The Sphinx Trail – Hike Like An Egyptian

The Sphinx Trail – Hike Like An Egyptian

 

 

 

 

Updated on 22 June 2018

 

 

The Sphinx Overnight hiking trail is located in the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve. Belinda and I have visited the reserve before and hiked the much shorter Palmiet Hiking Trail (6 km). The CapeNature website describes the Hottentots Holland Reserve as follows:

“This nature reserve lies in the majestic Hottentots Holland Mountains, about 90km south-east of Cape Town. The 70 000-hectare reserve stretches from Elgin in the south to beyond Villiersdorp in the north, and from the Stellenbosch Mountains in the west, eastwards to the Groenland Mountains, and is a World Heritage Site.

The rocky mountains, bright wildflowers and still natural pools make the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve perfect for challenging hikes, pulse-racing kloofing and the new Cape Canopy Tour zipline adventure.

The reserve’s mountainous terrain ranges between altitudes of 500m and 1 590m. Summers are generally hot and dry, while winters are cold with annual rainfall as high as 3 300mm on the Dwarsberg plateau. Weather conditions in the mountains can be unpredictable and dangerous.

The entrance to the reserve is at Nuweberg, high in Viljoen’s Pass between Grabouw and Villiersdorp. About 7 000 hectares of private and state property around the reserve is co-managed by the Theewaterskloof Conservancy, which includes CapeNature and various landowners.

 

How to get there

The Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve is located just outside the Boland town of Grabouw. Grabouw is about 90 km from Cape Town along the N2 highway. The travel time, depending on the time of day, should be about 1.5 hours.

When travelling along the N2 from Cape Town, take the turn off to Oudenbrug Road opposite Peregrine Farm Stall and then turn right onto the R321.

Travel for approximately 15km, and you will find the entrance to the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve on your left.

You will need to sign in at the office there, which is where you will also get the key for the overnight hut. There are toilets here if you need a ‘pit-stop’ before your hike.

There is a R50 key-deposit (payable in cash only) which needs to be paid at the reserve entrance.

Here is a link to the Google Maps location of the reserve entrance.

Once you have sorted out the admin for the hike, travel along the dirt road for approximately 1.5km (you will go over a small bridge) and park on the right under the trees, opposite the Cape Canopy Tours entrance.

 

Opening Times and contact information:

The opening times of the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve for hiking are:

Monday – Sunday  07h30 – 16h00 [All Year Round]
Entrance Fee: Adults:  R40         Child:  R20

 

Accommodation and permit bookings Tel: +27 (0)21 483 019

For general inquiries contact:  +27 (0)28 841 4301/02

Emergency tel: +27 (0)82 413 5258

No dogs are allowed in the reserve or on any of the hiking trails.

 

 

Bookings and Costs for the Sphinx Trail

The overnight hike itself costs R200 per person.

The daily conservation fee is R40 per adult and R20 per child, unless you have a Wild Card, then there is no fee.  We have recently purchased a Wild Card and have 1 year’s access to all parks in the country for R930.  SANParks has different Wild Card packages which you can find here.  Click this link to buy a Wild Card online.

Bookings for the Sphinx Overnight  Hiking Trail can be made through the CapeNature Call Centre. There are various booking options, including via telephone, email or using the online booking portal. Visit the CapeNature website for more information. There are two overnight huts that can be booked. The first is the Landroskop Hut and the other is Shamrock Lodge. Each can accommodate up to 30 people. They are about 100m apart. The huts do not have electricity. They are equipped with triple bunks beds and thick mattresses. You will need to bring your own bedding though. Fire wood can be purchased at the main gate. Water is supplied by Jo Jo water storage tanks located at each hut.

We were booked for the Shamrock Lodge. It has a large wooden deck, with a  separate lapa area for braaing/eating. Each room has a small fireplace which I’m sure would be really wonderful in Winter to warm up the room and hikers.

Here is a copy of the brochure and map, courtesy of the CapeNature website:

 

 

Trail Ninometer

 

 

 

Nina rated this trail 0/5 paw prints, because there are no dogs allowed in the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve.  She spent the night with good friends of ours instead, and was spoiled rotten (as usual)

 

The Speedy Review (tl;dr)

The Boland hiking trail is a great trail if you want a quick getaway out of the city, and don’t want to travel too far.  The trail itself is well priced (R200 per person) and is suitable for the whole family. Once you have done the initial ascent, the trail evens out and is an easy walk until you reach the hut.

