Amatola Trail – South Africa’s Toughest Hike – Revisited Updated on 03 July 2019 Belinda and I hiked the 6 day Amatola Trail between 17 – 22 October 2016 and again between 25 – 30 April 2019. In October 2016, we were…
Tygerberg Nature Reserve – Hiking Trails
Blog Post Updated on 21 July 2018
If you had to ask most Capetonians about a nature reserve on the top of Tygerberg hills, I can guarantee you that you will probably get a blank stare in return. And then when you explain where it is located, the response will usually be something along the lines of “There’s a nature reserve up there?” Perhaps the best place to hide something so large is in plain sight. On top of a hill!
This is another one of those hikes that I had heard so much about, but for many reasons was never able to do. There are quite a few websites with plenty of information about the nature reserve. There are 13 hiking trails on the reserve, which includes a wheel chair friendly trail.
- Caracal (800 m)
- Duiker (1 600 m)
- Golden Mole (3 600 m )
- Grey Rhebok (1 360 m)
- Honey Badger (450 m)
- Induli (990 m)
- Peregrine (610 m)
- Striped Weasel (720 m)
- Tortoise (1 280 m)
- Ukhetshe (3 160 m)
- Watsonia (2 660 m)
- Wheel Chair (480 m)
- Wild Olive (210 m
How to get there
There are road signs indicating the way to the reserve. Here are some directions to the entrance gate of the nature reserve.
Take the M16 Jip De Jager turnoff from the N1 highway and travel in the direction of Durbanville. Turn left into Kommissaris Street and then left into Rheede, followed by a right into Van De Graaf and a right into Plettenberg Road. Then turn left into Trichardt and left into Batavia Street followed by a right into Totius Road which leads you to the parking lot and entrance of the Tygerberg Nature Reserve.
Opening Times and contact information
The opening times of the Tygerberg Nature Reserve are:
Monday to Friday 07:30 – 18:00
Saturdays & Sundays 07:30 – 19:00
The entrance fee (June 2017) for a adult is R15 and for children is R8. Kids under the age of 3 are not charged an entrance fee.
The office number is (021) 444 8971
Emergency / After Hours number (021) 957 4700
The Speedy Review
The Tygerberg Nature Reserve offers a safe space for families to enjoy a wide variety of easy to moderate hiking trails. It is centrally located for those living in the northern suburbs of Cape Town and it is ideal if you want to enjoy a 2 hour break from the office. All of the trails are child friendly and can be joined together to create a longer hiking experience in the reserve. There is an abundance of bird life, but windy days seem to chase the birds into hiding. A warm and wind free day will guarantee you lots of bird sightings. This is truly a special place in Cape Town and we are convinced it is not being utilised to its full potential by residents and visitors alike. Do yourself a favour and check it out.
Nina rated this trail 0/5 paw prints, because there are no dogs allowed in the Tygerberg Nature Reserve and she felt quite left out.
The Nitty Gritty
On Saturday 24 June 2017, I finally got the chance to visit the Tygerberg Nature Reserve with my hiking shoes on. I was joined by a work colleague who later joined the SAPSTAP Hiking Club. Subsequent to writing this blog, we have visited this reserve on a number of occasions and each time we manage to see something we have never seen before.
We started off at 07h52, just the two of us. My wife, Belinda, was at work.
A few of the trails start right at the Ranger’s building located at the Totius Road gate. The GPS coordinates are as follows:
S 33⁰ 52.665′ E 018⁰ 35.984′
Elevation: 318 m
We started off on a tar road that headed up the hill. A lot of the trails seem to start off from the tar road itself. Our timing was spot on because as we headed up the hill the sun was rising behind us. At the top of the tar road there was a sign board that indicated the various trails and the picnic area to the right.
We turned right here and then immediately on our left there was a picnic area with a viewing site. The view here of Cape Town and Table Mountain is unique. Although I am very impressed with my new camera, it simply could not do the view justice. I took a photo, but I have not included it here. There are better photos taken later on in the hike that I did include in this post.
What I was able to capture was one of a group of birds relaxing in a bush just off the tar road. They all seemed totally unfazed by the human presence in the reserve.
After spending some time at the viewing site, we headed back to the tar road and retraced our steps to the signpost and headed off in the direction of the Golden Mole trail. We walked past the wheel chair trail and turned right on to the Ukhetshe hiking trail.
At 08h10, we started on the Ukhetshe trail which descended quite quickly. The trail zigzagged its way down to a contour path below. The path itself was quite wide and consisted of loose stones which can easily lead to a fall.
One thing that I did realise that was different from say a hike on Table Mountain was that you were still very much aware of the fact that you were hiking in the middle of a built up area. There was quite a bit of road noise that you could hear while you walk which was not surprising due to the close proximity to the N1 highway.
The contour path was relatively flat, but there were a few short steep climbs that we needed to negotiate. There were large moss tracts on the path itself that were very slippery. It’s probably a good idea to walk on the gravel sections of the path that are moss free to avoid any chance of slipping and falling.
