Forests, Ferns and An Elephants Eye

“You never climb the same mountain twice, not even in memory. Memory rebuilds the mountain, changes the weather, retells the jokes, remakes all the moves.” ~ Lito Tejada-Flores

After a week of exquisite (sunny and warm) winter weather here in the Mother City, Sunday morning dawned windy, grey and a little chilly with rain forecast for later in the day, for me though, it was the perfect hiking weather!

This time we headed out to the Tokai Plantation where we would head straight up through the pine forest where we would come out near Silvermine and then head up to Elephants Eye, so named because part of the mountain looks like the shape of an elephant’s head and the cave is perfectly located where the eye would be.

Our group of 10 hikers had overnight dwindled down to 4, a combination of tiredness, too cold, sick, a party the night before till 5am and work seemed to be the deciding factors of the day! But I on the other hand, was all too happy to be heading out to the mountain again.

We started out from the Tokai Plantation.

We started out from the Tokai Plantation.

What the Plantation is all about.

What the Plantation is all about.

A haven for mountain bikers, we seemed to be the only hikers heading up from this side of the mountain and except for two lonesome hikers we crossed paths with at different times, we had the trail completely to ourselves, only occasionally crossing paths with mountain bikers on the jeep tracks that intersected our path as we made our way up.  One of the 4 hikers in our group had that morning decided to meet us at the top of the mountain instead near Elephants Eye as he was going to hike from Fish Hoek where he lived, so in the end it started off with just us three girls heading out from the bottom. The Tokai area can sometimes be a hot spot for muggings but armed with some mace and our trekking poles we, as we always do, hoped for the best that we wouldn’t run into any trouble along the way.

In the parking lot psyching myself up to load my once again heavy backpack onto my shoulders.

In the parking lot, psyching myself up to load my once again heavy backpack onto my shoulders.

Our surroundings were instantly beautiful with huge trees reaching out above us from all around. As we walked out and up, the trail absolutely deserted except for the three of us, offered such stillness and beauty of the early morning. Despite the chilly morning, the birds could be heard chirping, the smell and sights of the pine forest filling our every sense and the delightful sound of the crunch of the pine needles beneath our feet was music to my ears.

Another early winter's morning start.

Another early winter’s morning start.

Walking up through the pine forest, the stillness enveloping us whole.

Walking up through the pine forest, the stillness enveloping us whole.

The pine trees stretching high up in to the dark, cloud covered sky.

The pine trees stretching high up in to the dark, cloud covered sky.

As we walked through the pine forest all that could be heard was the sounds of the trees whispering above us, occasionally the trees making their groaning noises high up above as they swayed in the wind.  At times, when the cloud cover grew dark and blotted out the sun, the walk through the stillness of the forest became rather eerie with no other souls in sight. But true to form we had fun, stopping and taking photos, laughing and filling the forest with sounds of joy.

Eerily still in the pine forest, there were still plenty of opportunities for photos!

Eerily still in the pine forest, there were still plenty of opportunities for photos! Looking back at these photos, this forest would be a kick-ass place to play hide and seek with my two nieces!

One of the jeep tracks we crossed as we headed up in the pine forest ~ this time not even a mountain biker in sight.

One of the jeep tracks we crossed as we headed up in the pine forest ~ this time not even a mountain biker in sight.

As we climbed higher, the views began to open up between the pine trees.

As we climbed higher, the views began to open up between the pine trees.

A steady climb up all through the pine forest, the mountain belonged to us. The tranquility of being out yet again soul restoring and filling every sense of the body with all that nature had to offer. Finally, as we continued to climb, we got our first sighting of Elephants Eye cave up above us.

Our first sighting of Elephants Eye Cave, seen through the tops of the trees.

Our first sighting of Elephants Eye Cave, seen through the tops of the trees.

Still on the right track, a little hard to get lost on this trail as it's so well sign posted along the way.

Still on the right track, a little hard to get lost on this trail as it’s so well sign posted along the way.

A little way further we came across a tiny waterfall, where we took off our backpacks for a five-minute breather. Natalie and I tried to avoid getting wet at first as the last time we had stood under a waterfall, the winter wind had become even more icy! But the child in us never stays away long and before we knew it Natalie and Desirée were embroiled in a friendly water fight ~ luckily for me I watched from behind the camera lens at a safe distance and I could only but chuckle as we continued up the mountain a few minute later to comments of frozen fingers from the icy cold mountain water!

