This past weekend I went to Fourways, the northernmost Joburg suburb.
I know what you Jozi city folk are thinking: Fourways is a sprawling, traffic-choked suburban wasteland and I wouldn’t go there if you paid me. I know many of you are thinking that, because I used to think it myself. Until someone actually did pay me to go to Fourways. So I went. And I discovered interesting things.
Sure, Fourways has traffic and gated communities and Montecasino. But Fourways also has chubby, slightly evil-looking dassies, living in the wild. (Dassies are kind of like prairie dogs. But bigger.)
On Sunday I went to Lonehill, a neighborhood on the northeastern side of Fourways, and visited the Lonehill Nature Reserve. Lonehill Nature Reserve is surrounded by suburbia and dominated by a large pile of primordial sandstone boulders. I climbed said pile of boulders, and experienced a few surprises along the way. Follow along on my journey.
Lonehill Koppie (koppie means “hill” in Afrikaans) from below. The nature reserve is surrounded by a park with a small dam (South African term for “lake”), popular with dog-walkers and a few fishermen. Incidentally, I shot this photo from the balcony of a Wakaberry frozen yogurt shop in Lonehill Shopping Centre.
I parked near the dam and walked the short distance to the nature reserve, which is surrounded by a fence. The reserve is open only on weekends and closed completely during the winter months (May through August) to give the delicate ecosystem a break from human interference. The dam is open seven days a week and year-round.
I read the small plaque inside the entrance to the nature reserve. It made no sense to me, in either English or Afrikaans.
I know the print is too small to read. Don’t worry though, unless you’re a geologist you won’t understand it anyway.
I strode up to the pile of boulders, past a picnic table under a tree, and found a small path through the shrubbery. I started to climb. The shrubbery thickened and the path became steeper. I had to search more and more carefully for the small, painted white arrows showing the way up.
Rocks, trees, and clouds on the way up Lonehill Koppie.
The way up.
Through there? Really? Good thing I wore hiking boots.
I later learned, from my friend Debbie who lives in Lonehill, that there is a “granny path” on the other side of the koppie that is much less steep and easier to climb than the path I took. I didn’t think to ask Debbie beforehand. That would have been too logical.
I searched for footholds and scrambled over boulders. It wasn’t an easy climb, and I got a little panicky each time I found myself surrounded by rocks and trees and couldn’t find any arrows showing the path. I was on a white arrow treasure hunt. But I was enjoying the challenge. I heard a crazy bird call that I didn’t recognize. I completely forgot that I was in Fourways and started to imagine that I was somewhere in Uganda. Until I glimpsed Montecasino through the rocks.
See the fake Tuscan tower in the distance on the right? That’s Montecasino.
As I neared the top of the koppie, I passed a man climbing down. He was decked out in full safari gear, replete with hiking poles. “I tried to climb up last weekend,” he told me, “But it started to rain and I had to turn back. These rocks are quite hectic in the rain.”
As we were talking, the sky was growing darker. I felt a few raindrops. I said goodbye to safari man and he disappeared into the bushes.
I noticed a chubby dassie a few meters away. “Hello, little dassie,” I crooned. The dassie maintained his baleful glare. I suddenly remembered hearing somewhere that dassies bite.
It rained harder.
This was starting to feel a bit like my nearly fateful hike through the Golden Gate. Come on, I told myself. This is Fourways, for crying out loud.
A Fourways crevasse. I actually crawled through this. I kid you not. There was lots of dassie poop.
I rounded a bend and saw a big fat dassie, running straight at me. “Go away, dassie!” I shrieked.
Okay, the dassie just ran under a rock. But seriously, he appeared to be charging me. As I yelled, half a dozen more dassies scrambled for cover.
The view beyond the dassies was totally worth it.
View of suburbia from Lonehill Koppie. My phone shot came out better than my camera shot.
I was almost there. I still had to climb the largest boulder, perched at the very top of the pile, the crest of which could only be reached via a wooden ladder.
(Interesting side note #1: The original ladder to the top of the koppie — since replaced by a film crew — was built by my friend Debbie’s husband and sons. When Debbie and her family moved to Lonehill in 2005, they had to use ropes to climb to the top.)
(Interesting side note #2: There is an old legend, dating back to the Anglo-Boer war at the turn of the 20th century, which says that if this boulder ever topples down, all the white people will leave South Africa.)
I climbed the ladder but sadly did not take a photo of it (raining too hard). When I reached the top, it was too wet to take my camera out. But I managed to pull out my phone and shoot a selfie.
On top of the world in Fourways. At least I brought a rain jacket.
I was nervous about the climb down, but fortunately the rain let up and I made it without incident. I was drenched.
About an hour later, as I sat on the Wakaberry deck eating a frozen yogurt (I would have preferred something warmer but beggars can’t be choosers) and gazing at the koppie, I captured my best shot of the day.
I’ll bet those people used the granny path.
I hope I haven’t discouraged you from visiting the Lonehill Nature Reserve, because it is extremely awesome. Just be sure to take the granny path and don’t let the dassies intimidate you.
The entrance to Lonehill Nature Reserve is accessible from the dead-end on Calderwood Road in Lonehill.