Exploring The History And Beauty Of Newlands Forest

exploring newlands forest

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Newlands Forest: where Cape Town’s heart beats green. Right on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, this is your escape from Cape Town’s city life.

Have you ever found yourself in a place that just feels magical? That’s Newlands Forest.

It’s not just about the hiking trails (though they are fantastic) or the picnic spots (perfect for a lazy Sunday). It’s about experiencing a part of Cape Town that feels untouched, yet is so accessible.

Below, I dive into all things Newlands Forest, from the flora and fauna to the best things to do. I’ll tell you what makes this lush location so unique and why it isn’t just another stop on your tourist map.

Excited? Here’s a quick overview of what you’ll learn with my guide:

  1. The history and beauty of Newlands Forest
  2. How to get there and the best times to visit
  3. Best activities and experiences
  4. Pratical visitor tips

An Overview Of The Newlands Forest

Newlands Forest, Cape Town

The first time I visited Newlands Forest, it felt like stepping into a world straight out of a storybook. Just a short drive from Cape Town CBD, and there I was, at the foot of Table Mountain.

I still remember the excitement as I parked my car. It was this easy blend of accessibility and escapism that struck me most. Within minutes, you’re surrounded by the sounds of nature.

History

Walking through Newlands Forest, it’s hard to imagine this lush oasis once echoed with the sounds of axes and sawmills. The story of Newlands Forest is a fascinating tale of transformation.

The original inhabitants of the area, known then as “Boschenheuwel”, were the Khoi-khoi people. They migrated and herded their cattle here and over much of what is now the city of Cape Town.

During this time, Newlands Forest was crowded with native trees. However, things began to change following the arrival of the Dutch and Jan van Riebeeck, the first governor of the Cape Colony. They needed a lot of wood, and this led to cutting down many of the trees in the Newlands Forest.

By the late 1700s, there weren’t many original trees left. So, to keep up with the demand for wood, the eastern slopes of Table Mountain were cleared to grow new kinds of trees, like Eucalyptus and Monterey Pine. These trees grew quickly and were perfect for logging. They thrived for many years, especially when the demand for timber peaked during the World Wars.

But as time passed and the need for logging in Cape Town decreased, Newlands Forest would change again. The last trees planted for logging were never cut down. Instead, they became part of the forest’s new chapter and a place for people to enjoy nature.

I personally love learning a little about the history of a place, even if it’s just a beautifully wooded area. Newlands Forest is a testament to how nature can recover and flourish.

Flora and fauna

the Granite Fynbos and the Peninsula Shale Fynbos in Newlands Forest, Cape Town

Speaking of flourishing nature, the real magic of Newlands Forest is its abundance of flora and fauna. The forest sits in a special area of Cape Town, right where two types of natural landscapes meet: the Granite Fynbos and the Peninsula Shale Fynbos.

Back in the 1800s, this forest lost a lot of its original plants and trees, but the native plants have made a comeback.

Inside the forest, there’s a nursery run by the City Parks team. They’re doing a great job of bringing back the plants that originally grew here, helping the forest return to its natural state. This mix of old and new plants creates a really special and unique environment.

Up on the higher slopes of the forest, where fires don’t happen often, you can still find parts of the old, dense forest. These areas are home to towering trees and a variety of ferns, herbs, and bushes. While the woods might not rival the stunning fynbos, they’re still full of unique life.

When you find yourself in Newlands Forest, keep an eye out for wildlife. You might see baboons, dassies (rock hyraxes), and squirrels. And if you like birds, you’re in for a treat. The forest’s birdlife is rich and varied, with species like the Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird, and Cape Francolin flitting among the trees.

Visiting Newlands Forest

Just hearing about the wonders of this forest, you’re no doubt itching to visit it! This section has you covered on how to get to Newlands Forest, the best time to visit, and the facilities available to you.

How to get to Newlands Forest

Getting to Newlands Forest is a breeze, whether you’re driving or using public transport. If you’re driving a rental car, just head off the M3 highway. Keep an eye out for the sign pointing to Wildfire Services and Reservoir – that’s your cue to turn left.

Once you’re off the M3, a quick right turn brings you to a large parking area where a security guard will keep an eye on your car. Entrance to the forest is completely free and parking can cost R25. Don’t forget to tip the parking guard, too!

If you’re using public transport, a train to Claremont station and a bus trip or Uber ride will get you to the forest’s entrance. The Golden Arrow Bus Services service the area (Wynberg) and you can check the local schedules to find a route that drops you close to Newlands Forest.

