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After weeks of hard rains, flooded roads and clogged storm drains, we were happy to wake up to the promise of a windless day and blue skies, although further rain is forecast for tonight and tomorrow. We decided to hike along the Sandy River road, where the water has drained sufficiently to allow us access to the sugar cane fields in the rural area. This road winds its way along the Mtwalume riverbank up into the hilltops on the opposite side of the Soutcoast freeway.

The first image dates back to the end of July, just after a particularly heavy storm. Today the surface was still muddy and to our delight we found fresh buck spoor in the road. We have a number of bushbuck that roam free in the hills (and our vegetable gardens).

(Click on images to view as a slide show)

The hills are lush green with the new sugar cane growth showing after the first rains. The sugar cane, when ready for harvesting, is burned on the fields before it is cut down and transported to the refineries in large trucks. The sweet smell of the burning cane hangs in the air from January to October, when operations cease for a three month period. We met a few field workers when we stopped to admire the green fields stretching to the higher reaches of the Mtwalume River.

From our vantage point we spotted a herd of Nguni cattle being driven uphill towards us and we waited for them to appear around the bend in the road. These cows and their calves are used to interaction with people and to our delight they started following us on the road when we called to them, ignoring their herder’s admonishments and the crack of his whip. He told us later that it was only his first day on the job with this particular herd and he was having a little difficulty controlling them, as he has not yet learnt their names! These ladies and their offspring are named according to the color and pattern of their hides and they respond to their given names.

South Africa’s indigenous Nguni cattle, long the mainstay of traditional Zulu culture,  are known for their fertility and resistance to diseases. Read more about this breed in The abundant Nguni herds.

Later, on our way back, we saw them peacefully grazing in a sugar cane field that has already been harvested, while the herder was taking a well-earned break, sitting on a pile of dry sugar cane stalks from where he could watch the cattle.

At last we reached the top and this is the magnificent view that greeted us: You can see the Southcoast freeway at the bottom of the hill, the Mtwalume River, swollen with water reaching halfway up the concrete pillars of the train bridge; the lagoon which is very still and calm today, and the ocean in the back.

View of Mtwalume River and Elysium Beach from the hilltop

Today is National Heritage Day in South Africa and honouring the natural beauty of our country was a fine way of spending this special day.