeous out there.

Weekend Argus