The Covid19 virus has changed our lives in so many ways. Melville Koppies has not escaped the changes.
On Sunday I spent an invigorating two-and-a-half hours walking with friends on the paths around the central, fenced and much-cared-for section of the koppies. The guided tours have been put on hold as the guides can’t easily talk through masks. So instead a 5km self-guided walk has been created. Hikers are provided with a map, and left to wander this green wonderland in the middle of the suburbs, barely 5km from the city centre.
The driver of this slice of heaven is Wendy Carstens, chairperson of the Melville Koppies Management Committee. She has been the boss of the koppies for the past 20 years, and her enthusiasm for the koppies only seems to have grown with the years.
“It is such a wonderful asset here in Joburg,” she says in her breezy manner. “The new trail has caught people’s imagination.”
More than 75 people turned up to partake of this treasure. What Wendy was particularly happy with was that family groups turned up, together with several single dads with their kids. “People are so much into hiking and exercising.”
And if you’re into history, there’s an Iron Age smelting furnace to ponder, excavated in 1963 by the late archaeologist Revil Mason, who, as a student, had found Middle Stone Age tools on the Koppies. The furnace is close to a partially reconstructed stone kraal - kraals were plentiful on the Highveld over 1 000 years ago. The excavation also revealed a Late Stone Age living floor beneath the furnace, with tiny flaked tools used by hunter gatherers.
With her three full-time conservation workers, they weed the hills for five hours each day, filling eight bags daily. “They take a pride in their work,” she enthuses. But that means that this upkeep, together with security, costs R22 000 a month, raised by entrance fees and donations.
I didn’t see any of the small creatures that secret themselves among the grasses and rocks – hedgehogs, rinkhals, mongeese, and various field rats. I delighted in hearing some unusual bird calls – over 200 species have been spotted in the 50ha green lung. There are 50 grass species, and over 500 species of plants and trees, all indigenous.
Those living alongside the koppies in the 1960s recall seeing snakes, hedgehogs, chameleons and bushbabies but those sightings are long gone, except for the hedgehogs.
What I love about the koppies, besides the 360-degree view and, at certain points, feeling like you’re not in a large metropolis, is the five different micro-environments, from sparse rocky outcrops, down to the lovely spruit along Beyers Naude Drive, where you’ll see huge White Stinkwoods, together with River Bushwillows, and Wild Olive and Wild Peach trees. Except for the faint traffic noise, I could have been in a forest deep in Limpopo. The reason for this is that the reserve is underlain by 3 billion-year-old greenstone, which decomposes to a rich deep soil. The stream contains an outcrop of igneous rock called Gabbro, the remains of a 2 billion-year-old intrusion of the earth’s crust.
"It felt like I'd hiked into the middle of the 'Berg. Beautiful grasslands creating a sanctuary from the hustle of city life," said Joel in our party.
“The ecology of Melville Koppies Central is determined by the climate, the geology and also the 50 years of intensive conservation effort since its proclamation,” states the website.
Melville Koppies central is only open on Sundays, from 8am to 11.30am. Entrance is R80 for adults, and R40 for children.
Go and hike: climb up paths, cross the river at the bridge, sit in cool shady places, or walk the open veld.