Cape Town – I left the house as dawn was little more than a vaguely glowing promise on the horizon. It was chilly, too, cold enough for my breath to condense in the still air. There wasn’t so much as a hint of a breeze and it promised to be a spectacular morning for a walk. As I drove to the coast, the beacon atop Muizenberg peak caught the first of the sun’s rays, glinting and glimmering in apparent invitation to head into the mountains.
I had planned to hike up Bailey’s Kloof and walk a circuitous route that would provide a moderate amount of exercise and still afford, for the most part, a good view of False Bay. I had in mind that the whales should be here by now and it is always a special moment each winter when I spot my first one. Certainly Dave Hurwitz and his crew at the Simon’s Town Boat Company have been posting superb pictures of the early arrivals – a remarkable number of humpbacks as well as southern rights – and I had high hopes of catching a glimpse of a breaching monster during my travels.
As I climbed out of the car on Boyes Drive a thin, low mist, no doubt caused by the chill early morning air, hung over the Cape Flats and drifted gently out to sea, driven by the lightest of north-westerly breezes. The scene was suggestive of some smouldering Middle Earth landscape from a Tolkien novel – it made for a surreal start to what promised to be a gorgeous winter’s morning.
The first part of the hike – isn’t it all too often the case? – was straight up a steep trail that meanders only slightly towards Mimetes Valley, and I stopped regularly to check the flat, calm bay for signs of a whale. Well, I stopped because I was out of breath and my legs were tiring rapidly after too many days of sitting at home avoiding the worst of the winter weather, but I did use the rest breaks to scan the horizon in search of a visiting leviathan.
It was a perfect day for walking, the sun was climbing higher in the sky and the protea bushes seemed to light up with a near-incandescent glow as the day brightened.
In Mimetes Valley, as the first warming rays peaked over the rocky outcrops and pushed back the night’s chill, the birds sang for all they were worth to welcome the new day. Grass birds, high on their perches, chattered joyously and I couldn’t help but wonder if I wouldn’t also be moved to song having spent a frigid night in the mountains.
For the small creatures that inhabit these vales the arrival of the sun must feel like winning the lottery, and more than likely proves to be a real and metaphorical life saver.
By now I was growing more and more appreciative that I had risen early. There was barely a sound, no wind to rattle the restios and no traffic noise in the background. Just the quiet tinkling of running water, the remnants of last week’s heavy rains, and all about the chirping and fluttering of birds, flitting from bush to bush, defining territories and searching for breakfast.
It is easy to imagine that winter is a dull time but the amount of life in the mountains is quite remarkable.
I reached Muizenberg cave and took the obligatory crawl through a wormhole to the other side, a childish pleasure perhaps, but still something that needs to be done, at least to my mind.
Then I headed up onto St James’ Peak and once more scanned for a whale. For a moment I thought that I had spotted one, but alas, it turned out to be a mat of kelp, ripped loose from the shore during the previous week’s storms.
Heading down a meandering path towards the coast again I could see all of the bay laid out before me and I kept my eyes peeled for signs of movement, to no avail.
In a protected dip the flora changed and there were black-bearded proteas just beginning to flower and a variety of different ericas adding colour to the landscape. It is these micro-habitats which create the remarkable diversity of the Cape floral kingdom. Where previously I had hardly seen a flower, now there were proteas bursting forth all around.
Orange-breasted and double-collared sunbirds were everywhere – they seem to like these protected pockets of fynbos.
Having had high hopes of spotting my first whale of the season and not expecting a lot else, once again nature surprised with her bounty, and although I never did spot a southern right, I did enjoy a lovely walk, filled with wonderful flowers and dozens of brightly coloured birds. I suppose it is simply that one has to get out there and see what Mother Nature has on her programme. It may be unpredictable but it is rarely disappointing. – Weekend Argus