As if wine and chocolate pairings weren’t enough: Franschhoek sits a 10-minute drive from one of the best mountain fynbos reserves in the Cape Winelands. The Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve overlooks the vineyards and herb gardens of everyone’s favourite Wineland town but this 1760 hectare private reserve (4350 acres) is home to leopards and baboons and offers the best hiking in Franschhoek. And the greatest thing about the Mont Rochelle Reserve when I visited it is that had been largely incinerated in a fire just thirty months before.

Thick stands of Narrow-leaf Sugarbush (Protea neriifolia) greet you as you set off on the trail but without fire there would be none of them.

We all know that fynbos – the name given to all the plants that cover these Cape Mountains – needs fire to clear out the old and usher in the new. Most often occurring in the hot and dry summer months before the winter rains, fires swiftly convert years of accumulated dead vegetation into much-needed nutrients and expose the ground – with its millions of waiting seeds and bulbs – to nurturing sunlight and rain.

The sight that greeted me two & a half years before – the immediate aftermath of a fire that had swept across the reserve on a baking summer’s day.

It’s hard to believe though when walking in the mountains during the first few weeks after a fire. The landscape resembles a deserted battlefield, fought over between armies using napalm and flamethrowers. Occasional tufts of fynbos survive between rocks and on wet cliffs but the mountains are mostly swept clean of life and an enormous soot-scented silence hangs over them like a blanket.

A fynbos fire can be quite shocking in the scale of its devastation: sometimes there is not even a scrap of greenery left.

But fynbos responds to fire within days: stimulated by the fire’s heat and chemicals, leaves and flowers come shooting out of the ground in great waves while what appear to be dead tree stumps explode into a cascade of greenery. Seeds are jettisoned in their tens of thousands from fire-cracked cones and begin germinating frantically, making the most of the optimal conditions. Within weeks the landscape is pockmarked with bright patches of flowers, many of which completely depend on fire such as the Fire Lily (Cyrtanthus ventricosus).

The charred remains of a King Protea (Protea cynaroides) but note that it is not completely burnt to ash…

…because the King Protea requires a fire so it can do this.

The unusual Protea aucalos is an ‘Earth Rose’ in Afrikaans: its yeasty-smelling flowers attract rodents which act as the plant’s pollinator.

A walk today though reveals a very different picture. The Month Rochelle Reserve is looking lush and green and the cheerful streams that clatter through the hills are so clean and pure that you can fill up your water bottle. There are a number of walks in the reserve ranging from short strolls to morning hikes and a full-day hike. There’s some uphill – these are mountains after all – but it’s minor stuff on the shorter walks and the views are worth it. And if you do feel like the full-day hike, then your reward is the highest point in the reserve, Perdekop Peak. At 1575 metres (5167 feet) above sea level, it’s as high as one and a half Table Mountains and the view is stupendous, taking in virtually the entire south-western Cape.

A type of Iris, this is just one of nearly 50 different kinds of Moraea found in the local area; the bulbs of several species were harvested & eaten by Khoisan hunter-gatherers.

It’s currently a great time to visit the reserve: the mix of mature, unburned fynbos and the more recent post-fire fynbos – with completely different plants – is fascinating. The growing number of flowers has attracted sugarbirds and sunbirds and when I was there the local pair of Black Eagles cruised slowly overhead, on the lookout for dassies (Rock Hyraxes). And although the extravagant displays of flowers ebb after the first few post-fire years, the fynbos will be at its most diverse and – for want of a better word – prettiest – for many years to come.

The famous shape of a Pincushion Protea, this one is Leucospermum lineare, the Needle-leaf Pincushion.

The flowers of a Leucadendron or Conebush, a type of protea that turns the mountains luminous yellow when they flower in winter.

The delicate beauty of the Little Painted Lady (Gladiolus debilis), a type of Iris that flourishes after fire.

Rejuvenated & well-watered, the Mont Rochelle landscape today is a far cry from the blackened wasteland it was just 30 months before.

This Brunia is known as a Volstruisie (little ostrich) in Afrikaans, alluding to the resemblance of the clustered flowers to a clutch of ostrich eggs.

Wachendorfia paniculata is best seen after a fire when it may flower in their thousands; part of the Bloodroot family, the red fleshy roots are dug up & eaten by porcupines.

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