The Umvoti Vlei Nature Reserve
Lying just outside of Greytown, the Umvoti Vlei Nature Reserve is 267 hectares that function as a sanctuary for wetland birds – an ideal spot for bird watching that provides an unobtrusive bird hide for avid bird spotters.
Most of the reserve is a wetland, hence the fantastic bird life. In the area too are two hot mineral springs known as Lilani and Shushu, which allow further bird watching opportunities. It is not clear whether or not these springs run into the wetlands.
Umvoti Vlei is one of several nature reserves in close vicinity in this part of the country – the others are the Karkloof and Blinkwater Nature Reserves, both of which lie slightly south west of Umvoti Vlei.
Mistbelt grassland occurs naturally in the Umvoti Nature Reserve, although it is said to be ‘highly fragmented’ because of intensive agriculture in the surrounding land areas, so that only 3.5% of the area is now given over to Mistbelt grassland.
Interestingly, the adjacent Blinkwater Nature Reserve is 492 hectares of pristine Mistbelt grassland. Connecting these two reserves is under consideration, using the corridor that follows the powerlines between the two.
The Umvoti Flower Reserve @ Lake Merthley
The relatively unknown Umvoti Flower Reserve, also known as Lake Merthley Wildflower Reserve, lies on the shores of Lake Merthley just outside of Greytown in the Natal Midlands.
Except that the fences of the reserve have been stolen. Which means that although the reserve is contained within the Lake Merthley surrounds, it isn’t designated or obvious. As a result, you might get the odd local to point it out to you. Or stay long enough, during flower season, to watch the local deer, who seem to know exactly where it is as they eat the flowers.
It is worth knowing that the famous Hilton daisy, one of about 100 flowering plants that occur in the Wildflower Reserve, is visible during the flowering period (January to March). But there are also ground orchids and late flowering Dieramas that those in the know head here to see.
The daisy is typically bright red but can also range in colour from yellow through orange to scarlet. It is rare because it typically grows only in the high rainfall mist-belt grasslands of KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga, both also ideal for growing trees for the timber industry. The plant typically spreads by means of underground stems and does not transplant easily.
Despite its elusiveness, the Hilton Daisy is only one of a total of 100 flowering plants that appear in the two hectare Umvoti Flower Reserve. Others include the blue scilla, red indigo, tinsel flower, asters, harebells, watsonia, at least four species of ground orchids and the dwarf sugarbush.
Experts advise mid-October because you may catch both the red Hilton daisy and the blue scilla in flower at the same time. But January to March are equally as good, with a chance to see ground orchids.
Unfortunately the reserve’s custodian, Vic Schutte, recently retired and despite several avid flower experts in the area, no-one has yet taken responsibility for the reserve. It is a pity this wonderful asset
to the area is not catered for.
Activities @ Lake Merthley
Greytown Blinkwater Hiking TrailsHiking Trails Battlefields
Where? Start at Mountain Falls, Blinkwater Nature Reserve, south of Greytown, KwaZulu Natal
When? Please enquire.
How? Call Dave on +27 (0)82 443-4287 (Bergfree Adventures)
How much? Price on request
Overnight? Stay at accommodation in Greytown, in KwaZulu Natal
Start: Mountain Falls, Blinkwater, south of Greytown
Finish: south of Greytown
Duration: 100 km, 2 – 6 days
Our tip: though things can be a bit of a scramble through brambles and high grasses, if you can read a map, and enjoy a comfortable overnight hut, this hike is worth it
Blinkwater plateau is the source of the Umvoti River. It lies in the mountainous region in amidst Greytown, New Hanover, Mooi River and Karkloof, that is also part of the Drakensberg range.
The plateau is given over to indigenous forest, savannah mountain top, timber plantations, grasslands, streams, waterfalls, gorges and range of animals that includes the endangered oribi, blue crane and blue swallow.
All of this was once the farm of Douglas Smith, who built a cottage at Blinkwater and used the farm during winters for his live stock.
He also created a rich aboretum – a feast of trees – that managed to survive a fire, even though his cottage was burnt.
The Blinkwater (shiny water) hike is a series of circular routes that provide anything from 2 to 6 days’ worth of hiking over 100 kilometres of trails across the plateau and the surrounds.
Operated by a combined effort of Umvoti Wildlife Society, Ezemvelo Wildlife, Mondi and SAPPI Timber, the reserve is divided into a northern and southern section.
In the south find:
Doublas Smith cottage, a trail along a dam to Oribi Hill (great place to sight the oribi), Florida Lake (fishing and swimming), plantations, indigenous forest (in which you will find a krantz), upper grasslands, old saw pits, the arboretum, the Blinkwater forest (yellowwoods, Cape chestnuts, strangler figs, sneezewoods etc.), and Seele’s Dam.
In the north find:
A renovated guest cottage (if you do not want to stay in huts), a dam, an old grave site, indigenous forest, another forest alive with clivias, ferns and flowers, grasslands and Success Dam (home of thickbilled weavers).
Hikers can overnight in a series of three pretty, but basic, huts, each with bunk rooms. They have hot showers and a toilet.
It is possible to treat a hut as your base, from which to explore the plateau with only a day pack. Take along extra water as there is little on the hike (bar the drinking water in the huts).
The Craigie Burn Nature Reserve
Just on the other side of Route 622, which links Mooi River with Greytown, from the Karkloof Nature Reserve you will find Craigie Burn Nature Reserve and Dam.
Craigie Burn dam in Howick is touted as a beautiful fishing spot in the midst of dairy and stock farming country just north of the Midlands Meander.
Craigie Burn dam is one of few dams in Kwazulu Natal where one can find a healthy supply of smallmouth and largemouth bass.
Up until now Craigie Burn has persisted as one of the ‘secrets’ of the area remaining pretty undisturbed by boats, possibly because the dam is essentially a grass dam covered in aquatic grass beds, and frequented by few enough fishermen, who head out here from Mooi River over weekends, not to spoil the experience of the ‘great outdoors’ that makes the nature reserve the haven that it is.
One can fish from the banks of the dam, so it is not essential to have a boat, and a rather steep rocky bank to the left of the dam wall is said to be popular with the small mouth bass,Blue Gill and Scalie so if you’re new to the reserve, and/or fishing, make a start here. The nature reserve has some lovely picnic spots and you can camp overnight.
Nearby Mooi River (pretty river) lies on the northern end of the Midlands Meander, definitely worth following if you are in the area.
Contact details: Telephone +27 (0)33 263-1267
Activities @ Craigie Burn
Montello Safari Lodge