Graham Leslie McCallum

The tree of happiness flowers and fruits most abundantly for the creative man

Tiger’s Kloof / Tiers Kloof

Growing in my garden is a plant that I call my ‘Tiger’s Kloof Plakkie’. I gathered the original plant as a teenager on a visit to Tiger’s Kloof in 1982 – a dramatic gorge in the Newcastle District, Natal. Strangely, I found the flowering succulent growing and rooted-in wads of organic material atop the huge rocks at the bottom of the gorge. Nipping a small side shoot off the parent plant, I slipped it into my shirt pocket and brought it home where I planted it in a pot. The slip quickly rooted itself, thrived, seeded new generations, regenerated itself from cuttings, dispersed itself among my family and friends and traveled to Durban where I now live.

The official name for this plant is Kalanchoe rotundifolia. Its domestic name is the Common Kalanchoe. The succulent grows widely-dispersed across the face of South Africa. A plant of modest appearance, with rounded to oblong fleshy leaves of a jade-green-blue colour, and producing small flowers that are carried in clusters atop stalks.



This week – on seeing my ‘plakkies’ flowering prettily in shades of orange and red, I was reminded of Tiger’s Kloof, that awe-inspiring fissure, as well as my father who passed-away 8 months ago.

The gorge, is also known by it’s Afrikaans name ‘Tiers Kloof’ (Tiger’s Gorge). Of course – there are no tigers in South Africa, but there are lions, leopards and cheetahs. The early Dutch Settlers used the word ‘tier’ for any large wild cat, only differentiating years later with – (leeu (Leeuw) lion)/ (luiperd (Luipaard ) leopard)/ (jagluiperd (jachtluipaard) cheetah).

And this lexicological trek brings us to Sir Henry Rider Haggard – who owned the farm ‘Rooi Point (Rooipoint/ Rooipunt) and where Tiger’s Kloof is located. The famous author of adventure novels lived here and wrote of the gorge in his semi-autobiographical novel ‘Jess’ published in 1887. In his novel he calls the chasm ‘Lion’s Kloof’ and later in the novel as ‘Leeuwen Kloof’ (Dutch for lion). I do not believe that Haggard had the name incorrect, he had merely changed it in his novel as he had the name of the farm from ‘Rooi Point’ to ‘Mooifontein’. Of interest, in his novel, Haggard writes that the chasm got its name when a party of Boers had cornered three lions in the kloof and shot them. I write of the earlier wildlife of the Newcastle District on my posting -

Not many Natalians, nor residents of the town of Newcastle, know of Tiger’s Kloof. It lies hidden and isolated atop the Rooi Point ridge, a deep and remarkable fissure. It is not visible from the N11 provincial road, nor from the base of the ridge. One has to know of its exact location to find it; or one would have to stumble upon it. And no one would want to do the latter – for if they did – they would be cast into that shaded abyss to a certain death.

My father had suggested that my younger brother Clive and myself go on a hike to view the kloof. We set-off awfully excited in the morning from the Shaw’s farm. Climbing the ridge we headed in a southerly direction, across the veldt of scrubby bushes, wind-blown grass and weathered stone. My father who knew the location of the gorge led us to the lower entry point. We entered this hidden world with wonder and wide-eyed amazement – scrambling alongside a small rock strewn stream, threading our way between the bushes and trees, deeper into the mysterious rift.

Tiger's Kloof, Tier's Kloof, Newcastle, Natal

(above) An old postcard of the entrance to Tiger’s Kloof

There are many awe-inspiring kloofs in Southern Africa, most bigger, deeper, perhaps more impressive – so what then is memorial or word-worthy about Tiger’s Kloof? … It is that a deep ravine is so unexpected in a locale of relatively modest scenery. Also, that one has to literally happen upon it to know that it exists. Further to this (and clearly identified by Haggard in his novel ‘Jess’) is one’s wonderment that a modest stream (lets call it a rill) could trowel-out of the earth, so deep a fissure, and do it ever-so gently (like a game of Jenga) as to leave boulders of immense size balancing ever so finely one atop another in tall spires. And then, perhaps more than its geology – it is a place of deep mystery. I challenge anyone who enters not to imagine their movements been watched closely by the tawny eyes of a leopard from a shaded and cool recess. It is a truth that Tiger’s Kloof leaves a lasting impression on mind and memory. I write this a full 33 years after this once-off visit.

