Tokai’s living tree museum

Saturday morning. Tokai Plantation’s parking lot.

Mountain bikers and hikers are gearing up or gearing down and I am afraid that Cape Town’s early risers are going to spoil my chance of a peaceful breakfast and a walk through the arboretum – a tree museum of sorts.

Yet the moment you enter, bicycles, horses and walkers disperse almost instantly. Apparently Constantiaberg’s tree plantation is big enough for all of us. Founded in 1885 by Joseph Storr Lister, the Tokai Arboretum is a collection of living trees originating from many different countries with roughly the same climate. They were planted here to distinguish which would be suitable for commercial forestry in South Africa.

It might not seem interesting initially, but once you take a break from your activities and look up, you’ll realise there are 274 different species responsible for all the shades and shapes that form the canopy overhead.

Indeed, this patch of earth contains more than 1500 trees – and, 130 years later, they are still standing and maintained by Sanparks. Each is numbered and a booklet with their names and origin is available at the tearoom.

Expect to meet trees from China, the Mediterranean, North America and Australia. See how some have outgrown others and marvel at how peacefully they stand side by side.

The circular, shady footpath is suitable for all levels of fitness, but wear comfortable shoes as the roots, pine needles and acorns on the ground have free rein.

You can also hike up to Elephant’s Eye in the Silvermine Nature Reserve from here (no permit needed).

Visit during mushroom season and take your pick of the 15 different fungus species that grow here. Knowing which ones are edible is your own responsibility.

Lister’s tearoom is definitely worth a visit, especially considering two breakfasts, coffee and tip amounted to only R125. The mugs are big and the bacon crispy.

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