Having just completed the 5 day Giant’s Cup Trail whereby you carry all you need on your back for 5 days I was looking for something not so strenuous so when the Dargle Samango Slackpack Hike popped up on my Facebook feed I was intrigued to learn more. It didn’t take me long to contact Julia and book my spot on the hike, I liked the fact it was just over a hour drive from Durban, something I’d be comfortable doing on my own, and no 4 x 4 needed.
I’d never done a slackpacking hike before; it is alot easier when you don’t have to pack and prepare your own food. So packing for this hike was a piece of cake in comparison.
I was delighted to find out later that Rose who I’d met on a few Ramblers hikes was also doing The Samango Trail so we made plans to travel together from Durban. Rose is 80 years old and an inspiration, I look forward to doing many more hikes with her.
We left Durban at 2h30pm, took a nice easy drive to Dargle and checked into the beautiful Lemonwood Cottages http://www.lemonwood.co.za/
The story goes that Katie and Adam Robinson visited South Africa 14 years ago on a holiday from the UK, visiting the Kruger National Park and the seaside town of Ballito, Katie saw an advert in a free property magazine about this property in Dargle which was for sale, they took a drive, fell in love with it, returned to the UK, sold up and arrived back in Dargle 3 months later. Once you visit Lemonwood you’ll understand how easy it is to fall in love with the property, imagine a beautiful home with an enchanting forest on your doorstep.
By 6pm all eleven of us intrepid hikers had arrived and were settled in on the patio overlooking the Inhlosane Mountain, we were spoilt with a spread of cheese, biscuits, pickles and wine whilst we chatted and got to know everyone. On making my booking to do the hike Julia did ask me if I’d be happy eating mostly vegetarian food, this definitely wasn’t a problem for me. Julia and her partner Jonathan treated us to a lovely home cooked dinner with a choice of either a vegetarian or lamb tagine followed by a fruit crumble for dessert.
On Saturday we woke up to the most spectacular red sky. Katie our host at Lemonwood Cottages prepared breakfast for us, scrambled eggs, baked tomato, organic yogurt, local honey, homemade granola, toast and preserves. Katie makes her own lemonade which is delicious, we all had a spare bottle to fill up with lemonade for the hike.
I just loved all the little touches, we all got a lunch packed in a brown paper bag with our names written on the outside. This slackpacking thing is magic! Everything just happens, you don’t even have to think!
At 8am our group the youngest being 46 and the oldest 83 posed for an official start photo and off we set through the Kilgobbin forest. What an enchanting forest, the paths had been neatly cleared for us, we took care to look out for spider webs and did our upmost to duck beneath them or gently remove them to the side of the path. It was a privilege to share this hike with a group of knowledgeable folk – we had what I’d term a professional birder in our party, he was able to identity every bird we saw, and between Geoff the birder and Rose they knew the names of every beautiful flower and towering tree. Our goal was to mark off 100 birds in the 3 days. I think we got close to 60.
The pace of the hike was very tame, we stopped often to either admire the views or inspect a flower, stare up at a tree or watch the birds.
We followed old logging trails and passed through private properties, I am so impressed with Julia, this being her inaugural Samango Trail and she certainly has done a lot of ground work with the locals getting permission to transgress their properties and linking the trail all together, not an easy feat.
We walked through the Old Kilgobbin Farm, though a paddock of the most magnificent Dutch Friesian horses which are used in workshops for children and corporates. To read more about Horse Play visit their web site at http://horseplay.co.za/
If you read this article which appeared in the Wildside Magazine it will give you a better understanding of what happens at Horse Play – an amazing connection with humans and horses.
