A Walk in an Ancient Forest in Umhlanga

Sometimes, you just need to walk in a forest to find your soul and, if you can join a group of guardians of a rare and ancient forest, so much the better.

Words & Pictures: Andrea Abbott

The privately-owned Hawaan Forest in Umhlanga is one of the last intact climax coastal forests along the KwaZulu-Natal coast.  Eighty hectares in size and occupying a dune said to be 18 000 years old, this species-rich relic of a much more extensive forest system somehow managed to escape the axe of developers, although its integrity was dealt a blow when the M4 freeway severed it from the Umhlanga Lagoon and the coastal and dune forests on the eastern side.

These days, there is more sensitivity around forests and Hawaan is now jealously guarded by a team of stalwart volunteers.  The forerunner of the team was Bill Duthie, conservation officer of the erstwhile Umhlanga Town Board, whose important tasks and interventions included mapping out paths, labelling trees, preventing the installation of a sewer pipe that would have cut the forest in half, and starting an alien-plant clearing programme.

Continuing that tradition, super-knowledgeable residents Phoebe Carnegie, Jocelyn Sutherland, Anne Lawson, garden service contractor Bernard Chatikobo, and Musa Khumalo who is employed by the Umhlanga Urban Improvement Precinct, faithfully carry out weekly work parties in this primordial closed-canopy forest, where nearly 200 species of trees (some  rarely seen elsewhere), as well as creepers, shrubs and a healthy understorey, are home to about 100 bird species and fauna like bushbuck, red and blue duiker, bushpigs, snakes, leguaans, and countless invertebrates.

In private hands, the forest is generally closed to the public but Jocelyn and Anne offer guided walks on the first Saturday afternoon of every month. The nominal fee of R30 per person goes toward maintaining the forest.

For visitors and locals it’s a must-do, as walking in Hawaan not only is to go back in time, but to be immersed in the soul-restoring benefits of nature.

Contact:

Jocelyn Sutherland 083 2752216

Anne Lawson 083 2848591

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