At about 08h30, the contour path headed up a steep incline [1.98 km]. After another a few minutes, we had covered a distance of 2.09 km with a moving time of 30 minutes. At about 08h45, we reached the signpost for the Induli trail [2.66 km] with a moving time of 38 minutes. The elevation at that point was 213 m. We continued on straight and the trail immediately went down hill again.
At about 08h50, we reached the bottom of the hill and turned right and followed the signpost for the Ukhetshe trail. The trail then headed up a steep uphill [2.91 km]. Elevation of 194 m. At about 08h55, we crossed a small wooden bridge [3.01 km]. The going on the other side of the bridge was quite slippery with lots of moss patches on the trail.
At about 09h20, we reached the cement jeep track. The signpost advertised that we were joining the Honey Badger trail. The cement jeep track morphs later into a gravel jeep track.
We kept to the right as there were a few trails and paths leading off to the left. There I managed to get a half decent photo of the city and Table mountain in the distance.
At about 09h35, the gravel jeep track turned to the right and the Grey Rhebok hiking trail headed off to the left.
We kept right and remained on the jeep track headed up Tygerberg hill. On our right hand side, we passed quite a large picnic area where members of a local Church congregation were having a service. There was a well known city inhabitant sitting in a tree looking on and waiting for an opportunity to contribute to the hymns portion of the service. We walked passed the picnic site and reached another cross road at 09h40 indicating that we were now on the Watsonia trail. The distance covered to that point was 5.08 km with an elevation of 323 m.
The trail at that point had been altered and veered off to the left of the original trail, due to some sort of trail maintenance. That was where we came across a lone bontebok, lying down in the brush. A little bit of patience and a slow approach to the animal paid off with some magnificent photos.
We were a little unsure about whether this was a bontebok or a blesbok. A quick Google search later revealed a book on antelope species of the area. The Field Guide to Mammals of Southern Africa written by Chris & Tilde Stuart has the following comparison table.
|Body colour||Rich, dark brown with purple gloss, particularly rams, darker on sides and upper limbs||Reddish-brown, no gloss|
|Face||White blaze usually unbroken but narrows between the eyes||White blaze usually broken by brown band between eyes|
|Buttocks||Always white||Usually pale but rarely white|
|Limbs||Lower part usually white||Rarely as white as in Bontebok|
|Horns||Usually black on upper ringed surface||Usually straw-coloured on upper ringed surface|
You can find out more information about this book here.
Not too far from the bontebok, we came across a pair of rock kestrels sitting on an overhead line. They are the most common of the small falcons found in Southern Africa. It is also called the South African kestrel.
We continued up the hill and arrived at the top of the hill at the Sentech tower at about 10h10 [6.07 km]. The moving time was about 01h30m and the elevation there was 404 m.
Also located on the top of the hill was a single cannon. According to the information board this cannon was part of a network of cannons used by the Dutch as a signalling system.
The info board says the following:
“This 12-pounder Dutch gun, cast in 1723 at Finspang, Sweden, is the original cannon which was placed on the Tygerberg hill by the Dutch authorities of the time. It was one of a chain of cannons stretching from the north as far as Citrusdal all the way to the east as far as Swellendam. The cannons were spaced approximately 25 kilometers apart and were fired consecutively as a signal to call the burghers to arms to defend the settlement at the Cape. The system was introduced in 1734 with about 20 guns. As the colony spread north- and westwards, the system was tested and increased to more than 50 guns in 1758/9. The system was only used four times for military purposes. Twice in 1781 when an English fleet entered Saldahna Bay; once in June 1795 before the Cape was temporarily taken by England; and a last time in January 1806 before the Battle of Blaauwberg. Thereafter the system was not used again.”
At 10h15, we walked down the other side of the hill on a tar road and not too far down the hill, turned left on to the Tortoise trail.
This trail winds down gently in a zig zag pattern to the entrance gate. The path itself was quite slippery so mind your step there. This section of the trail was not well signposted. Keep left when coming down on this path. This part of the trail seemed to boast the most bird life with little swarms of birds flying around in constant motion. You have to be ready with the camera if want to get a good photo.
There were also birds of a different feather flying over head and lining up with a runway at Cape Town International airport.
We reached the entrance gate again at 10h45. The path ended at the trail signpost.
Trail & Distance Markings
There were no trail markings on this hike, but the various trails are signposted. There were no distance markers on any of these trails.
The route we walked had a total walking distance of 7.25 km. This consisted of a combination of different hiking trails. We walked a circular type route.
The hiking stats for this hiking route were:
|Trip Odometer||7.25 km|
|Moving Average||4.0 km/h|
|Overall Average||2.5 km/h|
|Max Speed||12.7 km/h|
|Elevation||194 m – 404 m|
I have attached a GPS trip log for the hike, including a side elevation profile.
This was a relatively easy and enjoyable hike. Just remember that if you are going to walk this hike in the winter months, you will need to dress warmly as most of this trail is in shadow and freezing cold. Also keep in mind that if it has rained recently the trail gets very slippery. It is slippery without being wet too. It is unfortunate, but because it is a nature reserve no dogs are allowed. I know that Nina would have had so much fun hiking with us on this route.
There are however rather more steep sections of the reserve, like for example the Striped Weasel Trail that can be used for hill training purposes. Go and explore the reserve and you can come up with your own unique route that can help you to prepare for any tough multi day hike, including the Amatola!