We’d been going for a good couple of hours and we’d just stopped to admire in awe the oldest Lemonwood Tree in South Africa said to be 2,000 years old when we came across a clearing which looked like an area which can be used for a boma – little did we know but Julia had arranged for Karin Saks also known as the Baboon Woman to meet us here and share her knowledge with us about the research she is doing on the Samango monkeys in the area. Just listening to Karin speak you realise what special people we have in this world who dedicate their lives to researching animals. To read more about this project please visit https://samangomonkey.wordpress.com or email Karin on firstname.lastname@example.org
If you Google Baboon Woman you will read many stories about Karin, this one written by the Huffington Post puts into perspective the work she was doing with primates https://www.huffingtonpost.com/maggie-sergio/baboon-woman-the-story-of_b_1475362.html
After the most interesting talk and the most delicious chocolate brownies we set off again through the mist-belt forests, we were fortunate to see a few Samango monkeys in the distance. Once out the forest we were greeted with the most panoramic views of the Dargle Valley, Lidgetton Valley and the Drakensberg mountains – a great place to stop for our lunch. Our packed lunch was a roll with salad, sundried tomatoes, avocado and either cheese or bacon, some trail mix (nuts and dried fruit) and an apple.
We could see the rain moving in but our determined bunch of hikers made the decision to keep going and not take the short cut back to Lemonwood Cottages. We pressed on, poncho’s and rain jackets came on – the rain did pelt down rather hard but luckily it was very warm – we did however all end up with wet boots. At this point my waterproof socks were the topic of conversation!
We arrived back at Lemonwood Cottages after a circular 14km trail to a nice cup of tea. Tonight our host Katie made us a delicious fragrant green curry with a choice of chicken or vegetable, rice noodles and for dessert we had the best homemade lemon curd ice-cream and biscuits. Loving this thing called slackpacking.
On Sunday we woke up to a misty morning, we had lovely fresh fruit salad, organic yoghurts, cereal, preserves and freshly baked muffins.
We set off at 8am taking a different newly cut trail through the forest, it was a tough 2.5km climb up and out the forest. By the time we’d reached the Lidgetton Ridge the mist had lifted and the sun was beating down on us. We descended into the Lidgetton Valley and followed the Lion’s River. We had another steep climb across the Fifehead farm which is flanked by the Entabeni Forest. We crossed the Lion’s River twice on this day, the river was flowing nicely but if you were stable and comfortable you could cross both places without getting your boots wet by choosing your step carefully. We passed through the beautiful 4 star guesthouse accommodation called Pleasant Places, the most beautiful display of hydrangeas on show for us. http://www.pleasantplaces.co.za/
I so enjoyed the Blue Gum forests we walked through which provided some welcome shade – at about 1h30pm we arrived at Lythwood Lodge a beautiful venue very popular for weddings http://lythwood.com/ – two tables were beautifully set up for us with white table cloths under the old oak trees. We were all treated to a toasted sandwich, salad and chips. After lunch we had another 4kms to go before we reached Blesberg Farm. You can’t help but envy the farming lifestyle, lovely green pastures, healthy looking cattle, stunning farmhouse, friendly farm dogs, shimmering dams ………..oh the life! Today we walked 20kms. On arrival at Blesberg Farm we gathered again to a spread of cheeses, biscuits and wine.
Blesberg Farm is a working cattle farm in the beautiful Liggeton Valley, there are several self-catering cottages on the farm http://www.wheretostay.co.za/blesberg-self-catering-cottage-accommodation-lidgetton-midlands-and-battlefields
I take my hat off to Julia, after a long day with us Jonathan and Julia still cooked us a vegetarian paneer makhani for dinner followed by the best tiramisu I have ever tasted. Julia I still want that recipe!
I need to mention at this point that Jonathan had kindly collected all our luggage at Lemonwood Cottages and transported them to Blesberg Farm for our 3rd night. Everything just happened in the background, we were definitely in good hands.
On Monday morning we woke to no electricity – not a problem the farm manager quickly got us two big gas bottles and we were able to make our morning fix of coffee. Yet again we were spoilt with another surprise, Julia had organised for Erica Brown from Sol Food to come through to Blesberg Farm at 6h30am and serve us the most amazing vegetarian breakfast. We had 4 vegans in our party who were also catered for. With no electricity Erica wasn’t able to make us the blueberry smoothies but we had a choice of gluten free muffins comprising of mango and passionfruit, banana, rhubard and ginger – homemade cashew nut butter, freshly pressed juices and a basket of seasonal fruit.