A small waterfall along the way was great for a 5 minute breather.

A small waterfall along the way was great for a 5 minute breather. Here Natalie and I try hard to avoid the water splashing down behind us as last time we stood under the water the wind became even more icy!

Natalie and Desire still on talking terms even after a water fight ~ so much for staying dry!

Natalie and Desiree still on talking terms even after a friendly water fight ~ so much for staying dry!

A little more walking up and it wasn’t before long we were leaving the pine forest behind. Soon we would come over the top and see Silvermine over to our left and in front of us and then we would be turning to our right to head up the final climb to Elephants Eye.

Leaving the pine forest behind we came out amongst beautiful flora covering the mountain side.

Leaving the pine forest behind we came out amongst beautiful fynbos covering the mountain side.

Leaving the forest behind, Elephants Eye was close.

Leaving the forest behind, Elephants Eye was close.

One last climb and we will be enjoying our snacks and lunch inside the cave that is called Elephants Eye.

One last climb and we would be enjoying our snacks and lunch inside the cave that is called Elephants Eye.

As we climbed up the final stretch, we met up with the fourth member of our hiking party, dressed in running gear, he was slightly chilled to the bone as he had been waiting for us at the fire lookout hut a short way below the cave.

Natalie, Des and Clinton making their way over the final ridge before the cave.

Natalie, Des and Clinton making their way over the final ridge before the cave.

Nothing magical about this mushroom, but a mushroom nontheless!

Nothing magical about this mushroom, but a mushroom nonetheless!

The cave itself can usually be quite crowded but we arrived to find it empty except for a family of 3, who didn’t stay very long leaving us alone in the cave. The cave walls are moist and covered in green moss, dripping with water.  Standing inside the cave looking out offers the most beautiful views of our city below.

This was to be our lunch stop and although lunch is never at lunch time as we leave so early, we are always ravenous by the time we reach the stop before we head back down again.

Standing halfway in the cave looking out.

Standing halfway in the cave looking out.

The view looking out of the Elephants Eye.

Lunch with a view ~ the view looking out of the Elephants Eye.

Over looking the beautiful Mother City below.

Over looking the beautiful Mother City below.

On a clear day you can see for miles and miles. On a winters day you get this, still so beautiful in my eyes.

On a clear day you can see for miles and miles. On a winter’s day you get this, still so beautiful in my eyes.

Right at the back of the back you find a cave inside a cave. Last time I sat here I was training for Kilimanjaro. This time, I'm training for Aconcagua. Life just gets better and better!

Right at the back of the back you find a cave inside a cave. Last time I sat here and had my photo taken I was training for Kilimanjaro. This time, I’m training for Aconcagua. Life just gets better and better!

After a nice relaxing break drinking coffee, always compliments of Natalie, and enjoying our delicious lunch, we headed back down just as the wind was starting to chill us to the bone. We had been lucky so far in that the rain had stayed away even though the clouds had at times been dark and very threatening. The walk down was fast paced and filled with laughter, the trees above us in the forest talking wildly in the wind as we made our way down the mountain side.

The beautiful mountainside, full of life and colour.

The beautiful mountainside, full of life and colour.

Heading back down.

Heading back down.

The views before us as we began to descent again.

The views before us as we began to descend again.

In the middle of the eery forest,  a pit-stop had to be made because by this time the laughter had just become too much for some, making walking almost impossible. Finding a  spot thought on a steep slope with nothing but trees to hold onto was all just part of the adventure ~ Never say never!

In the middle of the eery forest, a pit-stop had to be made because by this time the laughter had just become too much for some, making walking almost impossible. Finding a spot thought on a steep slope with nothing but trees to hold onto was all just part of the adventure ~ Never say never!

The final stretch before reaching the car park.

The final stretch before reaching the car park.

Looking back, the moody sky and the pure magnificence that is our beautiful mountain.

Looking back, the moody sky and the pure magnificence that is our beautiful mountain.

Reaching the bottom, the Tokai Plantation (or the Tokai Arboretum  as it is also known as) was filled with families walking around, a stark contrast to how we had just a spent our morning.  We decided to head to Listers Tea Room adjacent to the parking lot where we chose to sit outside on a wooden bench under the tall trees. Hot drinks, scones, jam and cream were the perfect way to end another amazing morning spent hiking on the mountain before heading home again.

“Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery why we climb.” ~Greg Child

~ All Photos By Me ~

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