India Venster – A Window over the Mother City
Post Updated on 09 July 2018
The word ‘venster’ is the translated Afrikaans word for ‘window’. This trail is called India Venster apparently because the ravine in which it is located resembles the geographical map of India. Another suggestion for the name is the shape of the rock formation which creates a view site (‘window’) over the city below. We will leave you to decide which you think is more accurate.
How to get there
The start of the India Venster trail is situated along Tafelberg Road, just to the right of the lower cable station. You will see some stone steps on the right hand side of the building. You can park anywhere along Tafelberg road, but be sure to get there early as the parking spots fill up quickly.
Here are the GPS co-ordinates for the start of the trail: S 33⁰ 56.857′ E 018⁰ 24.122′
The Speedy Review [tl;dr]
Whenever India Venster is mentioned in passing amongst fellow hikers, there is always someone with a story to tell. Generally they revolve around danger, high cliffs, narrow ledges, slippery terrain and panoramic views. It really is a beautiful route, and is one of the most direct routes up the mountain. Be prepared for areas of scrambling, using staples and chains to pull yourself up some rocky ledges. The route is slightly more challenging for people with shorter legs, but generally, if you are relatively fit, you will not find this trail too difficult.
It starts at an elevation of 341m, with a final altitude of 1050m, an ascent of a little over 700m over the 5.93 km full trail distance.
Although we descended the mountain along Platteklip Gorge, there are many other routes down to Tafelberg Road which you may prefer. Taking the Cable Car down is also an option, however over summer time, it tends to get very busy and is also fairly pricey for locals. Make sure, no matter which route you pick to descend, that you choose a route that is safe and not too difficult. We would advise against hiking back down India Venster, as it is advertised as a dangerous route, in reverse.
We would suggest parking a car at the base of Platteklip Gorge or whichever route you choose, to save you the 2km+ extra walk back to the start at the lower cable station (you can thank us later).
Nina rated this trail 0/5 paw prints, as she did not accompany us on this trail. Although dogs are allowed in the Table Mountain National Park, it is not advisable to take your dog up the India Venster for your own safety and that of your dog.
The Nitty Gritty
We hiked this trail twice before compiling this blog post. The first time was on 08 July 2017 and the second on 18 February 2018. The photos included in this post are from both of these hikes, but the route described in this post relates only to the first occasion. We hiked this route again on 08 July 2018. There is a photo album at the end of this post with photos we took in perfect hiking weather!
On Saturday 08 July 2017, Belinda and I joined a small hiking party who decided to hike the India Venster trail. One of our hiking party, my uncle, had done the route a few times before, many years ago. It would be the first time that Belinda and I had done the route. Unfortunately, as there was a element of ‘scrambling’ involved in the hike, we decided to leave Nina at home.
Now what does ‘scrambling’ mean anyway. I would normally have associated the word with riding a scrambler motorbike.
A quick check online provided a couple of more relevant explanations:
Scrambling is simply climbing an easy rock face or mountain without a rope or other technical climbing gear. Scrambling lies between hiking and technical rock climbing. Perhaps the best way to differentiate it from hiking is that you use your hands for balance and pulling yourself up rocks when you scramble.
Another website puts scrambling into its proper context:
|1||Walk||A walk, with no use of hands. There might be steep sections|
|2||Scramble||Easy rock scrambling requiring use of hands: a person with little experience will be able to cope.|
|3||Climb||Difficult rock scrambling requiring extensive use of hands. Possibility of other obstacles such as deep rivers; narrow ledges; high ladders which are potentially dangerous, especially under adverse climatic conditions.|
|4||Rock Climb||A technical climb – Only for experienced rock climbers|
The Weather Conditions
I don’t normally go into detail with the weather conditions in a hiking blog, but in this case, the weather conditions on 08 July 2017 defined the hike itself. When we arrived at the Table Mountain Aerial Cable Way Station in the morning at around 07h45, the summit was covered in a thick layer of fog. The temperature was about 13⁰ C with an expected maximum of 18⁰ C. We also noticed while en route to Table Mountain that there was a relatively strong breeze blowing, but on stopping in Tafelberg Road, we could see that the cable car was operating as normal. The cable car does not run if the prevailing wind conditions are strong enough to put passengers’ safety at risk. There was no rain forecast for the day, but rain was expected to fall during the evening.
Interestingly, a local guide came over to us and asked us what trail we would be hiking. On hearing that we were doing India Venster, he wanted to know what we thought of the weather. That should have been our first clue that we should have been paying closer attention to the weather. I told him what I knew of the weather forecast and that we were expecting the fog conditions to clear later that morning. He nodded his head and looked up at the mountain, thanked us and left. A second clue…
We started hiking at 08h13. There were four of us in the hiking party. Belinda, my work colleague, my uncle and myself.
At 08h29, we crossed over the contour path, where there was a sign indicating that the India Venster trail continued straight on. We stood and rested there a while and waited for another group who had reached that point already to move on. We had covered a distance of 455 m with a moving time of 12 minutes.
