The hike in Newlands Forest today was beautiful but challenging going uphill as well as coming 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 had to keep 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 up. Hikers can bring their dogs on the trails, so we shared the hike with dogs of all sizes and shapes. Along the way, many of them took a dip in the creek, so rocks in spots where they shook their shaggy coats dry were slippery and wet.
At the top we stopped for a picnic lunch in the thick of the lush verdant green forest of endangered fynbos and other indigenous vegetation. 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 happy 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 Helipad.
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 endemic ecosystem 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.
“Little is known of the original inhabitants of Newlands Forest area – likely Khoekhoe clans – prior to the arrival of the Dutch East India Company and the establishment of Cape Town and the Cape Colony in 1652.”
“Newlands Forest is well loved by locals. The lush, tranquil space in Cape Town is all that remains of the former dense, indigenous forest covering much of the eastern slopes of Table Mountain. Many years ago the forest served as part of the migratory path of the Khoi-khoi (Xhosa) Tribe. Today it’s where people meet to walk their dogs, and stroll or trail run the myriad of paths on the mountainside.“ Alltrails.com
“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 for a few pockets on the steep upper slopes.”
When indigenous wood supplies declined, authorities cleared the eastern slopes of Table Mountain for commercial plantations. The plantations imported pines from Europe and America and gums from Australia. The two species supplied wood for the growing Cape timber industry. The trees grew fast, had quality wood, and produced straight uniform growth making 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 indigenous forests and fynbos.
Two World Wars created a boom in the timber industry, so the size of 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. After the last crop of imported trees was unharvested, that area of Newlands Forest became a popular recreational area.