Without a good present-day photograph to illustrate Tiger’s Kloof – I shall refrain from a description, and leave it to that word-smith Sir Henry Rider Haggard to paint the picture…

“This chasm or gorge was between a quarter and half a mile long, about six hundred feet in width, and a hundred and fifty to a hundred and eighty feet deep. Evidently it owed its origin to the action of running water, for at its head, just to the right of where John Niel stood, a little stream welling from hidden springs in the flat mountain-top trickled from stratum to stratum, forming a series of crystal pools and tiny waterfalls, till at last it reached the bottom of the mighty gorge, and pursued its way through it to the plains beyond, half-hidden by the umbrella-topped mimosa and other thorns that were scattered about. Without doubt this little stream was the parent of the ravine it trickled down and through, but, wondered John Niel, how many centuries of patient, never-ceasing flow must have been necessary to the vast result before him? First centuries of saturation of the soil piled on and between the bed rocks that lay beneath it and jutted up through it, then centuries of floods caused by rain and perhaps by melting snows, to carry away the loosened mould; then centuries upon centuries more of flowing and of rainfall to wash the debris clean and complete the colossal work.
I say the rocks that jutted up through the soil, for the kloof was not clean cut. All along its sides, and here and there in its arena, stood mighty columns or fingers of rock, not solid indeed, but formed by huge boulders piled mason fashion one upon another, as though the Titans of some dead age had employed themselves in building them up, overcoming their tendency to fall by the mere crushing weight above, that kept them steady even when the wild breath of the storms came howling down the gorge and tried its strength against them. About a hundred paces from the near end of the chasm, some ninety or more feet in height, rose the most remarkable of these giant pillars, to which the remains at Stonehenge are but as toys. It was formed of seven huge boulders, the largest, that at the bottom, about the size of a moderate cottage, and the smallest, that at the top, perhaps some eight or ten feet in diameter. These boulders were rounded like a cricket-ball—evidently through the action of water—and yet the hand of Nature had contrived to balance them, each one smaller than that beneath, the one upon the other, and to keep them so. But this was not always the case. For instance, a very similar mass which once stood on the near side of the perfect pillar had fallen, all except its two foundation stones, and the rocks that formed it lay scattered about like monstrous petrified cannon-balls. One of these had split in two, and seated on it, looking very small and far off at the bottom of that vast gulf, John discovered Jess Croft, apparently engaged in sketching.
He dismounted from his shooting pony, and looking about him perceived that it was possible to descend by following the course of the stream and clambering down the natural steps it had cut in its rocky bed. Throwing the reins over the pony’s head, and leaving him with the dog Pontac to stand and stare about him as South African shooting ponies are accustomed to do, he laid down his gun and game and proceeded to descend, pausing every now and again to admire the wild beauty of the scene and examine the hundred varieties of moss and ferns, the last mostly of the maiden-hair (Capillus Veneris) genus, that clothed every cranny and every rock where they could find foothold and win refreshment from the water or the spray of the cascades. As he drew near the bottom of the gorge he saw that on the borders of the stream, wherever the soil was moist, grew thousands upon thousands of white arums, “pig lilies” as they call them in Africa, which were now in full bloom. He had noticed these lilies from above, but thence, owing to the distance, they seemed so small that he took them for everlastings or anemones. John could not see Jess now, for she was hidden by a bush that grows on the banks of the streams in South Africa in low-lying land, and which at certain seasons of the year is completely covered with masses of the most gorgeous scarlet bloom. His footsteps fell very softly on the moss and flowers, and when he passed round the glorious-looking bush it was evident that she had not heard him, for she was asleep. Her hat was off, but the bush shaded her, and her head had fallen forward over her sketching block and rested upon her hand. A ray of light that came through the bush played over her curling brown hair, and threw warm shadows on her white face and the whiter wrist and hand by which it was supported.” ‘Jess’

And so it was – that Haggard, in writing of Tiger’s Kloof so descriptively, stuck a bright red pin in the topographical map of Natal and tagged its position for posterity.

It is evident that at the turn of the century, travelers to Newcastle who had read the book ‘Jess’ would take excursions to Tiger’s Kloof to acquaint themselves with the crevasse.
The photograph below was taken by a soldier in the Australian Commonwealth Horse, who labelled the photograph – “Where Jess died”. He and his pals had ridden south from Fort Amiel where their contingent was stationed, to the farm ‘Rooi Point’ to visit ‘Leeuwen Kloof’ / ‘ Tiger’s Kloof’.

Tigers Kloof, Newcastle District, Australian Commonwealth Horse, 1902

One day, I trust my path leads me back to Tiger’s Kloof. This time with my camera and a sketchpad. Perhaps the kalanchoes will be flowering again.

This posting – In memoriam to my father – George Edward McCallum. Born 29 November 1936. Died 30 September 2014.


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