If you were to turn right on to the contour path, the trail would take you to Kloof Corner and spectacular views of Camps Bay. On any other day that is. The India Venster route is marked by traditional yellow shoe prints and the beginning section of this trail was well marked.
Despite the well marked trail, someone still felt it necessary to take a black koki pen and mark certain rocks with directional arrows showing the way. What would motivate someone to do that? It made absolutely no sense to me. I would later be forced to change my opinion of this amateur rock artist as you will read later on.
At 08h33, we continued on the trail directly behind the signboard. As we walked up along the path, the aerial cable cars passed silently above us. The car heading up from the lower cable station was clearly visible.
The cable car coming from the top of Table Mountain, on the other hand, was cocooned in thick mist.
At 08h48, we had a glimpse off to the left of the rock formation that gave the trail its name, maybe. There was a narrow trail that led off the main trail, in the direction of the India Venster. The distance covered to that point was 689 m with an elevation of 606 m. The moving time was 22 minutes.
The India Venster is located at the following GPS coordinates:
S 33⁰ 57.122′ E 018⁰ 24.120′
Elevation: 615 m
We re-joined the main trail again shortly thereafter and headed up the mountain. At this point in the hike, we should have had some spectacular views of the city below us. It was not going to be that kind of hike for us. What we were forced to do was look at what was right in front of us.
At about 09h23, after walking about 1.25km, we reached the section of the trail where we began to climb quite steeply. The elevation was 747 m. The total altitude gain from the start of the hike was 432 m. The total moving time was 41 minutes. The total time hiked to this point was 01h10.
At the 1.5km mark, we reached another reasonably challenging section of the trail involving some scrambling. [Elevation of 790 m. The total altitude gain was 488 m].
At 09h48, we reached the climbing section of the India Venster trail where staples had been embedded into the rock to assist the hiker to climb the rock face more safely. There was a warning sign on the wall that made it clear that whatever you were about to do, you were doing it at your own risk. The distance covered to that point was 1.65 km with an elevation of 832 m. Our moving time was 52 minutes with a total hiking time of 01h35.
A quick glance around us confirmed that we were still shut off from the rest of the world by a wall of water vapour. Belinda remarked that this made it a little easier to climb up the rock face because she couldn’t see how far up the mountain she was.
We waited at this point for a faster group to climb ahead of us and then we tentatively negotiated our way up the rock face. The conditions were not great with a cold wind starting to gust around us and the rock surface was wet and greasy from the fog hanging over us.
I was the last person to ascend that section and took the opportunity to take photos of the beautiful plant life all around us.
This section started with two staples near the bottom of the rock face with a short section of chain to pull yourself up with on to a ledge. These were followed by another two staples and a short section of chain to pull yourself up on to a second ledge. As long as you give yourself enough time to look around, you will find hand holds and places to put your feet to scale up this rock wall. I really enjoyed this part of the hike, even though the prevailing conditions were not ideal.
Remember to give those members in your party who struggle with heights enough space to do it on their own. Only grab on to them or take their hands if they ask you to. You may think that you are helping them by grabbing on to them to pull them up, but this can often lead to more anxiety and panic as they feel themselves losing control of the situation. You do need a certain amount of upper body strength to get through this section of the trail.
After making it to the top of this climbing section, we could not see where the path led so we chose to move to the right and around the mountain. My uncle, who was leading the party at that stage, immediately warned us that there was a sheer drop to our right and that we must be careful.
We discovered that by going right we had wandered off the trail and had ended up close to the edge of a steep ravine. Someone from another hiking group behind us remarked that the fog looked a big piece of soft, fluffy cotton wool. No one seemed willing to see if there would be a soft landing waiting for them just over the edge.
We turned around and headed back to the staples section and took the path to the left and climbed up through a narrow channel in the rock.
The visibility at this point was down to about 80 meters and my hair was soaking wet from the thick fog and water dripping on me from the rocks above.
In these poor conditions, we all walked past the rock with a rather large arrow scratched into the rock pointing left. Something to remember when you get to the top of this rock formation is that immediately after the staples and chains and have moved channel in the rock, you need to take the path to the left. We took the path to the right and walked on quite far while looking for trail markings and not finding any.
At 10h19, after re-tracing our steps to the point where the two paths split, we saw this rock. The distance covered until that point was 2.28 km with a moving time of 01h07. The elevation was 909 m.
And it was actually the two small arrows drawn with a black koki pen that we saw first. I have to give koki okie his or her dues for marking that rock with two black arrows. It saved us a lot of time and possibly other things too. The trail to the left is depicted in the photo below.
We continued around to the left and up on to a ridge. The path then turned to the left and we walked with the mountain on our left hand side. The visibility continued to be limited as we negotiated our way around the side of the mountain, keeping an eye on the sheer drop off to our right.
It was at this point that my new camera started beeping at me indicating that the memory card was full. I spent the next few minutes erasing photos of older hikes from the memory card. After that I continued on and joined the other three members of the hiking party who were waiting about two hundred meters further along the path, around a few corners. Belinda asked me why I didn’t respond to them calling out for me. I replied that I genuinely did not hear them at all. It worried me that within a few minutes I had dropped out of sight and earshot of my hiking party on a trail I had never done before. I wasn’t about to repeat that lapse of concentration again.
