The red disa or Disa uniflora is brilliantly red orchid found only on certain parts of Table Mountain and for only a short period of time each year. Since these beauties are so rare, finding them has become a novelty I’ve come to look forward to. For the past two years I have ventured into the mountains on a Saturday during February, in search of the floral emblem of the Western Cape. This annual Red Disa Hike is a highlight for me each year. This blog post will serve as a guide including everything you need to know about finding the red disa and planning your next Red Disa Hike.
The red disa only blooms for a short period in late summer from January to February. While this is the general period when you start to see them blooming, there is an even shorter period (middle two weeks of February) where they are prolific. This is when I recommend you plan your Red Disa hike. We usually go the second or third weekend in February.
The red disas are found in only a few locations along the wet upper slopes of Table Mountain. The best place to see the disas is along the stream flowing into the Hely-Hutchison Dam and up into the aqueduct. There are two possible hiking routes you can take to get you to this magical spot. You can either hike up Skeleton Gorge, along the Hely- Hutchison dam, up the aqueduct, around Waaikoppie and back down Nursery Ravine, or you can hike up Kasteelspoort, walk along the back Table past the Scouts cottage, Woodhead dam and Hely- Hutchison dam, up the aqueduct, around Waaikoppie, across the Hely-Hutchison dam, across the back Table and back down Kasteelspoort. I will describe both routes here. I personally prefer the Kasteelspoort route. It is longer but I have a bit of an aversion to Skeleton Gorge having done it a few too many times, making Kasteelspport my route of choice. You can also hike up Myburgh’s Waterfall Ravine in Hout Bay to see the red disas. They aren’t as prolific here but it is a much shorter route making it more accessible for those without great hiking fitness.
Red Disa Hike: Skeleton Gorge – Aqueduct – Nursery Ravine
Start Location: Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Duration: 7 hrs
Difficulty: Moderate- Difficult. The path is steep and can be slippery in places after the rain. The steep uphill means you should have a good level of fitness to do this hike.
Conservation fee: entrance fee for Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.
- Adults: R75
- South African Students (with student card): R40
- Scholars/Learners (6 – 17 years): R20
- Children under 6 years: Free
- BotSoc members (with membership card): Free
- South African Senior Citizens (with ID): Free on Tuesdays except on public holidays
This hike begins in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. You’ll need to make your way to the top of the gardens to the start of the Skeleton Gorge Trail. The trail takes you along a steep trail of ladders and steps sheltered by a forest canopy. The path follows the riverbed and at times you’ll be scaling the rocks of a waterfall (it should be dry in summer so that shouldn’t be a problem).
Once you have reached the top you will come to a map which indicates that the Nursery Ravine path is to your left and the Hely-Hutchison Dam is straight ahead. Continue straight until you reach the dam. You’ll probably be a bit hot and sweaty after your steep climb so take a refreshing dip in the cool dam. Once you’ve rested up and are ready to see some disas take the path to the right of the dam. After a few minutes of walking you will see a stream that flows into the dam. Turn up here and feast your eyes on your first sighting of the red disas.
After you have reveled in the beauty of the magnificent red disas, continue up along this stream until it reaches the path again. This path will take you up a steep section that passes another gorgeous waterway filled with red flowers before taking you to the aqueduct.
You’ll continue around Waaikoppie where the mountain slopes will treat you to many beautiful King Proteas. I always love how our February mountain missions treat us to both the red disa and the King protea.
If you’re lucky you may also spot a few blue disas in this area. These are much smaller and much less prolific than the red disas. However, they are a treat to see as they are so delicate and dainty.
After going around Waaikoppie you will end up back at the map at the top of Skeleton Gorge. From here you can take the descent down Nursery Ravine. It is also very steep and is bound to leave you with some wobbly legs.
Red Disa Hike: Kasteelspoort – Aqueduct – Kasteelspoort
Start Location: Theresa Avenue, Camps Bay
Difficulty: Moderate- Difficult. The path is is easy to follow but very steep and strenuous. The steep uphill means you should have a good level of fitness to do this hike.
