Thursday, January 7, 2016

From Nikes to Hikes - Part 3 - Day Hikes in Gauteng - Summer 2016

Year two in South Africa begins and this time I’m not only hiking, I’m actually in charge of the French community’s Hiking trips this year. 

The fact that I’m not French--- that hiking is a…well…..fairly new skill I’ve just added to my Expat profile --- that I’m actually quite unsure on my feet and get what every French lady has explained to me as the VERTIGE whenever I’m edging a cliff path… all of this… has apparently equipped me to lead the group :D

We are a team a four actually, so I’m not the hero-hiker I’m selling myself as here and my co-hikers are experts at it. So why did I undertake the responsibility? Well:

-       I love it
-       I get to do each hike TWICE
-       I engage mild hikers like me who also have to overcome a few phobias here and there to enjoy South African landscapes,, If I can do it, they feel like they sure can! Not very flattering for my skills, but hey, it’s great for social bondages… MISERY DOES LIKE COMPANY!
-       I get to explore beyond the footprints on well marked hiking trails and I just love it!

So far I’ve compiled the first 9 hikes to start with from last year

I’ve left a few really good ones out and I’ll start with them here along with some new.

Here are 8 Hikes to Launch 2016 with …

1- Mountain Sanctuary

Length: varies, maps available online and at site
Activities: Animals, Rock pools and gorges
Child friendly: Definitely
Reservation: on Website
Accommodation: several options, a great camping spot
GPS: 25° 50'.09.42" S (25° 50' 10" S)
27° 28'.33.40" E (027° 28' 33" E)

Was probably one of the most scenic? Be careful with early morning hikes in June in the sanctuary, it can be freeeeeeezinnnnng and I was totally caught unaware!

Did I mention that I also slipped and fell into icy algae -filled water? Still I’d definitely do it again and bring the kids along with sandals and swim suits on hotter days.

2- Shelter Rock

Length: 8 kms to the top (elevation 400 meters)
Activities: Geology and 1000+ year-old vegetation, abseiling, kloofing, rock climbing … .
Child friendly: Yes but long
Reservation: on Website, they allow a limited number of hikers per day
Accommodation: limited through base camp reservations
GPS: 25°50'09.7"S 27°39'09.6"E

This one we did to celebrate a double birthday and it was a fantastic day hike in the Magaliesburg region.. Our picnic was cut short by a “controlled” wild fire that engulfed us and didn’t look that controlled to us!  But we still managed it to the top and we managed the picnic with a few nervous side-glances and the progress of the bush fire! French champagne and sun-melted chees did it’s trick to dull our senses and we lingered enough to call the day a success.

The Hike is steep and I believe that, had the kids not been among friends, they would have started whining half way thru.. But we planned it well and they were happy! We were ecstatic!

Technically the hike is easy, no cliff hanging and no edge hugging. You don’t get that intimate here with the mountain like it’s next-door neighbor Rustig with it’s wood ladders and some short but nauseating edge hugs!

They called it Shelter Rock.. we totally used it as "climbing rock" and a "chill in' rock" and that's when I learnt that chill in' in french is LEZARDER.. as in lay still like a lazy lizard :D 

3- Faerie Glen

Length: varies, maps available
Activities: Bird Watching and City views
Child friendly: Yes
Reservation: No need, you pay 8 Rand at entrance. Unless you request a guided tour in advance
Accommodation: No
GPS: 'S25 46 481 E028 17 484

This is a city/urban hike in Pretoria, 40 minutes away and quite small. Why do I suggest it??? Because in Jacaranda season, it offers a spectacular bird-eye-view on the purple city.  

But since Jacaranda season is highly unpredictable and really really short.. Timing is your greatest foe!

4- Sugar Bush

Length: 8 kms, map online
Activities: Proteas in Bloom
Child friendly: Yes
Reservation: Through Jacana 0861Jacana (0861 522262)
Accommodation: No

Another very close by day hike that doesn’t offer much unless the Proteas (Sugar Bush) is in full bloom.  Not my favorite and the views are good but nothing like the top of the Magaliesburg.  It’s failry easy though and for that and the blooming proteas, it’s worth a visit!

5- Uittkyk

Length: 9 +_ kms
Activities: View on Hartsbeersport Dam
Child friendly: A bit too steep and little shade
Reservation: Through Jacana 0861Jacana (0861 522262) - +27(0)127342978  or
Accommodation: No clue
GPS: S25 42.333 E27 50.714
I remember the warning before the hike: It’s steep and it keeps going up and up relentlessly! Well it was said in French and it sounded more challenging :0

True to its reputation,  Uitkyk isn’t just a very difficult hike to pronounce! It’s a tough walk with very little shelter and a couple of edge hugs along the summit. But It was doable, maybe because by May I had gone up a number of the Magaliesberg summits and I was getting used to the altitude and narrow paths.