We continued along what we believed was the path which took us very close to the mountain. The path was wet and slippery and was quite difficult to walk on. Later along the trail, we realised that we were not walking on the path, but found it again soon enough by accident. The two paths were less than 5 meters apart, but the material difference was that the actual path was dry.
At 10h58, we got to the famous sign on the India Venster trail. “This is not an easy way down”. The sign is obviously facing towards the hikers coming from the opposite direction. The distance covered to that point was 3.12 km with an elevation of 987 m.
At 11h08, we reached the India Venster route signboard facing away from us.
After a minute or so, we reached a cross road. Left took us to the Cable Station and right to Platteklip Gorge. While we stood here, I noticed that something was attached to the top of a rock on the left hand side of the trail.
I had a look and on closer inspection saw that it was a commemorative plaque celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Mountain Club of S.A. [1891 – 1941]. It also indicated the direction of the Fountain, Platteklip Gorge, Maclears Beacon and Kasteelspoort.
We stopped here to enjoy some snacks. My uncle pulled out a flask of coffee and we all enjoyed a mug of hot coffee. Each hiker that walked passed us looked on with a pained expression and probably thought, “Why did I not think to bring that?”
At 11h27, we began our descent. We followed the direction plaque for Tafelberg Road which eventually links up with the Platteklip Gorge trail. The going down Platteklip Gorge was interesting. We still had to deal with the thick fog and also very slippery conditions underfoot.
It seems that someone decided that the conditions were not slippery enough and added another natural ingredient into the mix to challenge each hiker to the absolute limit. A banana peel.
Can you really slip on a banana peel, I hear you asking? Check out the finding of Mythbusters on the subject and make up your own mind. In their experiment, this myth was busted. A very controversial finding, if you read the comments.
At 12h10, as we continued to descend Platteklip Gorge, the conditions were much drier and easier to move along. The distance covered to that point was 4.82 km with a moving time of 02h15 and total time of 03h57. The elevation was 677 m. As you can see from the photo below, the thick blanket of fog still hovered over us.
At 12h31, we reached the signpost pointing left toward the Tafelberg Road trail. We turned left there. Distance covered to the signpost was 5.46 km with a moving time of 02h30 and a total hiking time of 04h18. The altitude had dropped to 493 m.
At 12h33, a few metres on from the signpost, we reached another signpost indicating that the Tafelberg Road path turned off to the right.
I could hear the sound of a mountain stream just ahead, so I continued on straight and found a steadily flowing mountain stream running across the path. There is nothing quite like the sound of a stream while out on a hike. It makes everything better.
At 12h46, we came to the end of the hike. There were still loads of people starting up Platteklip Gorge as we were finishing our hike. Some were dressed just in sleeveless t-shirts and shorts. We had a parked vehicle at this location to take us back to the start of the trail where our vehicle was parked.
The route we walked had a total walking distance of 5.93 km. We walked a semi circular route with vehicles located at each end.
Here are the stats for this route:
|Trip Odometer||5.93 km|
|Moving Average||2.2 km/h|
|Overall Average||1.3 km/h|
|Max Speed||6.9 km/h|
|Elevation||341 m – 1050 m|
I have attached a GPS trip log for the hike, including a side elevation profile.
Photo Album – Hike on 08 July 2018
Closing Remarks on India Venster
I have not looked so forward to a hike, in recent memory, like I have looked forward to doing this hike. On the day of the hike, the weather did not play along and ended up having a huge impact on the enjoyment factor of this hike.
Due to the heavy fog that stubbornly refused to leave, we were not able to see anything more than 80 meters in any direction. The fog also caused the trail surface itself to become slippery which slowed down our ascent and our descent.
The hike itself was not any more strenuous than Platteklip Gorge, in my humble opinion. The sections that required scrambling did not prove too much of a physical challenge. If you have long enough legs and a head for heights you will be fine. For those with shorter legs, or who are slightly less comfortable with heights, you will need help from your fellow hikers to get through this one. If you keep your head and look for hand holds and places to put your feet, it isn’t difficult.
I can believe that before there were staples and chains, it would have been way more difficult, perhaps even dangerous. That being said, if you lose concentration at any point or do not choose the best way up for you and your own limitations, a fall can have fatal consequences. A fall on to rock does not have to be high to cause serious head and spinal injuries.
What I did learn, in the less than ideal conditions, was the weather that you experience at the lower cable station can be at polar opposites to the weather you experience at or near the top of Table Mountain. It can chill you to the bone in minutes. Your clothing does not just have to keep you warm enough, but it needs to protect you against the wind and damp brought on by heavy fog as well.
Something else that you need to be aware of is that after climbing up the staples and chains, the trail markings are really quite poor. In the heavy fog, we wandered off the trail on three occasions. On one of these occasions, we walked right up to a blind sheer drop off which could have ended badly.
