Yesterday I spent the morning walking around the central section of the Melville Koppies Nature Reserve. Most of you know I visit the Koppies often, but this walk was special.

Winter grass on the Melville Koppies
Winter grass on the Melville Koppies. The grass is taller than me.

The Melville Koppies reserve is divided into three sections: East, Central, and West. The East and West sections are open to the public, and I usually walk in the East section. The Central section is normally closed to the public except for guided tours, due to its rare biodiversity and archeological sites. (There is a well-preserved Iron Age furnace in the Central section.)

The guided tours have been suspended since the lockdown started. But a few weeks ago, the reserve’s volunteer staff began hosting weekly “open days” in Melville Koppies Central on Sunday mornings. Visitors pay a small fee and are invited to explore the reserve at their own pace.

A Solitary Walk Around Melville Koppies Central

I went to my first open day yesterday — it was the first time I’ve ever been able to explore this part of the Koppies on my own.

Late winter flowers on the Melville Koppies
Late winter flowers on the Koppies.

When you live in Joburg, it’s not easy to find places where you can safely experience the natural world alone. We have the Wilds, Emmarentia Dam, and the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, which are all wonderful and relatively safe. But the Koppies are different. This reserve, especially the center section, is wild and primordial; if not for the sound of traffic, a few stone steps and pathways, and the occasional glimpse of houses and buildings around the perimeter, walking through the Koppies feels like walking through another age.

Since Melville Koppies Central is totally secure — there is only one entrance, manned by several staff members, and guards are posted in key spots around the reserve — I could hike around alone with my camera, without a hint of nervousness. No looking over my shoulder or quickly shoving my camera out of sight. And while I encountered a few other people walking around, it was easy to wander down one of the countless forking paths and find myself alone again.

Family walking on the Melville Koppies
Rocks in the Koppies
Grass on the Koppies
More tall grass, which makes the most beautiful swishing sound as you walk through it.
People walking on the Koppies

You’d think I’d have had enough of solitude by now, living alone during a pandemic for the past five months. But solitude in nature is something different.

I wandered aimlessly around the reserve for nearly two hours (about five kilometers, according to my phone), and felt positively joyous. I had a map but didn’t really need one — the paths are well marked and it’s hard to get lost.

Grass burned by fire
It’s the time of year when new green grass sprouts out of the black tufts burned by fire over the winter.
Protea flower on the koppies
A protea flower from last year, slightly singed by fire.
Westdene Spruit
WestWestdeneThe Westdene Spruit (stream) passes through Melville Koppies Central.
Indigenous forest in the koppies
Indigenous-forested bliss.

Right now, the open days on Melville Koppies Central are happening most Sunday mornings from 8:00-11:30 a.m. The remaining open days in September are on 13 Sept., 20 Sept., and 24 Sept. (a special Thursday open day, because it’s Heritage Day). Admission is R80 for adults and R40 for children — all proceeds go toward maintenance of the Koppies, which is managed by volunteers, and security for the open days — and it’s best to book in advance because admission is limited. Details are on the Melville Koppies website.

Speaking of the Melville Koppies volunteers…I’ve said this is previous posts, but I must re-iterate that Wendy Carstens, who has worked tirelessly for decades to keep the Koppies pristine and beautiful, is an absolute rockstar and a true Joburg hero. I’m so grateful to Wendy and her hardworking team for making this incredible Joburg heritage site available to me and my community.

Wendy Carstens and Barbara Shaw
Wendy (right) and fellow Koppies volunteer Barbara Shaw, posted at the entrance hut to Melville Koppies Central yesterday.

I highly recommend signing up for one of these open days ASAP. Wendy isn’t totally sure how long they’ll continue. (I hope it’s forever.)

The entrance to Melville Koppies Central is across from Marks Park Sports Club on Judith Road. Park at the sports club and then walk across Judith Road to the entrance. For regular updates, follow the Melville Koppies on Facebook.

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