Best times to visit

In my experience, there’s no bad time to visit Newlands Forest, but some seasons are definitely more comfortable. If you ask me, summer (December to February) is when the forest truly shines. The forest is lush, and the light filters through the trees in a way that’s just magical.

Early morning or late afternoon is perfect – you’ll beat the summer heat but may deal with a few more visitors on the trails.

Autumn (March to May) is another great time that brings a different kind of beauty. The forest transforms in shades of green, yellow, and brown. It’s quieter around this time with fewer people around, and the temperature is just right – not too hot, not too cold. I find it’s the best time for leisurely walks and photography.

Spring (September to November) is no doubt a treat. You’ll feel like you’re walking into a painting with wildflowers blooming everywhere. The mild weather calls for a hike and a picnic. It’s also especially exciting for birdwatchers!

Available facilities and entrance fees

Newlands Forest is open all the time, every day of the week and doesn’t cost a cent to enter.

The main parking area is just a short walk from the forest’s entrance. While it’s not mandatory, tipping the parking guards R10 or R20 is always a kind gesture for watching over your car.

If you’re planning a day out, I recommend grabbing a spot at the dedicated Picnic and Braai Area. For SA residents, there’s a small entry fee of R72,00 (Adults) and (R36,00) to enter the area. For non-SA residents, it’s R144,00 (Adults) and R72,00 (Children).

It’s an idyllic spot for a braai (BBQ) and a picnic under the lush canopy of trees. Just remember to bring your own braai supplies and food. No alcohol is allowed here, so stick with water or a nice refreshing lemonade.

Along with the lovely picnic spots, you’ll find public toilets for convenience. But keep in mind, Newlands Forest is all about the natural experience – there are no shops or restaurants inside.

A helpful tip: Bring your own toilet paper if you can. With the number of visitors the forest attracts, the bathrooms tend to run out pretty fast.

Experiences And Activities To Do In Newlands Forest

hiking at Newlands Forest

You might think that in the Newlands Forest, all you can do is wander around and admire the scenery – and honestly, that’s not a bad way to spend your time! But there are some great things you can do here among the trees and trails.

While it’s not a theme park of activities, there are some neat ways to make your visit both memorable and enjoyable.

Hiking

Hiking in Newlands Forest is like hitting the refresh button on life – trust me, I’ve hit that button a few times here. I’ve had short 20-minute walks here that really perked me up, and I’ve also tackled the trails up to Table Mountain for a proper workout.

Right at the entrance, you’ll find a board that maps out the hiking trails. Most of them are inviting dirt paths, perfect for a casual stroll. But if you’re up for a bit of a challenge, some trails head higher up the mountain with steeper, rockier climbs.

There’s pretty much a trail for every mood and fitness level. Some of the most popular are:

  • Newlands Contour Path – This is a beautiful, moderate route that’s great for kids and walking your dogs. There’s a wooden boardwalk for the trickier sections, making it accessible. The highlight? The carousel picnic area on the path – it’s the perfect spot for a break with fantastic views. To get there, you head up Newlands Ravine Trail – the climb is worth it.
  • Short Circuit – If you’re after a trail that shows off everything Newlands Forest has to offer, this is it. It starts on a wide gravel road and then dips into a shaded forest path. The views of the city are a treat, and the shift from pine to indigenous forest and then to fynbos is something special.

The popular routes are great, but they can get a bit crowded, especially with weekend walkers and trail runners. If you’d like to venture off the beaten path, here are some great trails to choose from:

  • Fernwood Track Loop – It’s a bit quieter but no less beautiful.
  • Woodcutters Trail – Perfect for those who love a bit of history with their hike as it takes you on the original route of the woodcutters who used to work in the forest.
  • Littlewort Trail – A peaceful walk great for kids and dogs.

Picnic and braai

picnic and braai in Newlands Forest, Cape Town

One of the most popular activities to do in the forest is to just hang out and enjoy a delicious meal. On a sunny weekend day, the whole place comes alive.

You’ll see people everywhere – some chilling by the river or in groups chatting on logs. Despite the crowd, the forest is so spacious that you can always find a quiet spot to relax.

While here, you just have to partake in a traditional South African braai. Head to the designated Braai and Picnic Area near the entrance.

It’s a bring-your-own-grill-and-wood kind of situation, but they provide the seating and space. It’s an excellent spot for a day out with family or friends.