Urgent maintenance work needs to be done to improve the trail markings in that section of the trail. We were actually complaining earlier on the trail about someone who had chosen to draw arrows in black koki pen on the rocks to indicate the direction of the trail. We felt that this was totally unnecessary as the trail markings had been very good. However it was the koki pen graffiti artist that saved us after climbing past the staples and chains. Two well- placed koki pen black arrows on a single rock pointed us in the right direction, which was left. They were both very small arrows though and that is why we missed them the first time. I almost wrote thank you on the same rock, but I didn’t have a black koki pen with me.
Immediately after completing this hike, there was general consensus that we must do the hike again when the weather is better so that we can be able to enjoy the views offered by clear skies. On the second occasion we did this hike, on 08 February 2018, the weather was perfect.
What the bad weather did force us to do, which was actually a good thing, was to look at what was right in front of us and not what we could see off in the distance. The mountain has a wide variety of plant species with beautiful flowers and foliage. I spent a lot of time looking at what was within a meter of the trail and actually got to appreciate things that I would previously have just walked passed without a second glance.
I would highly recommend doing this hike, but only in good weather. Anything less than clear skies and bright sunshine and a gentle breeze and you will be doing yourself and the rest of your hiking party a disservice.
The Dark Gorge- A Magical Place in the Forest
UPDATED – 17 DECEMBER 2018
Newlands Forest is a firm favourite amongst Capetonians from all walks of life. It plays host to single people out for a stroll, joggers, trail runners, mountain bikers, families and their kids and of course, dog walkers. It truly is a special place where anyone and everyone can get in a few hours of exercise or some peace and quiet away from the rat race.
Newlands Forest, like many other hiking destinations in and around Cape Town, also has its secrets. Special places that are only known to the locals by word of mouth. The Dark Gorge is one of these best-kept secrets. The Dark Gorge is not a recommended safe hiking route and there are signs erected at the beginning and end of the route that strongly discourage hikers from using it rather than the safe option of Newlands Ravine.
Now Belinda and I have our reservations in writing about a hiking route that is not considered safe for use by SANParks. The last thing we would want is for someone reading this blog to get injured while trying to go where we have gone before. For this reason, we have opted to include a disclaimer in this blog right in the beginning to warn you of the possible dangers of taking this route so that you are aware of the risks before choosing to do it.
The Dark Gorge is situated adjacent to the recommended hiking route, Newlands Ravine. It’s potential risk of causing injury does not only come from a fall from height or extreme scrambling sections, but also from loose rocks underfoot. The trail consists of small to medium sized rocks that have spilled down the ravine over time. These rocks can be dislodged quite easily by a hiker’s boot and can cause a mini rock slide that could cause the hiker to loose his or her footing or, more importantly, send a few rocks down on to the feet or legs of the hikers following immediately below.
It is therefore strongly advised that if you choose to do this hike, that you be especially careful with your foot placement and make sure that the hikers in your party are at least 5 meters apart during the ascent to allow enough time to shout a warning of a mini rock slide and enough time for evasive action to be taken by the following hikers below.
If you decide to hike The Dark Gorge after reading this blog, we cannot be held responsible for any injuries that you or your hiking party may sustain.
How to get there
The easiest way to access Newlands Forest is along the M3 highway just before the University of Cape Town Upper Campus (direction Cape Town CBD). Look out for the Wildfire Services and Reservoir turnoff to the left. After turning left off the M3 turn immediately right and park in the large parking area. There is a security guard posted there to look after your car while you are off having fun. Here is a link to the Google Maps pin.
After parking your car, you have to walk up the tar road towards the mountain. There are no entrance fees applicable. If you are walking your dogs in the forest, you will need to have a My Activity card. If you don’t have one, click here for steps on how to get one.
After a short distance you will pass by the right hand side of a sliding gate that is meant to restrict unauthorised vehicle traffic into the forest. The Fire Management Department building and helicopter landing area are slightly further up the road on the right. You are advised to keep your dogs on a leash until you have cleared the helicopter landing area and you have reached the top of the tar road.
On the day of our hike, two Working on Fire helicopters were parked on the helipad ready for action.
Opening Times and contact information:
For more information, the SANParks Mount Pleasant office can be contacted on:
+27 (0) 21 689 4441
The emergency number for the Table Mountain National Park is:
+27 (0) 86 1106 417
The Speedy Review [tl;dr]
The Dark Gorge Trail is situated in the Newlands Forest which falls within the Table Mountain National Park. This is an ‘out and back’ route, with a circular bit at the end, that should ideally be done in the early morning while it is still cool. It should not be attempted if it has been raining at least 5 days before the day you plan to hike it. The moss covered rocks in the gorge will prove very tricky in wet conditions.
Whilst not that long (just over 8.5km), the terrain is tricky, and there are a few areas of scrambling. Make sure you wear shoes with good grip, and keep a safe distance, around 5 metres, between yourself and your fellow hikers. Watch out for loose rocks underfoot. You will need a relatively high level of fitness, and if you are afraid of heights or ledges, we would suggest you pick another trail (you will find heaps on our blog).
That being said, the trail is extremely exhilarating and definitely worth it once you reach the top.
Nina rated this trail 0/5 paw prints, as she did not accompany us on this trail. Although dogs are allowed in Newlands Forest, it is not advisable to take your dog up the Dark Gorge for your own safety and that of your dog.
