Porcupine Falls

Durban is home to one of those rare things found around the world – the etymologically confusingly named place.  Kloof Gorge, when translated, literally means Gorge Gorge. It is a place so nice, they named it twice. Thank you. I am here all week.

This will no doubt be a recurring venue for articles. Given how many trails there are on offer at Kloof Gorge, it would be hard not to write a piece or two on the wondrous nooks and grannies found in its heart.

Yeah that wasn’t a typo.

The basic setup is this: you park, pay and walk. The entrance to the reserve is found at 156 Kloof Falls Road. Navigating the road there is a hair-raising experience. Locals are acclimated to the twisted and narrow roads. Just. Be. Careful. Kloof was designed by a mad woodsman on strong medicine. I was lucky enough to have learnt how to drive in the area. Despite this, I am still paranoid when I take the plunge into the Gorge as I know a lane divider is at best a callously defined idea to locals.

Pictured: Kloof Mayor Randolph Badsoap at the local civic hall

The Gorge is something of a hot spot for bird watchers. Given that it is the mountainous green heart of the suburb it is clear to see why. Recent news articles have also proven that there is a small group of lynx resident in the area. The strange thing is, you do not feel you are about to enter a reserve. Once you have parked, the only real outward observation to make is that you are just in a leafy suburb. It is only when you cross the road and enter the forest proper that you realize what a remarkable geographic feature this place is.

Once you cross into the reserve (and the starting point for several trails) the sky is blotted out by indigenous trees. I was Frodo. I was Bigfoot. I was Ricky Baker. The noise of the road is almost instantly snuffed from existence. You were in a parking lot five bloody minutes ago. Now you are potential raptor food.

We had decided to do the Porcupine Falls hike. I say hike in the loosest possible sense. It is about an hour long (return) at a regular pace and predominantly flat. The entirety of the route is done under the shade of a dense forest with most of your steps being accompanied by a gurgling river. You are rewarded at the turning point by the eponymous Porcupine Falls; a squat, wide waterfall that percolates into a dense mist at the bottom from where you approach it.

Immediately the forest collapsed around us. It breathed deep with the ages. The author duly ran out of creative phraseology.

It was cold and dark and beautiful okay? Okay.

Still better lit than Uncle Greg’s house.

The recent flooding had knocked out two of the park’s bridges meaning all the water crossings had to be done by negotiating foot falls on mossy stones like some kind of vegan parkour. I do not know when the reserve will have its bridges replaced but it didn’t really make much of a difference to the author. I liked negotiating my way over the river eau naturale. As always things like that add to the adventure. I prefer to think of stepping on stones less as an inconvenience and more as artisanal bridge crossing.

The forest became darker still. The trail is fairly easy to negotiate. I would not say hard core hiking shoes are needed but perhaps something with a modicum of grip. I have seen people turn up to quick walks to the corner store in shoes designed by a NASA scientist whose wife had just left them. Those are not needed for this pleasant and undemanding hike.

Undemanding is an appropriate word. Without having to work particularly hard you are still rewarded with beautiful forest scenes that are pretty enough for Bambi’s mother to die in. the little stream that accompanies you the whole way is a bonus as well  – it adds this tranquil layer to the burbling forest sounds which is hard not to enjoy. Several times we stopped and felt that we were in the heart of something primal and old. It is easy to see why superstitions are so quickly attached to dark parts of the wood. What kept flashing across the back of my skull was that we were no more than half an hour away from a busy suburban road. I could, at any time, turn around and be forty minutes from cramming a sugary, reconstituted pig fat snack down my gullet.

Yet there I was, in a damned forest.

A damned forest.

The falls this time of year was not as impressive as I have seen them in the summer months. They were not the curtain of water that has entertained me before. However, for mid-winter in Durban, I was still happy to see how much water was flowing. It is a very South African thing to constantly comment on the health of the water table. Satisfied that the suburb was not about to turn into a desert any time soon we returned back on the trail for home.

Despite the brevity of the experience I have to say, the Kloof Gorge remain a remarkably unknown part of Durban. It is certainly an aspect of Durban’s geography that is mostly explored by locals which is a pity. Invest in a little bit of time in a car and this gem will be sure to entertain and delight.

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