But the view on the Dam was just stunning, the best if I compare to the other Dam facing hikes.

I wouldn’t say it’s not child friendly because it’s totally doable if: your child is either passionate about uphill hiking, or resistant to heat strokes or well entertained with friends.

6- Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens

Length: 2.5 kms +-
Activities: Walks, picnic, Eagle’s nest restaurant
Child friendly: Very much so
Reservation: Pay at entrance
Accommodation: No
GPS: 27°50'40.7"E 26°05'13.8"S   

The Hike is short and starts behind the beautiful waterfall, so I should be forgiven for dragging the kids along a ridiculously steep hike without enough water or sunscreen. After all, I though we’d be done with 2 kms in less than half an hour.

First, we never saw the waterfalls up close because the hike deviates away from the action. Second, it’s a continuous climb to the top of the ridge and although they say it’s interpretive, it’s not really designed to lure the kids in!

The gardens themselves are impressive and the waterfall picnic area is beautiful. I’d go again with a picnic basket in tow but I doubt I’d do the hike again!

7- Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve

Length: Variable, many options. We did a long multi trail 10 kms hike
Activities: Hiking.. the river looks really unappetizing, so NO drinking or swimming, some animals in sight: Zebras, kudus…
Child friendly: Very much so
Reservation: None, free entrance for a change J
Accommodation: No
GPS: S26 16.961 E28 00.574 (Silent Pool entrance) .. S26 18.207 E28 00.663 (Recreation Center entrance in Kibler Park)

The reserve is known to be the largest nature reserve in Johannesburg.. Yes IN Johannesburg and that’s just one of many positive vibes you’ll get out of this place.

It’s near, a mere 45-minute drive away from Sandton against the traffic the flow. Easy parking and free sunrise to sundown entrance makes it all the more accessible.

There is something to be said about a nature reserve with a beautifully detailed website. It usually reflects how well maintained and well marked the trails are and this reserve stays true to both.

There are several entrances to the reserve and we used the recommended “Silent Pool” one. No clue where the pool is or why it’s silent!

We also did a fantastic trail mix and walked a good 10 kms for about three hours and it was just great. There is a steep incline the minute you cross the river to start the Red trail but it’s short and it leads to a nice lookout point over the Jo’burg landscape. We then walked for a while over the plateau and enjoyed the views all along. Later we descended and crossed the river to go back on the blue trail, a flat riverside finale that merited a huge iced coffee afterwards.

It’s important to load up on WATER on this hike, because there are no vendors and the river looks quite polluted to me.


Length: 8 kms +
Activities: Hiking, Swimming at the foot of a waterfall
Child friendly: Very much so
Reservation: YES, through Jacana Travel
Accommodation: Yes
GPS: S25.5485 E28.5675 (the last 5 kms are on a dirt road)

This is one of Gauteng’s best and most popular hikes. A must do in my opinion.

It’s not far from Jo’burg, very close to Cullinan, noth of Pretoria. It’s not as steep as I thought, but there is very little shade along the way so stock up on those icy cold water bottles.

Right before you reach the waterfall, you find yourself trespassing on a little timeshare resort, where in our case, a retiree couple was happily lounging till a bunch of loud hikers… Yes that’s us.. barged in and flooded their peaceful moment with much unappreciated chaos …

The good news is.. You can stock up from the bar on premises.. The bad news is.. You can’t really dip into the pool and pretend that Oops, you slipped!!!!!!

There is a small double toilet hut right at the entrance of the cascade and if you prefer to change into your swim suit – because it’s simply too hot and stuffy to walk all the way with all this latex melting into your skin – there is your private vestiaires in the bush.

We went in drought season so the waterfall was more of a strong drizzle but the swim was seriously good! I wouldn’t drink that water, I found the greenish tinge unappetizing but to swim, it was just perfect.

If you have soft sole swim shoes, bring them on. I didn’t and it wasn’t that bad, but it helps to walk on those slippery rocks for the few meters till you access deep waters.
Photo credit: Fabienne Perreux

On the bucket list for the first half of 2016 are:
-       Hennops
-       Silver lakes
-       Phalandingwe
-       And the infamous Otter Trail
Stay tuned and happy New year!

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