The Nitty Gritty
We hiked this trail twice before compiling this blog post. The first time was on the 22nd of October 2017 and the second on the 14th of January 2018. The photos included in this post are from both of these hikes, but the route described in this post relates only to the second occasion. We hiked this route again on 17 December 2018 and have added a few tips as a result.
This route should not be attempted on your own and should preferably be done with someone who has done it before. There are sections of the route where the trail is not clear and there is a risk that you will get lost and end up in a section of the forest that is far more dangerous to ascend than even the Dark Gorge.
On the 14th of January 2018, a fellow SAPSTAP hiker and I attempted to ascend through the Dark Gorge. I had done the trail once before, with our friends Devin and Chandra, but Roderick had not done it at all. We started hiking at 07h45.
There is a board at the top of the tar road indicating the start of the Newlands trails. You can either go left and continue on the tar road or turn right and follow the Littlewort Trail. We decided to turn left and follow the main tar road. There are many variations of hiking routes that will take you up to the contour path. This post will not concentrate too much on the trail to take to get to the contour path due to these varied options. It will depend on how much time you have available to do this hike as to what route you will take. This post will concentrate more on the Dark Gorge itself and how to navigate safely through it rather than how to get to it.
We continued along the tar road, passed the ablutions facilities until we reached the river bridge. Just before the bridge we turned right and followed the path adjacent to the river. The distance covered to that point was 150 m.
At 07h51, we joined with a wider track which turned towards the right [400 m]. After a short distance [30 m], we turned left between a few tree logs and continued to follow the river up the hill. At 07h55, we reached a slightly raised pipe in the track and turned left there.
At 07h57, we reached a cement bridge over the trail where two dogs were enjoying the chance to play in the river. We crossed straight over a wide gravel jeep track there and followed the trail as it continued up the mountain.
At 08h02, we came to a t-junction in the path [870 m]. There was a handwritten note made with a black permanent marker on the trail marker saying “Joburg” with an arrow pointing to the left. We turned left there and soon after that walked across a wooden boardwalk.
At 08h08, we arrived at a fork in the trail. We were still walking quite close to the river on our left hand side [1.08 km]. We ended up taking the right hand fork. As I mentioned earlier in the post, there are a lot of options to take that will get you to the contour path so you do not necessarily have to follow this specific route to get to the start of the Dark Gorge.
After about 20 meters, the trail split again and again we chose to take the right hand fork. Shortly thereafter, we walked across a raised wooden boardwalk. At 08h10, we turned left and continued to head up the mountain [1.15 km].
At 08h16, we crossed a dry river bed and turned right [1.43 km]. Shortly after crossing the river bed, we turned left on a trail which eventually ran dead. After making a u-turn and heading back the way we came, we arrived back at the main trail and turned left and continued along the Woodcutter’s path. At 08h22, we crossed another dry river course [1.63 km].
At 08h25, we reached a gravel jeep track and turned left [1.84 km]. That section of the trail was open and unprotected from the elements. At 08h29, the jeep track narrowed into a footpath that led back into the forest [2.13 km].
At 08h31, we had to scramble over a tree that had fallen across the path [2.17 km]. It wasn’t difficult at all to get over/around it. At 08h33, we crossed a river course and headed round the corner were the path split again. The right fork is the correct route as the left fork runs dead after a short distance.
At 08h36, the path led us into a boundary fence. We had covered a distance of 2.26 km to that point. We turned left there and followed the path with the boundary fence on our right hand side. We continued along this very steep path and reached the contour path at 08h47 [2.6 km] where we turned left again. This section of the trail was open to the heavens and after a few minutes of walking we entered the forest again briefly followed by patches of bright sunshine. It was already quite hot at that stage and I was perspiring like a race horse in Durban.
At 08h53, we reached the wooden boardwalk and enjoyed the full protection of the forest again. At 09h02, we arrived at the picnic spot located opposite the start of Newlands Ravine [3.62 km]. This is slightly past the start of the Dark Gorge, but it was a good spot for us to rest up and have a few snacks and water before tackling the potentially dangerous, Dark Gorge. We rested for about 7 minutes and then turned right on the wooden boardwalk again and headed back the way we had come.
When we hiked this route the first time, we arrived at the picnic area from the other direction (ie from the left). It doesn’t really matter which route you take, the main point is to get to the picnic spot as that is your marker that you are in the right place, and near the start of the Dark Gorge ascent. If you are sitting at the picnic spot, facing the mountain, the start of the Dark Gorge is about 60 m to the right along the contour path. It is just after the end of the section of wooden boardwalk leading from the picnic site. There is a fire damaged tree on the mountainside of the path that marks this point. The tree has a ‘v shape’ to it and a rock has been wedged into the bottom of the ‘v’.
ALTERNATE ROUTE TO DARK GORGE
On 17 December 2018, we explored an alternative route to the start of the Dark Gorge. We started from the top parking area of Rhodes Memorial. We followed the trail across two jeep tracks and up to the turnstile leading to the King’s Block House. We did not go through the turnstile, but turned right and headed into Newlands Forest. The trail dipped in and out of shade across a few streams until we reached the start of the Dark Gorge. The distance covered on this route was 2.76 km and took us around 01h07m, slightly shorter and quicker than coming up through Newlands Forest from the Fire Base.