As you will read, we did this trail in 1 day instead of 2. It is easy enough to do that, but the views are worth overnighting for. Day 1 is about 11km and will take you around 4 hours to complete, with at least 2 water stops available for you to refill and enjoy some mountain water. Day 2 is approximately 8km and will take around 2.5 – 3 hours to complete (we did it in a shorter time, but we were walking pretty fast).

The trail is child friendly, but no dogs are allowed in the reserve.

 

 

The Nitty Gritty

Belinda and I are in the process of training for the Fish River canyon in May 2018. This hike was organised by one of the Fish River hiking party as part of our overall preparations. It was aimed at measuring our fitness levels and to test some new hiking equipment that we had recently purchased for the Fish.

This hike is advertised as one of the top 10 overnight hikes in and around Cape Town and we were keen to see if that was true.

On 21 April 2018 and on arrival at the main gate of the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve, we were asked to complete a rather detailed form including our details, our vehicle details and next of kin. Surprisingly we also had to confirm that we were all in possession of a sleeping bag, rain gear, warm clothing and a tent. We didn’t have a tent as we were expecting to sleep inside a hut.

After completing the form, we were allowed into the reserve and proceeded along the main dirt road toward the start.

 

Overnight Parking

Parking for hikers, whether doing a day hike or one of the overnight hiking options, is located inside the reserve. After driving through the main boom gate, you drive approximately 1.5 km on a gravel road. After crossing over a wooden bridge, look out for the green fenced in area on your right hand side, directly opposite the Cape Canopy Tours rest camp. You can park your vehicle in the shade, under tree cover. This parking area is closed for vehicles after the reserve closes, but you are still able to enter the parking area via a pedestrian ‘gap’ in the fence. There are public toilets inside the fenced in parking area, but they are not always open.

 

Day 1

We began hiking at 09h30 from the vehicle parking area. We exited through the vehicle entrance gate, turned right and headed up the gravel road. There were 5 of us in the hiking party. The trail is well sign posted in the beginning with large CapeNature sign boards.

At 09h38, after covering a distance of 432 m, we turned right off the main dirt road [560 m elevation] and headed up a moderately steep incline through the forest. It was fairly shaded even though we started slightly later in the morning.

At 09h58, the gravel jeep track then levelled off a bit for a short distance. We had walked approximately 1.65 km [659 m elevation]. At 10h04, the jeep track split in two and we followed the trail signs and went right [2.09 km]. After taking the right fork, the jeep track become more and more steep.

At 10h13, we turned left after hiking a distance of 2.5 km. At 10h19, we turned right after covering a distance of approximately 2.8 km [750 m elevation]. The total time taken to reach that point was about 50 minutes. After about 3.47 km, the jeep track levelled out again. At 10h35, we turned right off the jeep track and followed a single footpath up the mountain.

 

 

At 11h56, we stopped for a quick snack break. The distance covered was 7 km [1055 elevation]. The total hiking time taken was 02h25m with a moving time of 01h25m.  The area where we stopped had some nice rocks and soft grass for resting our legs while we stocked up on some food.

While sitting there and enjoying the view, we couldn’t help looking at the sand storm above Theewaterskloof Dam. It is the largest dam that supplies Cape Town with drinking water and it was only 10.6% full. Large tracks of dry land lie exposed under huge dust clouds, where the water should be. A vivid real world picture of how dire the drought crisis is in the Western Cape at the moment.

At 12h23, we headed off again over the hill. The trail began to descend shortly afterwards.  At 12h29, we came across a mountain stream. It was the first water point on the trail, after covering a distance of 7.3 km [1030 m elevation]. At 12h44, we crossed a second river course. The distance was 8.0 km [995 m elevation]. The total time taken to get there was 03h14m. At 12h55, we crossed a third, but much smaller, river course at a distance of 8.6 km [1011m elevation].

 

 

At 13h10, the Landroskop overnight came into view for the first time on our right hand side at a distance of 9.4 km [1038 m elevation]. We would still have to cover a distance of almost 2km before we reached it.

At 13h16, we crossed another small water course at 9.7 km. At 13h35, we reached the Landroskop overnight hut. The overnight hut we had booked, Shamrock Lodge, was a further 100m over the ridge. We completed the first day of the hike at 13h45. Total distance for Day 1 was 11.2 km. Total time taken was 04h09m. The elevation of Shamrock Lodge is 1048 m.

 

 

The Overnight Huts

Landroskop Hut

This overnight hut is a stone brick building that is divided into four sleeping quarters. We were not able to get a look inside this hut as it was locked when we walked past. It has two raised outside shelters that contain two ‘long drop’ toilets in each. There is also an outdoor washing area fitted with taps.

