The agreed assembly time was six thirty, but some has said they’d not make it by then. So it was that Sarah and I had some time to cast about for early shots and get to know one another a little better at this, our first meeting. The weather forecast had decreed a very warm, even hot, day, but in that early morning I couldn’t believe it. Accuweather is a misnomer.
Sarah's sunrise shot
One by one the travellers arrived, and soon the Mother and Child combo were the only absentees. We decided they were worth waiting for though, and presently a small cloud of dust announced their undramatic arrival. Emerging from their vehicle, they did some leisurely stretches, exchanged greetings with the early birds, checked phones, and then pronounced themselves ready for action.
At the time of posting the date for the Cumberland gathering I’d anticipated that there’d have been at least some rain to kick-start the summer growth. Looking around us we saw little evidence of spring, never mind summer. A few defiant flowers towered nine inches above the surrounding burnt grass, the Paperbark thorns doggedly displayed a few sprigs of new foliage, while the aloes curled black and red, all testifying to the rage of the planned burns that were intended to provide spring forage for the game. On the plus side, with so little grass around, there was little need for precautions against ticks. The Midlands region of Kwazulu-Natal is being gripped by what's quickly becoming a drought, as we saw by the dying sugar cane along the approach to Cumberland.
Waiting for the rain....
Fire and the dry conditions have taken a toll already
The stream that plunges over the usually impressive waterfall had dwindled to not much more than a trickle.
We’d decided that we’d take a slow walk to the Krantz, which none of the others had visited before. And so off we went, only to be diverted soon and often by those wanting to see areas off the track we were trying to beat. The diversions were wonderful, giving views of the Umgeni River gorge and the escarpment with its drought-afflicted bushes and dessicated grasses, and soon the group members had disappeared into the surrounding shrubbery or were to be found searching for prime photo spots on the edge of the cliff. All the while the sun had been climbing in the Eastern sky, and the morning chill was on the retreat.
After some time of soaking up the early morning grandeur of the gorge and aiming cameras, we set off for the original destination, taking time en route for a good inspection of the Krantz Chalet, one of three lovely rustic chalets at Cumberland. We sampled the aroma of a White Ironwood and found a lonely Wild Pear Tree in flower, all the others seemingly having been too severely affected by fire to flower.
Then we were off along the “steep” part of the path to the top of the Krantz, taking care all along not to enjoy the attentions of the live electric fence. There was a bit of huffing and puffing, but with all the distractions along the way, no-one seemed to notice being tired.
Pat and Vicki could see things that escaped us mere mortals.
The plateau at the top of the Krantz affords panoramic views of the course of the Umgeni River as it makes its way Eastward to its union with the Umsunduzi River, then flowing into Nagle Dam and on to Inanda and then the Indian Ocean. This valley is the start of the legendary Valley of a Thousand Hills, and the scenery is dramatic.
And Vicki couldn't contain her delight at having conquered the mountain..
We took time to soak up the splendour and with the air temperature steadily rising, set off back down the hill to lunch and chilly drinks. Little did we anticipate that our walk would be so thoroughly disrupted by butterflies.
The view from the Krantz overlooking the Umgeni River valley. Photo from a previous visit.
The air had warmed up by then and the butterflies had seen fit to show themselves to even the least observant hiker. The morning was alive with calls of “here it is,” “open your wings, dammit ,” and “SIT STILL.” Some photographers were seen to be leopard-crawling with cameras held aloft, while others employed longer lenses with less athletic antics to get their shots of the elusive insects. It was all grist for the mill, and I was greatly impressed with the determination of the gang members to get better-than-decent shots of the quarry. By then, however, the air was really warm, and the bugs were very active, making butterfly photograph nearly impossible. In spite of that, some really good records were taken, and hopefully will be forwarded to the Virtual Museum at the Animal Demography Unit at CT University for inclusion in the ongoing survey of butterfly distributions.
No butterfly should be subjected to this kind of abuse...
Some of the big and little ones that didn't get away...
Here and there we'd seen evidence of the new season trying to break through the stranglehold of the dry weather, showing again the resilience and determination of nature.
Cumberland’s proprietor, John Behn, had kindly made the campsite available to us as it hadn’t been booked for the weekend, and we had a relaxed lunch time in the shade of the Paperbark Thorns that were trying to sprout new foliage. Soon, some intrepid members were off on the paths again, some lucky enough to find the resident giraffe family, others to concentrate on the small stuff, while yet others set sail for home.
It had been a good day, as all days at Cumberland are, although the persistent drought is worrying. Cumberland is a jewel, set so close to the capital city, yet known to just a few. It’s a wonderful place, and applause must go to John, Stella and Gary Behn for providing such a lovely resort almost on our doorstep. I’m pleased that more people have experienced this lovely little reserve, and hope they’ll make more use of it in the future.
And this Citrus Butterfly had had enough of us and our cameras and made a butterfly-line for the horizon. I'll get a slightly sharper image next time.