Just a heads up, while dogs are welcome in most parts of Newlands Forest, they can’t enter the braai area.

Of course, if you’d prefer a quieter spot to enjoy a bite, there are plenty of picnic spots dotted around the forest. The Newlands Fire Base and Kirstenbosch Gardens are popular spots for a leisurely lunch. But sometimes, all you need is a tree along one of the forest paths and a blanket to lay out.

Birdwatching

Besides the hiking and picnicking, Newlands Forest is a real treat if you’re into birdwatching. Just look up and you’ll see so many different bird species flitting through the trees. There are several bird hides and viewing points dotted around. These spots are perfect for setting up your camera or just sitting quietly.

Even if you’re not a birdwatcher, it’s hard not to get excited about the array of South African birds you can spot here.

Keep your eye peeled for the Cape Sugarbird; it’s quite the show-off with its long feathers. You’ll usually find them hanging out near mature fynbos and protea plants.

Another feathered beauty to look out for is the Orange-breasted Sunbird. These little guys are the most extravagantly coloured sunbirds in Southern Africa. Spotting one always feels like a lucky find!

Another curious-looking species is the African Paradise Flycatcher. Keep an eye out for them as you wander the trails. You’ll see a beautiful tail stream and a little blue head that resembles a mohawk.

Practical Tips For Visiting Newlands Forest

Before you set off to explore the wonders of Newlands Forest, I’ve got some tried-and-true tips to share.

What to pack

  • A warm jacket or sweater: The forest can be a bit nippy in the shade, even on those sunny Cape Town days.
  • Sunblock and a hat: The sun here is no joke in the summer, so protection is an absolute must if you don’t want to look like a tomato the next day!
  • Comfortable shoes or hiking boots: A pair of sturdy shoes with a good grip are essential for trekking the trails.
  • Snacks and plenty of water: There are no shops or restaurants here, so you’ll need to bring your own food. I always pack a flask of coffee, plenty of water, and some snacks.
  • A camera: Your phone will do just fine, but if you’ve got a camera for photography, do bring it! Every corner of the Newlands Forest is photo-worthy.

Safety tips and environmental etiquette

  • Stay on marked trails: It can be tempting to explore off-path, but staying on the marked trails is safer and keeps you within signal reach.
  • Don’t hike alone: Always hike with a friend or in a group – it’s safer and much more fun.
  • Emergency contacts: It’s always a good idea to have an emergency contact saved on your phone, just in case.
  • Leave no trace: The forest is a protected area with a community that goes to great lengths to keep it clean. Don’t litter, make fires (unless in the designated Braai Area) or disturb the wildlife.
  • Look, don’t touch the mushrooms: During mushroom season, the forest floor is a colour palette, but some of the mushrooms are incredibly dangerous to consume. Mushroom foraging in Newlands Forest requires a permit and some serious expertise. If you’re hiking with little ones or dogs, make sure they’re not touching or eating the mushrooms on the floor.

General tips

  • Dog walking rules: Dogs need to be leashed at the start but can enjoy freedom on some of the trails.
  • Consider taking a guided tour: If you’re up for a guided adventure, I recommend Robs Adventures & Tours. Their 4-hour hike is insightful and takes you through some stunning parts of the forest you might not discover on your own. Plus, the waterfalls are a sight to behold!

FAQs

What is the best hiking trail for experienced hikers in Newlands Forest?

If you’re an avid hiker looking for some great trails to hit in Newlands forest, you’ve got some options. The Newlands Ravine via Dark Gorge is definitely a trail worth taking, but be prepared for the workout! It’s about 2-3 hours of technical hiking, including rock scrambling in the shady Dark Gorge, followed by a descent via the sunnier Newlands Ravine.

How far is Newlands Forest from Cape Town CBD?

Getting to Newlands Forest from Cape Town CDB is just a short drive, approximately 8.7 kilometres. If you’re not driving, the quickest option is to take a taxi. The journey typically takes between 10 to 20 minutes, depending on traffic, and the fare ranges from R65 to R80.

Final Thoughts

So, there you have it: Newlands Forest in all its green glory. It’s clear that this isn’t just a forest – it’s a slice of Cape Town’s soul.

Take a stroll, enjoy a picnic, or simply sit and admire the forest. This is not a place for action-packed activity, but rather a relaxed escape in nature.

From its unique past to its preserving biodiversity, the forest is a must-visit for any traveller who finds themselves in South Africa’s Western Cape.


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