The Umtiza Nature Reserve, situated west of East London, offers nature lovers some interesting sightings, including the opportunity to see the elusive samango (or Syke’s) monkey. Managed by the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency, the reserve is named after the endemicumtiza listerianatrees, which occur only in this part of South Africa. This forest contains more of these trees than anywhere else in the world.
A wooden signboard on the right-hand side of the road, close to the electronic gate at the office, marks the start of the trail, and national tree labels assist in the identification of some of the tree species, including the umtiza.
Many other mature trees, such as the cycad species (once one of the main food sources for dinosaurs) are easy to identify as you contour through cool and enchanting shades of green and brown.
The mildly undulating trail is clearly routed and offers butterfly delights, a varied bird-species list and diverse mammal sightings, which, in addition to the samangos, includes bushbuck, porcupine and common and blue duiker.
This is a special forest that has a Tolkienesque feel about it - gnarled stems, moss and lichen and hollowed stumps suggest that perhaps the Hobbits reside close by, so take time to stop and listen.
The easy, circular walk, which crosses a little stream in places, is unmarked but obvious and can be enjoyed by the whole family. It’s also a good trail if windy conditions prevail at the coast or if you’re looking for a shady outing to the woods after too much sun.
There is secure parking and braai facilities at the entrance, so consider bringing brunch or braai stuff and making a day of it. A self-issuing permit system allows free access and the Reserve is open Monday to Friday from 7.30am to 4pm.