Wild serenity at Hillcrest’s hidden haven

Journalist Ismail Suder discovered a lush refuge at Springside Nature Reserve. Enchanted by its beauty, he lost track of time and almost got locked in…

Just over the hill from Durban – in leafy Hillcrest – lies a tiny sliver of paradise called the Springside Nature Reserve – and it’s supposedly the suburb’s best keep secret.

I had never heard of this place until recently when I goggled: “picnic spots in Durban” and the Springside Nature Reserve flashed on my screen. The fully fenced, well-maintained and secure green lung is said to be amongst the smaller nature reserves in the region with just 21 hectares of indigenous grasslands, wetlands and riverine forests running alongside gurgling streams. And get this! – the reserve lies in a lush green valley, smack bang in the middle of suburban Hillcrest with homes dotted on the hills around it.

If it weren’t for the suburban houses on the periphery of the pristine forest, (and the faint sounds of children and the intermittent barking of dogs in the distance), I could easily forgive myself for thinking I was on a hiking trail in one of South Africa’s better known  natural wonders.

It took me just 25 minutes of leisurely driving from Durban central to the Springside Nature Reserve (the entrance is from Springside Rd) to escape Durban’s blistering heat. The moment I drove into the parking area, a cool and welcoming breeze from the lush valley wafted over me. Hikers were either leaving for their trails or returning from their walks.

The Springside Nature Reserve, proclaimed in 1948, is managed by the eThekwini municipality and Hillcrest Conservancy. It was developed jointly by the Wildlife Society and the Hillcrest town board. Yet, few have heard of this little gem. And the best part is that entranceto the park is absolutely free, however the custodians do accept donations that help them in the upkeep of this little Eden.

 The first thing that greets you when you drive through the automated gates is a fairly large and spotlessly maintained braai and picnic area next to the car park – and clean ablution blocks nearby. The shade from the canopy of the trees was a welcome relief as I enjoyed a sumptuous late afternoon braai. Unlike other nature parks that I had visited in the past, there were no monkeys to snarl or steal my food.

When you visit a nature park such as this, you naturally want to immerse yourself in the sights and sounds and I was especially heartened that visitors – possibly regulars –respectfully kept their voices down for all to enjoy nature’s heartbeat.

SubahanaAllah!  As you take your first step onto the clearly marked trails, you will see – once again – the magnanimity of the Almighty all around you.  There is an instant kaleidoscope of colour – and if you are a lover of wild flowers, you will certainly enjoy a smorgasbord of the most exotic ones along the trails.

For me, the Umdoni Trail held greater appeal as the meandering and well-maintained pathway took me along a clear rippling stream right to the far end of the reserve. The other hiking option is the “Protea” trail which takes you towards the open grasslands towards the hills where a variety of birds and butterflies and flora in all its splendor can be seen on the route. You can tailor your hike how you want it, but the more energetic can easily clock around 3km on the circular trail.

Probably the most spectacular sight for me was a jungle cove of sorts – best described as a lush sanctuary of dense overhanging green foliage. Underneath are two wooden benches right on the bank of the rocky stream where you can enjoy the serenity, coolness and gurgling sounds of the fast-flowing water.

 The Umdoni trail is easy and relaxing one and can serve as a perfect antidote for life’s many stresses. Gosh, at one point I even saw a minibus troop of kindergarten kids walking (and sometimes hopping) in double file as they ventured along the Umdoni trail. If they could do it, then anyone can.

Hikers can make several scenic pits stops along the way. There are some strategically placed benches to enjoy your beverage and listen to the medley of sounds of the forest – colourful butterflies, twittering birds and crickets too. At the end of the walk, you’ll be find wooden tables and benches to rest a bit or snack before you make your way back to where you started.

 0verwhelmed by the tranquility, I unwittingly overstayed my time in the reserve.  Daytime was slowly drawing its veil and bullfrogs were singing in chorus in the forest orchestra. That’s when it hit me that I had to bid farewell and leave quickly. But alarmingly, I realized that the main electronic gates had already clung shut – promptly at 6pm. But not to worry, my momentary panic led to instant relief when I pressed a little button on the metal gate and the electronic doors gently slid open.

Had I been stuck inside the Springdale Nature Reserve, there would have been no overnight shelter for me, but there IS a miniature lodge of sorts there…only that it’s exclusively reserved for tiny forest residents – a wood and wire structure near the car park which authorities charmingly call the “Insect Hotel”.

 

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