The hike in Newlands Forest today was beautiful but challenging going uphill as well as coming back down. At least 80 percent of the trail was on slippery wet rocks and large boulders. It would have been difficult without sturdy hiking boots and poles. I kept my eyes focused on the trail, instead of the spectacular scenery.
We climbed Woodcutter’s Trail following a rocky creek bed most of the way. Hikers can bring their dogs on the trails so we shared the hike with dogs of all sizes and shapes. Many took a dip in the creek along the way, so rocks in the spots where they shook themselves dry were wet.
At the top we stopped for a picnic lunch in the thick of the lush green forest. Several hikers were picnicking, and some shared Table Mountain hiking stories with me and my hiking companions – Annabel and Ann.
I’m learning what a large mountain it is with many hiking trails of all levels. Guides lead Table Mountain hikes and trips that last from days to weeks. You can pay others to arrange food and camping or carry your own supplies. I anticipate spending many days exploring this incredible landscape which seems comfortable and somehow familiar.
Newlands Forest is a “natural transition zone” between endangered indigenous plants like Granite Fynbos and Peninsula Shale Fynbos.
Table Mountain Conservancy Area
Newlands Forest is a conservancy area on the eastern slope of Table Mountain. It’s owned and maintained by Table Mountain National Parks and Cape Town City Parks. The area includes a fire station, nursery, and reservoir. Fire fighting helicopters take off and land at Newlands Forest Heliport.
Newlands Forest is a “natural transition zone” between endangered indigenous plants like Granite Fynbos and Peninsula Shale Fynbos. At one time, the area supported indigenous forests, but in the late 1800s most of the fynbos was felled to make way for commercial pine plantations.
Peninsula granite fynbos is an endangered vegetation still found on the southern edges of Newlands Forest. The ecosystem is endemic and occurs nowhere else in the world. The striking silver tree with its giant protea flowers grows in this vegetation only. Indigenous trees include stinkwood and yellowwood – both are popular for construction and furniture.
“The Khoi-khoi (Xhosa) Tribe originally inhabited the area. They herded their cattle over much of what is now Cape Town. Jan van Riebeeck (the first Dutch governor of Cape Colony) discovered extensive indigenous forests on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain. By the late seventeenth century, there was over-exploitation of local forests due to the need for timber. The colonial government issued a series of (largely ineffectual) laws to protect the forests. By the end of the eighteenth century, there were no more forests left on Table Mountain except a few pockets on the steep upper slopes.”
As indigenous wood supplies declined, the authorities cleared the eastern slopes of Table Mountain for commercial plantations. The plantations imported pines from Europe and America and gums from Australia. These two species supplied wood for the growing Cape timber industry. They grew fast, had quality wood, and produced straight uniform growth which made them easy to harvest. The imported trees rapidly spread and became invasive. Today, eucalyptus and pine trees are category 2 invasive weeds that rapidly seed into the surrounding indigenous forests and fynbos.
The two World Wars created a boom in the timber industry, and the size of the imported forests grew. After the wars, Cape Town’s logging industry declined. Removal of some of the tree plantations allowed for the return of indigenous fynbos vegetation. In Newlands Forest, the last crop of imported trees was unharvested, and it became a recreational area.