 

 

Shamrock Lodge

Our overnight hut was a wooden structure that is divided into four sleeping quarters. We had booked one of the two rooms that opened on to the wooden deck in the front of the hut. It also had two raised shelters that contain two ‘long drop’ toilets in each, as well as an outdoor washing area fitted with taps. Behind the hut there is an enclosed braai area with three fire places and two picnic tables. Each hut can accommodate a maximum of 30 people.

 

 

Day 2

When we arrived at the overnight hut, we quickly realised that it was fully booked. Our party of 5 joined about 25 other hikers that were already settled in. It appeared to be one large group that included a number of children. After putting down our backpacks and having a quick lunch, we tried to enjoy a quick afternoon power nap. Unfortunately due to the large number of people at the hut chatting and laughing and the children running around the hut playing games and listening to music on their cell phones, some of our party were not able to fall asleep. They were not overly happy that a planned hiking trip into the mountains to enjoy some peace and tranquility was not going to bear any fruit. The noise reached such a level that we all agreed that there needed to be a decision taken on whether we should go or stay.

After taking a vote, the group wanting to leave won a narrow majority vote of 3 to 2. Perhaps if it was a secret ballot, it might have gone the other way. We packed up all our stuff again and waited until  just before sunset. The idea was to turn Day 2 into a night hike. Before leaving the overnight hut, we attempted to get hold of the Nuweberg office to find out if we would be able to get out of the Reserve after dark. All of our efforts to contact the office were unsuccessful. Calls were then made to the Hottentots Holland emergency phone line that is advertised inside the hut. Of great concern to us, was that the emergency line was not answered either.

Noise levels whilst hiking is a controversial subject.  Everyone should be allowed to enjoy the mountain, and that includes those that might be a bit more noisy than what we are used to (we generally hike in silence, or only a little conversation). Some people have asked if we considered speaking to the group and asking them to quieten down. We did consider it, but realised that they may misinterpret our feelings towards their behaviour. Also, we get it. Kids make noise. It’s part of their make-up. But hide-and-seek for hours on end, with music blaring from 3 different phones was a little much for some (read Belinda) to handle.  So we opted for the night hike instead.

At 18h10, we set off just after sunset, all wrapped up warmly with our head torches in place over our beanies. The temperature had dropped quite quickly and there was a cold mountain breeze tugging at our cold weather apparel.

During the course of our hike back to the start, we encountered several small creatures that would most probably not have put in an appearance if we had passed by there during the day. These included a baby red lipped Herald snake, a black scorpion, a lightning quick rabbit (which Belinda got very excited about), a Cape River frog and several spiders.

We arrived back at the green fence parking area at about 20h30. Fortunately for us, as we entered the parking area, one of the CapeNature officials drove past on his way home and we managed to flag him down. He opened the vehicle gate and we were able to get out of the reserve and head home around 21h00.

Because Day 2 is mostly jeep track, it was a quick hike back to the start, and also quite enjoyable doing the whole route in 1 day.

 

 

The Stats

The Sphinx overnight hiking trail is well signposted on both days and the trail itself is easily visible. At no point did we get lost or struggle to find our way. There are no distance markers, but the trail is over fairly easy terrain so your boots will eat up the kilometers in no time. Here are the hiking stats for this overnight trail:

 

DAY 1

Trip Odometer 11.2 km
Total Time 04h09
Moving Time 02h30
Moving Average 4.5 km/h
Overall Average 2.7 km/h
Max Speed 7.6 km/h

 

DAY 2

Trip Odometer 7.9 km
Total Time 02h25
Moving Time 01h35
Moving Average 5.0 km/h
Overall Average 3.3 km/h
Max Speed 8.8 km/h

 

If you are looking for a packing list for this trail, click here. We have modified it from some other overnight trails, as these huts don’t have any facilities besides the basic bed and mattress.

 

Final Thoughts

Although this is a beautiful hike, fairly close to Cape Town, we will not be doing it again any time soon. We are more interested in doing hikes far from the madding crowd in the more remote parts of the country. Wild Magazine has published an article in the Winter 2018 issue, written by Arno van Der Heever of Hiking South Africa. The article is about an encounter with a puff adder on the trail. Have a read to see what you should do if you encounter a puff adder while you are hiking. The Wild magazine costs R39.90 per issue and it is published four times a year to coincide with the changing seasons. If you are a Wild Card member the Wild magazine is sent to you free of charge. For a sneak peak at the Wild magazine click here.

 

 



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