Get onto Erica’s mailing list for wonderful recipes, cooking courses and just general good food and ideas http://www.solfood.co.za/
After that healthy breakfast we started our walk rounding the Blesberg Farm, we watched two secretary birds flying above us, saw a few Reedbuck prance right across our path. Julia’s Dad kindly packed all our luggage into his vehicle and transported our packed picnic lunches and met us along route. Throughout the day and the day before we’d seen this lone tree high up on a hill from every angle and this was our spot for our picnic lunch – 360° of views, absolutely breath-taking. On all 3 days we either saw or crossed the stone wall which was built by the Italian prisoners of war during WW2. I found this article which I found fascinating all about the Italian POW in Pietermaritzburg – http://natalia.org.za/Files/18/Natalia%20v18%20article%20p70-79%20C.pdf
Back to our lunch – a vegetarian empanada style puff pastry with seasonal roasted vegetables, fruit, nuts, chocolate brownie and a frozen health juice – oh and wait champagne and orange juice – need I say more?
After lunch we set off back through the forest taking the easiest route down, we did slip and slide a little – we arrived back at Lemonwood Cottages after 12kms.
What a wonderful 3 days, friendships made, lots of laughs, batteries recharged and discovered the beautiful area of Dargle. Julia and Jonathan you did a sterling job, the positive feedback speaks for itself. Well done on your inaugural Dargle hike, I have no doubt in my mind that this is the start of something fantastic!
Thank you Julia for a wonderful weekend. You put in a tremendous amount of effort and have created your own unique style of leadership and hiking – Julia
Julia the hike was superb. Incredible scenery, gourmet food and wonderful people, what more could a girl ask for. Most definitely one of the best trails I’ve done – Roseanne
Thank you Julia for putting on an awesome weekend hike. It’s been great meeting everyone and hearing everyone’s stories – Belinda
A brilliant trail, thank you so much for meticulous planning, super food and treats/surprises. Loved every second. Thanks too for being so accommodating. Great company of course – Mari
So enjoyed these 3 days with like-minded people, it was great. The food was scrumptious and above expectations. Thank you Julia and Jonathan for being so accommodating and putting together this lovely trail – Colleen
Good food, good company, good walking – thank you Julia and Jonathan and all my fellow walkers for a lovely break – Jill
Julia the Samango Trail you organised was an absolute winner. The forests and grasslands the good food and the great company all came together perfectly – Geoff
It is wonderful to know that some of the proceeds from this hike go to the Dargle Conservancy who seem to be doing a great job in the area. http://www.dargleconservancy.org.za/index.php
History of Dargle from the web site http://www.oldkilgobbin.co.za/history.html
In the 1840s Thomas Fannin bought 6000 acres unseen in what is now known as the KwaZulu Natal Midlands, and upon his arrival he saw an incredible similarity to the Dargle Valley in his native Ireland. So he named the stream running through his new farm the Dargle and so the South African Dargle valley was born. His son, Meredith, bought the adjacent acres and named his farm Kilgobbin, after a church and castle back in their Irish Dargle valley. In 1875 the homestead of Kilgobbin was completed and he and his wife Mary moved in, and generations of Fannins grew up on this beautiful farm. In the mid 1900s, David and Claire Fannin sold Kilgobbin homestead and its surrounding land. The farm was then called Bridgewood until the early 1980s when Eric and Zia Harrison decided to resurrect the old stone and wood house back to its former glory, along with its old name, and so Old Kilgobbin was once again brought back to life. In 1996 John and Carl Bronner and their sons, Joel and Jethro, made Old Kilgobbin their home and took it into the 21st Century of agri-tourism and ecological farming.
Check out http://spekboomtours.co.za/Home/ to read more about Julia Colvin and the tours she organises.
Written by: Alison Chadwick