The route up the Dark Gorge turns off the Contour path at that point. The path is not clear there, but you need to proceed up the ravine on the right hand side of the dry river bed and the path will become increasingly easier to see the further you walk. Look out for rock cairns to keep on the correct path.
At 09h16, we came across a sign for the Dark Gorge in amongst the trees [3.76 km]. It warns hikers that it is an extremely dangerous route and that one should not attempt the ascent. The sign continues by advising that the safer recommended route is via Newlands Ravine. Fortunately, the path from there on out is marked with rock cairns by considerate hikers who had gone before. Keep a look out for small rock cairns along this route. They are sometimes not easy to see. They will guide you and keep you on the ‘safer’ route, notwithstanding the above cautionary notice by SANParks.
The early part of the Dark Gorge route will take you up the right hand side of the ravine. The path later crosses over to the left further up and leads hikers away from the Dark Gully which is too dangerous to attempt without climbing ropes and safety equipment. At 09h36, we reached the stage where the trail moved across to the left and away from the Dark Gully [4.26 km]. You will see a green strip of vegetation that runs up the center of the Dark Gorge. The path runs up on the right hand side of this green strip of ground foliage.
At 09h47, we continued to follow the rock cairns up the Dark Gorge and noticed that, after a while, the path moved toward the right of the gorge again [4.46 km]. Sometimes it will be necessary for you to stop and look up ahead of you to see where the rock cairns are. There are sections of the trail where the rock cairns are not visible until you are right on top of them so be careful that you don’t wander off this ‘recommended’ route.
At 09h51, the path crossed the gorge again to the left and the trail consisted of exposed tree roots that provided good hand holds and foot placements to scramble up the gorge. The route up the right hand side of the gorge consisted of loose rocks and is not a safe way to go. It is not recommended to do this hike after rain or in wet weather as these tree roots become very slippery and are a hazard instead of a helping hand.
The last section of the Dark Gorge is exposed to sunlight. The path also gets quite unclear towards the top so try and keep to the left and use the tree roots to make your way up slowly. The final few meters involved scrambling up vertical rocks. You shouldn’t be in a rush when doing this trail as you will need to concentrate on each step you take for your own safety and for the safety of your fellow hikers below you. Remember to keep a safe distance between you and your fellow hikers.
At 10h08, we climbed out of the Dark Gorge after an exhilarating experience. We were met on top by stunning views of Devil’s Peak and the City below below us.
At 10h20, we arrived at Pulpit Rock and had a snack and water break. We were grateful for the shade cast by the individual bolders. Pulpit Rock is positioned between the Dark Gorge on the right (standing facing the pulpit and the City below] and the Dark Gully on the left. It is visible from the top of the Dark Gorge and there are various paths that will take you there.
It is not advised that you go back down the Dark Gorge to get to back to your car. Rather use the easier and safer Newlands Ravine trail.
We left Pulpit Rock and reached the start of Newlands Ravine at 10h45 [5.63 km]. To get to the start, you need to go straight and then left after exiting the Dark Gorge and follow the path to the top of the next ridge.
We descended Newlands Ravine and followed the path as it zigzagged reasonably gently down the ravine, well compared to the Dark Gorge anyway. At 11h08, we entered the protection of the forest cover again [6.0 km].
At 11h19, the path split left and right and we chose to go left [6.24 km]. At 11h30 , we reached the bottom of Newlands Ravine after covering a distance of 6.57 km and a total hiking time of 03h45m. We stopped at the picnic spot for a short break.
At 11h38, we left the picnic spot and turned left on to the wooden boardwalk and after a few meters turned left on to the forest path leading down to the car park.
At 11h58, while walking along the path, we had an encounter with a Boomslang that slithered across the path in front of us [7.0 km]. It came in my direction and turned off at the last second allowing me to get a photo of it as it slithered quickly passed me. After this fortuitous encounter, we decided to write a hiker’s guide to snake encounters and snakebites which is really worth a read. After sighting the snake, we reached a split in the path, left and right. The correct path was to the right.
We continued along the path and at 12h10, we turned left and headed further down toward the car park [7.55 km]. At 12h17, we stopped at the river and refilled our water bottles [7.65 km].
At 12h22, we walked across the wooden boardwalk and turned right at the ‘Joburg’ trail marker [7.86 km].
At 12h25, we crossed the wide gravel road and proceeded along the path with the cement bridge on our right hand side. That was where we had seen the two dogs playing in the river earlier [8.0 km]. At 12h35, we reached the main tar road and turned left toward the start of the trail [8.52 km]. We passed the ablution facilities on our right hand side and reached the start / finish point of the hike at 12h37, with a total hiking distance of 8.65 km.
Although not as long as some of the other routes in the Table Mountain National Park, this is an intensive hike and needs about 4-5 hours to complete safely. If you rush, you put yourself and your fellow hikers at risk of injury.
Here are the hiking stats for this trail:
|Trip Odometer||8.65 km|
|Elevation Min||127 m|
|Elevation Max||785 m|
|Elevation Gain||734 m|
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