Melville Koppies is a green lung of open space tucked away in the heart of the Big Smoke…
Words and Pictures: Sue Adams
Life is busy and it’s not always easy to make a plan to get out of the city and into the countryside. But Melville Koppies, a 160-hectare reserve on the ridge in the suburbs just north of Joburg, with views in all directions, is the perfect getaway.
On a Sunday morning walk, passionate tour guide Wendy Carstens, opened our eyes to so much that was interesting. I found out how khakibos is used for perfume but is actually an invader, and arrived here when the British fighting in the Anglo-Boer War imported horse feed from Argentina.
She tempted us with the delicious coffee-smelling milkweed and pointed out a tree that hides under the ground right under our feet. I cleared my pollution-blocked nose with a sniff of crushed fever-tree leaf and marvelled at the stories about how many people used to live on these Koppies. Every few metres of the three-hour walk there was something else to learn.
In 1933, farmer Frans Geldenhuys donated this land for public recreation and various bits of land were added. But the area was neglected until concerned residents motivated for it to be turned into a nature reserve in 1959, and a volunteer organisation was set up to run it. Prof Revil Mason of Wits University excavated an Iron Age furnace in 1963, which led to the area being proclaimed a national monument and later a National Heritage Site.
Wendy and her volunteers are a dedicated bunch who donate their time to caring for the reserve, and and to fundraising. “You have to be a committed weeder and I tend to be here seven days a week,” says Wendy, as she pulls up an alien plant while conducting a tour. Wendy supervises a team of three men (funded from donations) who care for the Koppies. They have worked there for 13 years and know the area backwards.
The views and Joburg’s skyline are spectacular. If you want to just wander at your leisure, have a picnic, take your dog, Meville Koppies East is open all the time and is well-used by local residents.
I so enjoyed the country feeling and sense of space that I came back to watch the full moon rise with a bunch of friends, and then drifted down to 4th Ave Melville for a late-night coffee. As much as I enjoy what cities have to offer, a secret country gem like Melville Koppies does make my heart sing.
- Melville Koppies East (10ha) offers free access during the daytime and dogs are welcome.
- Melville Koppies Central (50ha), with its carefully conserved biodiversity and Iron Age site, is only open on open days or by appointment on tours. (R50 donation for a three-hour tour).
- Melville Koppies West (100ha) is open during the daytime, with free entry, dogs are welcome and it’s used by many church groups but has security issues. About 20 church groups use this area on a Sunday and the sounds of singing and drumming are delightful.
- Many specialist groups use these Koppies to study birds, insects, spiders, plants and butterflies. BirdLife SA has done regular bird ringing on the Koppies since 1959. One little Willow Warbler that flies annually to Siberia has been ringed four times.
- The organisation Friends of Melville Koppies runs walks and tours on alternate Sundays. The Tour is a 4km walk filled with interesting titbits of info and sights. The 10km hike is a fantastic walk through the Koppies.
- In this small reserve there are a number of different environments including forest, grasslands, rocky crests and the river, which make for a wonderful variety when walking.