Elands River Trail – A Waterfall Expedition
Elands River Trail – A Waterfall Expedition
On Sunday 10 February 2019, 10 of us decided to hike the much anticipated Elands River (Elandsrivier) Trail, located in the Limietberg Nature Reserve in Du Toit’s Kloof. I had previously hiked the Krom River Trail which has the same starting point (trail head) as the Elands River Trail. The Krom River trail goes to the right while the the Elands River Trail goes under the N1 higway bridge and off to the left. Each trail ends with a magnificent waterfall.
How to get there
The start of the Elands River hiking trail begins just on the Worcester side of the Huguenot tunnel. If you are travelling from Cape Town, you need to take the alternate route (R101) over the Du Toit’s Kloof pass instead of travelling through the Huguenot Tunnel. The R101 is approximately 11km longer than the quicker N1 route. After the hike, you can make use of the N1 Huguenot tunnel route to get home quicker.
The Speedy Review
What. A. Hike. From contour paths, to ladders, scrambling, swimming, waterfalls, this hike has it all. Make sure you book your permits in advance to avoid disappointment.
HOW TO BOOK
Email [email protected] with the date you want to hike, and the number of people in your group. Permits are R50 per person and are worth every cent. Another option is to visit the Du Kloof Lodge and to buy your permit on the day you want to hike. You can contact them on (023) 349 1151.
There is very limited cell phone signal on this hike, essentially only the first 10-15 minutes of walking, and after that, you are on your own.
Nina rated this trail 0/5 paw prints, because no dogs are allowed due to it being in a nature reserve.
The Nitty Gritty
We set out from the parking area at around 07h30 with a mixed bunch of people. There were the regulars who have hiked The Kraken with us as well as two new comers with only limited hiking experience on the Cape’s mountain trails. The mood was good as the weather was perfect and we were looking forward to jumping into the rock pool below a raging waterfall. Me, not so much, as I had my pockets stuffed with bandages and first aid equipment. We have never really had a problem on one of our hikes, but I always start out expecting the worse and am pleasantly surprised when nothing happens. Perhaps next time I will bring along my swimming costume.
The trail starts with a wide gravel jeep track that winds its way toward the overhead bridge carrying traffic along the R101. However, just before crossing the cement causeway, there was a trail sign pointing to a path leading off to the left. We climbed a short wooden pole type staircase and walked between the N1 highway and the gravel jeep track below.
We walked under the R101 highway, while a group of baboons sat watching us from the edge of the bridge above us. The group included quite a few babies as well as a huge male that was showing off his crown jewels. I made sure that I took a wide pass underneath him in case he decided to make it rain. There were signs under the bridge of human habitation and the air had a strong scent of human poop. Not a great start to the trail, but it definitely improved.
We followed the path around to the left and under the N1 highway (07h43), with the entrance to the Huguenot tunnel staring at us from our right hand side. The path started to descend and I was expecting us to end up down at the river’s edge, on our right, but it quickly changed direction and headed up and to the left, away from the river on an undulating type of contour path. Some sections of the trail included short steep descents and ascents where our hiking poles came in handy. These hiking poles got in the way a bit during the bouldering section, but more about that later.
We walked past a weir on the river course with perfect swimming spots just on the other side of the weir, a little further upstream. The path took us quite close to the river’s edge, but then moved away to the left and away from the river.
At about 08h20, we were high up on the mountain’s edge where we actually lost sight of the river behind us and could only make it out in the distance ahead of us. The contour path we were walking along kept undulating quite severely. According to my Strava App, we had hiked approximately 2.6 km at that point, averaging 2.9 km/h.
At about 08h35, the path took us up on to a small plateau with the river course running off at a 90° angle to the right of us.
At 08h48, we reached an overhang where we came across a sign board that said that we had reached the end of the Elands River hiking trail. Someone had cheekily written “Juuust kidding” on the sign. They clearly knew the best was yet to come . It made no sense to us why the trail would end there as we had it on good authority that there was a magnificent waterfall waiting for us further up the kloof. The distance covered to that point, according to Strava, was 4.1 km and it had taken us about 01h20m to get there.
While we were having a short break, we wandered down to the river’s edge and found two fisherman practising the art of fly fishing. There is something mesmerising about the art of flicking a fishing line over the surface of the water with an enticing fly attached to the end of it. We were all told not to ‘spook the fish’ so we continued our conversations in a hushed tone. What made the sport even more challenging for these two intrepid fisherman was that their hooks had to be ‘barb free’. I managed to record a short video clip of a near catch of a small river trout, but it got away. You can watch it here. There is a catch and release policy on this river and with a no barb hook, the fish get to keep swimming relatively undisturbed. At about 09h05, we headed off again beyond the sign announcing the end of the trail.
