19 February 2012

Back Table: Hunt for the Red Disa

Date: 10 February 2011

Location: Table Mountain, from Kirstenbosch

Walkers: Marie, Ellen & Helen

*** Route plotted here ***

Previous walk hereabouts here.

I met up with Marie and her friend Ellen (visiting Cape Town for the first time) for a walk up the mountain to look for Disa uniflora, the Pride of Table Mountain, our famous red disa! From the nursery entrance to Kirstenbosch we got a good look at our proposed route up Skeleton Gorge, to the right of Castle Rocks. It looked a long way up but it we had lots of time and perfect walking weather (which this time of year means cool temperatures and a breeze). We followed the jeep track and then the steps up the slope and into the forest, crossing the contour path and onwards up, up, up.

The walk got more interesting once we reached the ladders. I like climbing up wooden ladders - well, nice sturdy ones like these.

Beyond there was quite a lot of scrambling up and over rocks and zig-zagging up the steep slope. We took it slow, stopping often for short rests. The morning sun was streaming down through the leaves. It was good to be on the mountain!

Near the top of the gorge it was very lush and ferny.

On one bend, where we should have seen our first red disa (and where last year I saw a bud) we saw a broken-off stalk. Someone had selfishly picked the flower! Disappointing and very annoying.

A little bit further on we emerged out of the forest.

And close by we saw our first clump of disas!

It was the first time that Ellen or I had seen these orchids and we were both blown away by their beauty. They're larger than I was expecting (size of a child's hand) and the most vibrant crimson colour and striking form. Truly magnificent flowers, and totally worth the effort to see them in situ.

We made our way to the intersection and turned right onto Smut's Track. After a quick stop for refreshments we continued on this path, climbing steadily. There was a nippy wind blowing on top of the mountain so I put on my fleece vest and wind-breaker. Glad I'd brought them!

Flowers spotted up here: quite a few Agapanthus africanus.

Delicate Erica lutea, light yellow in colour.

Pretty Gladiolus monticola
, nodding in the breeze.

We caught a delicious scent on the air and zeroed in on this small bush. The flower looked to me like china flower, but I didn't expect to see it flowering this time of year, and I didn't know the plant was so fragrant - rather like buchu... citrus and herb... deeply aromatic. Yum! I am pretty sure it is indeed china flower, most likely Adenandra uniflora. A lovely plant... I wonder if it would grow in my garden?

After a while we crossed a stream. We stopped to do some exploring hereabouts and found more red disas. An abundance!

A little way further the path started climbing up Fernwood Buttress. About half-way up, between the rocks, we turned onto the aqueduct, heading left.

This route would take us along into the valley we could see ahead. It was easy walking along the aqueduct. This stone canal was built in the 1800s; it channels water down to the dams further on.

On these damp slopes: plenty of interesting moss and lichen.

And the occasional Tritoniopsis parviflora, almost over.

And below, hiding in the undergrowth, plenty more red disas.

Just before we crossed the bridge we spotted a tall shrub, grey foliage and purple leaves. A new one for me: Amphithalea imbricata. So attractive!

Marie's eagle eyes spotted a little bokkie perched in a boulder high on the slope ahead. A klipspringer! She seemed very calm, watching us as we walked slowly past. Lucky us to get to see her!

The path we were on took us down through a most spectacular gorge, quiet and lush. This was an entirely new part of the mountain for me - it felt like real wilderness. I loved it!

Looking back up the gorge as we neared the end of the climb down.

Below: calm pools in the stream, the water the colour of rooibos tea, and more red disas. Idyllic spot to have a swim on a warm day.

After a while we reached the dams, heading first towards the waterworks museum building and then walking swiftly along the dam wall. Brrr, a cold wind was blowing strongly here.

We turned onto the path leading to Nursery Valley. It's always nice to walk down through the unexpected grove of trees that grow here.

My favourite picnic spot was already taken so we pressed on and stopped for lunch at the top of Nursery Ravine instead. Looking at the view and contemplating the descent as we ate.

It was a long slog down, legs weary and wobbly. Step, step, step.

Mid-way down: a final floral treat... a king protea. How lucky to see one in flower this time of year!

More pics from Marie and from Ellen. Thanks ladies - it was a super walk!


Marie said...

Lovely post, it captures the walk very well. Thanks, Helen!

Firefly said...

This truly is a spectacular walk with nature all around. I have never seen a disa in the wild (perhaps cause we don't get them around here) and its perhaps a good thing that you have to go so far to find them otherwise people would probably be picking them all.

Ellen Zachos said...

Wow, Helen, thanks for this! I was so awestruck by our hike that I didn't take nearly enough photos and you have really captured the day. I've linked to you, so readers can get a better picture of what we saw along the trail. Reading your post made me want to do it all over again.