Conservation fee: None
This hike begins at the top of the residential area of Camps Bay in Theresa Avenue. If you type ‘Kasteelspoort- starting point’ into Google Maps you will be taken to the right place. You begin your hike along the jeep track which winds its way up to the Pipe Track. After a few minutes of walking up the jeep track it will turn towards the right. A few metres along there is a small path to the left. This will take you straight up to the starting point of the Kasteelspoort trail. If you miss this more hidden path then not to worry as you will soon come across a more clear path that follows a hairpin bend to the left. Once you have arrived at the start of the trail the path is very simple to follow with many steep steps up to the top of the mountain.
Once you have summited Kasteelspoort you will reach a map indicating the various routes. Keep straight and follow the path that then curves to the left of the mountain. You will soon turn right to follow path that leads you past the MCSA and scouts huts. You will then reach the Woodhead Dam. Take the left path which is a concrete road that’ll take you across to the other side of Table Mountain. You will end up at the base of the Hely-Hutchison Dam where you’ll see a path to the left. Follow this and it will eventually lead you to a small stream about halfway along the the dam’s perimeter. This is the beginning of the section of the trail where you’ll see an abundance of red disas.
After you have explore the disas inhabiting this stream head back to the path you were on and walk up the mountain past another gorgeous waterway filled with red flowers before taking you to the aqueduct. You’ll continue around Waaikoppie where there is an abundance of King Proteas.
After going around Waaikoppie you will end up at the map at the top of Skeleton Gorge. From here you can turn right to go towards the Hely-Hutchison dam. You will walk along the path on the right hand side of the dam until you get to the other side. You’ll find yourself back at the concrete road that will take you back across Table Mountain past the huts and to the top of Kasteelspoort. You can continue down the same way you came up.
The red disas on Table Mountain are truly a magnificent sight and it’s something I recommend any nature lover or hiker in Cape Town do at least once. for myself it has become something of an annual event where I plan a different route up to the top and gather a group of friends to share the experience. It’s one of my highlight hikes each year. My hope is that this guide will serve you as a helpful resource in the planning of your next hike to see the red disas!
Red Disa Hike: Myburgh’s Waterfall Ravine
Start Location: End of Farrier’s Way in Tarragona, Hout Bay
Duration: 2 hrs
Difficulty: Easy. The path can be a bit tricky to follow as there seem to be many possible options. All roads do eventually lead to Rome though.
Conservation fee: None
Drive to the end of Farrier’s Way in Tarragona and park along the road. You’ll see a dirt path to the left up the mountain. Walk up here for a few hundred metres and then you’ll reach a coded gate. Either speak to the security guards at the Tarragona Boom on your way up or call 0217097901 to get the current code (it changes regularly). Once you’ve entered the gate follow the path up a few hundred metres through the pine trees. Then when you reach the intersection turn right (left takes you to Suikerbossie). Follow this path for another few hundred metres before turning left up into the ravine. Here is where things all start to look the same with many potential paths. But just keep heading up towards the mountain and you’ll eventually reach the Myburgh Waterfall (after about 30 mins of walking). Have a rest here and enjoy the beauty of the mossy green waterfall. In summer there will just be a dribble but in winter this waterfall is a cascading beauty!
After your rest head back to the path. Then head back up the mountain. This part is a bit steep but you’ll just need to do a bit of rock scrambling before the path evens out again. Walk another 10 minutes before you’ll arrive at a rocky river bed section (you would have passed through a crack in the rocks to get here). Cross the rocky river bed to the right hand side and head up the path to a mossy, ferny area. This is where the disas should be. The display wasn’t as prolific here as what one can see on the top of Table Mountain. However, it is a relatively easy and short hike to get here making it much more attainable for more people. You can walk back down the way you came.
For more exciting and adventurous hikes in and around Cape Town why not check out my recent posts on Suther Peak, Tranquility Cracks, Cecilia Waterfall, Devil’s Peak, Judas Peak, Kloof Corner or my post on the Top 10 Hikes in Cape Town. Or if you’re looking for something a little further a field why not check out the Panorama Hike in Jonkershoek or Crystal Pools Hike.