Shortly after continuing the hike, we had to negotiate some technically difficult sections of the trail where it had disintegrated. It was quite clear that this section of the trail was not being maintained anymore. You just need to concentrate when moving through that section and you will be fine. Remember to keep your weight slightly forward when moving or jumping across sections of the path.
At 09h15, after hiking about 4.8 km (Strava), we reached the river’s edge and saw a small rock cairn on the left hand side of the path. That was the point where we had to cross the river and continue on the other side. It had taken us about 01h45m to reach that point on the trail. The trail was a little overgrown initially, but became quite clear quite quickly. We also had our first taste of the scorching sun at that point, as most of the route up until then had been in part shade, or out in the open with a cool morning breeze blowing in our faces.
At about 09h20, we followed the path as it skirted the river on its right bank and then it took us around to the right slightly away from the river, across a fallen tree and up a steep cliff edge that required some fancy scrambling skills. At first inspection, it looked impossible to scale, but once we found the first foothold low down on the right hand side of the short cliff face, we could see the first handhold and it got easier from there. The path just before that point was not clear at all and we were grateful that the person leading the hike had done the trail a couple of weeks before. We crossed a beautiful little waterfall at about 09h40, not realising that the toughest part of the trail was just around the corner. Watch the YouTube video of this little waterfall.
Five minutes later, the most challenging section of the trail presented itself to us in the form of hundreds of slippery moss covered boulders of varying sizes continuing high up into the kloof. There you need to keep your wits about you and follow the boulders ahead of you to make sure that you don’t manoeuvre yourself into a corner that doesn’t lead anywhere. I took the wrong line up one of the section of boulders and ended up slipping off my precarious perch and smashed my right knee into an unflinching block of a substance used build castle walls. I slid down the rock experiencing a blinding flash of white light and a fair amount of rapid onset pain just below my right knee. After taking a moment to regain my composure, I turned to Belinda behind me and said that we needed to find another way round. There are no rock cairns there to guide your way so if you do decide to do this trail in the future, a few strategically placed cairns will go a long way to making that section more enjoyable.
The further we climbed up the kloof, the more it started to feel like we were in the middle of a rain forest. The air was cool and the rocks were completely covered in damp moss. The vegetation had changed from fynbos to ferns. When the waterfall eventually came into view, at about 10h20, we were all overwhelmed by the sheer size of it and the noise the water made when it crashed into the large rock pool below it. It seemed to have about four ladder like tiers on which the water ricocheted on its way down. Almost like a snake-shaped pinball machine. Watch the YouTube video to get an idea of how it looks. It had taken us just short of 3 hours to reach the waterfall. My Strava App started playing tricks at that point in the trail, but a best guess would put the total distance to that point at about 6 km.
I made myself comfortable on a flat rock and watched as the rest of the group frolicked in the cold mountain river water. Belinda and a few others swam toward and under the waterfall and had the heads pounded for their efforts. Lots of fun was had. I regretted not bringing with a change of clothes or hiking in ‘swim friendly’ clothing. Having a dip in these rock pools really does bring another element to a hike that should be enjoyed or the hike seems the lesser for it. Just be careful with your footing there. One of our hiking party slipped and fell after taking off his shoes at the waterfall. He sustained a nasty abrasion on the top of his foot. Not nasty enough for me to empty my pockets of their precious, life saving cargo, but it did look very sore.
We spent about 45 minutes at the waterfall swimming and then having a bit of lunch, before packing up and heading back the way we had come. The return journey always seems to take much less time. We took a short break at one of the rock pools where there was a grassed lined section of the river that looked like it could be a water slide of some sort. So after taking all of the necessary safety precautions, Belinda volunteered to test it out. Watch the Youtube video to see how it turned out.
We continued back along the path and at about 13h20, we stopped at a small ‘beach’ with some river sand on the river’s edge and took the last opportunity for a quick dip in a rather large pool in the river, just above the weir.
We completed the hike at about 14h40 which meant that we had finished the 12 km hike in around 07h10m, including lots of swimming.
This was one of the most enjoyable river hikes we have done in a while and it reminded us so much of the Cedar Falls day hike in the Baviaanskloof. We highly recommend it to anyone who wants to spend a leisurely day outdoors on a trail that asks a lot of you, but rewards you richly in return.
The Stats – Elands River Trail
The total hiking stats for this day hike, according to an estimation based on the Strava App, were as follows:
Total Time Taken