Winter Walk in Fernkloof

By Anina Lee, Whale Coast Conservation

Winter is a time for walking. Hermanus is blessed with wonderful walks. Think of the obvious ones: 10.8 km of Cliff Path and over 60 km of paths in the Fernkloof Nature Reserve. But it’s not just about the paths. Taking a hike on these paths will take you through some of the most impressive scenery in the world. Add to that the fact that for the most part it is really easy walking that can be tackled by old and young.

And this brings me to the point of this article. Winter has arrived and school is out, so why not take a heavenly hike with the whole family. I’m suggesting a hike ‘between heaven and earth’.

The walk starts conveniently at the top of the Raed-na-Gael mountain above Fernkloof, and follows an easy trail past Kanonkop, down the Fernkloof Valley and on to the Visitors’ Centre. At a steady pace the walk should take about 2 hours, but allow more for stopping to admire the views and the fynbos and taking some photos to post on FB. Since this is not a circular walk, a car should be left at both ends of the walk.

But let me tell you more about why this is my favourite walk. Firstly, it can be done by children, their parents and moderately fit grandpas and grannies. It is an easy walk as it is mostly down-hill and not too hard on the knees either. All the hard slog of getting to the top of the mountain is eliminated by driving up the very convenient Rotary Way, proceeding past the look-out area onto the gravel and going through the big white gates all the way to the end where there is a semi-circular turn-about. The road surface is easy with a 4×4 and possible with an ordinary car taking it slow. Park the car here and proceed on foot.

Once out of the car one comes face-to-face with the fynbos. Most fynbos needs to be encountered up close – not at a distance. Only a few members of the Cape Floristic Kingdom, like some Proteaceae, stand up to be noticed from afar. For the most part, the 1,400 species found in Fernkloof are best seen in close proximity.

This article does not extend to a discussion of fynbos, but what you will notice, on the windswept crest of the mountain, in winter, is the abundance of restios. 

The Restionaceae are an integral part of fynbos. If there are no restios in a patch of veld, it’s not fynbos, despite the fact that there could be Protea and Erica species growing there. An example is the Cliff Path which is classified coastal scrub, rather than fynbos. If you do spot the odd restio along the cliff path, it’s probably thatching reed, which is an invasive alien form Albertinia.

But to get back to the restios. They are also known as Cape reeds. Note that they are not grasses, but reeds. There is a difference. If you would like to know more about restios, and fynbos in general, you can do no better than to join the Hermanus Botanical Society where all will be revealed to you.

While the restios up close are amazing, the great delight of this walk is that there are vistas on all sides – the coastline to the south and the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley to the north, not to mention the magnificent mountainscapes ahead.

Once you have parked, enter the Fernkloof Nature Reserve through the pedestrian gate a little way up the road and follow the ‘jeep track’ until the road starts to dip down into the Valley. Don’t go there. Although the road will eventually take you back to the crest of the mountain, it’s best left to the brave-hearted. But do note the abundance of the dark red Restio bifarius growing here. It is a magnificent sight. This is the only place in Fernkloof where you will find it, but if you have walked along the Palmiet River in the Kogelberg, you will be familiar with it.

Look out for the footpath on your right that follows the south contour in front of the little koppie. Following this footpath will bring you to magnificent views down towards the sea and across the Fernkloof Valley to the opposite mountainside where you will see the path zig-zagging down. You are aiming for this path to take you down the mountain.

At this point you also have the option to turn back to your car rather than going down the mountain to the Visitors’ Centre. This will eliminate the need for two cars, but you will miss some of this lovely walk.

If you are proceeding, you will soon get to a second gate into the Reserve. There is a permanent seep here beside the road which provides moist habitat for a few specimens of another very special restio of Fernkloof. Look out for the golden-yellow feathery-topped Restio festuciformis – it’s quite unlike other restios and, as the name implies, looks a bit like Festuca grass.

There is a slight uphill trek from here, but as you start to crest, you will notice a tall pole on your right which is destined to have directional boards on it, but at the time of writing this, does not. This is your cue to take the footpath to your right to go down the mountain. It will take you past Kanonkop (so named because from a certain angle there is a rock on the edge which to some eyes resembles a canon), along the zigzags you spotted before, until you meet the ‘red route’ in the Reserve. From here you can follow the red route either to the right (a slightly longer walk) or to the left, which will bring you down into the ‘waterfall valley’. There you will join the waterfall path down to the car you left at the Visitors’ Centre previously.

If you have not done this walk before, and even if you have, it’s well worth spending a morning with the whole family and it may just be more interesting than the golf course.