KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, South Africa. The end of the Karkloof mountain range culminates in the Blinkwater (shining water); a land of indigenous forests, upland grasslands, vleis, streams and commercial plantations – home to the endangered Oribi and rare Blue Swallow. An ideal playground for nature lovers, birders, walkers, mountain bikers and adventurers or those just looking for a sanctuary of quietness away from the rush of everyday life.
Blinkwater Trails offer both overnight hikes and day walk options. The plan in the long term is to also introduce mountain biking options.
In 1994 history was made in the hiking world, when two timber companies and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife joined forces to create a network of hiking trails in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. The original role players were HL&H Timber Products (now Mondi Forests), Sappi Forests and Natal Parks Board (now Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife) and the Umvoti Branch of the Wildlife & Environmental Society.
Over the years, the trail network has evolved with over fifty kilometres of trails to be explored. Whilst the trails originally offered four overnight camps, at present only two are open namely Douglas Smith Cottage (on the southern side) and Mountain Falls camp (on the northern side). It is hoped that in time, the beautiful iPhasiwe Camp, situated in prime grasslands on the top of Blinkwater, can be re-established. As well as the outlaying camp on the western side, known as Success.
The diverse terrain of the Blinkwater region offers a range of vegetation types and with it a variety of bird species, flora and fauna. The indigenous forests are classed ‘Mist belt Podocarpus’ - all three types of Yellowwoods are to be found together with a wide variety of very old trees, ie. huge Knobwoods, Lemonwoods and Figs. Bushbuck may be sighted.
The grasslands of the Blinkwater provide the perfect habitat for the dainty Oribi, common reedbuck and mountain reedbuck. The very rare Blue Swallow has been known to breed in the area. There is an abundance of bird life in the grassland and forests, approximately 135 species. Including the shy Crested Guineafowl and the vociferous and brilliantly coloured Louries.
Hikers may also see the endangered Wattled Crane which breeds in the vicinity of Island Dam. During the spring and summer months’ flowers are a delight to the eye, from proteas to rare orchids and in the winter months the beautiful flowers of Psoralea pinnata can be seen. Blinkwater was once the hunting ground of the Bushman and there is still evidence of their “hunting pits” on the edge of the forest. Local history abounds and the hiking trails have been designed to incorporate as much of the past as possible. One section of the trail follows the course of the old railway line constructed at the turn of the nineteenth century to extract timber from the vast indigenous forests on the south slopes of the Blinkwater.
View across Blinkwater
The Arboretum at Douglas Smith
Douglas Smith Cottage
Fireplace under the fig tree at Douglas Smith
Grasslands on wagon track
Fungi in the forest
Sunset Island Dam
The Blinkwater Hiking Trails are situated at the end of the Karkloof mountain range in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. The hiking trails can be split into two sections; the Northern Section (starting from Mountain Falls Farmhouse) and the Southern Section (starting from Mondi Seele Workshop).
Please click below to download detailed directions including a map:
The trail offers two overnight camps, namely Douglas Smith Cottage and Mountain Falls. Both sleep up to twelve people and provide ablution facilities (hot showers and flush toilets), firewood and basic kitchen facilities. Water tanks are available at both facilities but depending on the season, the water quality is not guaranteed so it is recommended that the water is boiled first or treated with puritabs before drinking.
Douglas Smith Cottage (Southern section)
The cottage is a replica of the original homestead of the Smith family which was built in 1905 as was the fine cattle kraal close by. It is well worth spending time in this area and revelling in the past. The cottage was used when the family trekked their cattle from the cold Mooi River farm to overwinter in the relatively warmer Blinkwater farm. The trees in the Arboretum were planted by the Smiths at the same time the Botanical Garden in Pietermaritzburg was being developed at the turn of the century.
Mountain Falls (Northern section)
SAPPI have renovated a guest cottage adjacent to the old farmhouse. Vehicles can be safely left behind the cottage. An attractive dam a short distance from the overnight camp provides an ideal spot to complete the day, either swimming or contemplating the day spent and the day to come! Upstream from the overnight camp near a ruin, is a series of attractive waterfalls which give the area its name.