Since I arrived in Cape Town, many people have asked me if I have yet visited the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. Until today, I could only say I had driven by the entrance. Since August 9th is a national holiday celebrating a 1956 march by women on the government buildings in Pretoria in opposition to the “pass laws,” Natasha and I decided to make our way over to the Garden for a hike on its site-spanning Silvertree Trail.
We opted for the upper Rycroft Gate for the Garden since the trail terminus is there. Happily, this allowed us to bypass the hordes of visitors at the main gain. When the sun shines in winter, expect Capetonians to be outdoors! We discovered that our “Wild Card” passes did not grant us any discount on the admission, but then R110 is hardly an unreasonable gate charge.
The perspective of Kirstenbosch from the upper end was truly stunning. The walks were lined with lovely lawns dotted with trees and labeled plantings. On our return leg, we ventured down the “Fynbos Walk,” featuring many of these dry-weather plants from across the Western Cape. Because the gardens are so extensive, hundreds of visitors could each find a patch of sun or shade to enjoy. I was a bit confused to see signs everywhere for SANBI; in my world, this is the South African National Bioinformatics Institute. At Kirstenbosch, however, the same abbreviation stands in for the South African National Biodiversity Institute.
As we passed through the gardens, a jogger greeted us as he passed by. He looked familiar to me, and Natasha noted that he was Max du Preez, one of my favorite South African journalists. I hadn’t expected to see celebrities on our hike!
After we left the brick walkways of the garden behind us, we climbed a twisting wood and dirt staircase that led ever higher. At its end, we found the base of “Skeleton Gorge.” I was excited to see that a stone at the base pointed out the beginning of the “Smuts Track.” J.C. Smuts was an avid hiker and amateur naturalist, and his visits to the top of Table Mountain were nearly weekly events during his Parliamentary career. His standard route for the climb began here in Kirstenbosch!
Reaching this stone also marked our entry to the “Contour Path.” For someone who enjoys Table Mountain hiking, this route is a favorite. It connects to the Silvertree Trail of Kirstenbosch, runs over to Constantia, and even links up with Tafelberg Road above the City Bowl. Other than a walk down Tafelberg Road, this was my first exposure to its beauty. To be at such a height might make it seem strenuous, but in fact it was reasonably level. The trees surrounding the hiker make it feel very secure, and it’s a bit surprising when an opening in the foliage reveals the city far below.
We passed a lovely waterfall and came to Window Gorge, where we took a path leading downward again to avoid the scramble of Dassieklip, which circumnavigates a rock slide. We continued on Silvertree until we reached the border with Newlands Forest. From there, we reversed course and began navigating a route back to the Rycroft Gate.
Suddenly, Natasha pulled me to a halt (and stopped the hikers behind us, too). A pair of hikers ten meters in front of us were trying to take a photograph of a snake, and one had lobbed a rock at it to make it move. The snake had responded by raising its head in a pose I had seen a hundred times in movies. Table Mountain is home to a variety of snakes, such as the black spitting cobra, the rinkhal, and the boomslang. For the moment, we treated the snake as though he was from the dangerous varieties that can spit venom up to ten meters (quite dangerous if its gets in your eyes or in a cut).
We urged the hikers taunting the snake to get away from it, and they soon moved. We waited a few moments for the unhappy serpent to calm down; he was right on the edge of the path. We bypassed the snake by taking a side walkway to circumnavigate him. We all moved faster when rejoining the path.
Within a half hour, Natasha and I were at the Rhodes Memorial Restaurant where we first met. We felt grateful for a mostly peaceful hike with no injuries, and we celebrated four months together.