Low impact weekend – Elandsrivier hike, Cape Town

Location: Limietberg Nature Reserve, above the Huguenot Tunnel, 70km from Cape Town CBD.
Distance: 7km, there and back
Length: Four to five hours depending on how long you relax at the pool
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Cost: R40pp and toll fees to get through the tunnel

This might well be one of my favourite outdoor finds yet. I’ve driven through the Huguenot Tunnel and over the Du Toitskloof Pass countless times, but for some reason it never registered that these roads are built through an expansive stretch of nature with mountains, cliffs, rock pools, rivers, and walking trails.

The effort

The first one or two kilometres of the trail are a bit deceiving, but it’s worth bearing with it. See it as a fun challenge to get to a beautiful place.

First, find the parking lot. It’s down a narrow road just after you exit the tunnel on the Worcester side. It feels counterintuitive to drive down this road, but just trust that the brown road sign knows what it’s talking about and you’ll get there.

Now you have to walk back toward the tunnel. You’ll pass beneath the N1. While it’s not necessarily the type of view you’d want as part of a nature trail, it’s quite exhilarating being on foot right below a major highway.

After passing below the first bridge, there’s a sign indicating the Elandsrivier path to the left. For the next few hundred metres it feels like you’re treading through someone’s secret party place. When we visited, there was rubbish everywhere. Stick it through. As soon as you pass beneath the last overhead highway you’ll head down to the river and you’re away from the traffic, the litter, and the noise.

Especially the start of the trail isn’t as well maintained as some of Cape Nature’s other trails. One of the ladders that helps you to get down a big boulder is broken, but the path is still completely safe and easy enough to navigate. There are loads of painted feet on the rocks to reassure you you’re heading the right way. Just watch where you step when you go up or down some of the bigger rocks. You’ll find a few of these early on in the hike.

The pay-off

Soon you reach the first pool and instantly it feels like you discovered a piece of earth no one else knows of. Set against a rocky cliff, the pool is quite deep and incredibly refreshing. It’s an especially convenient cooling off spot on the way back to the car during the summer months.

There’s only one slight uphill throughout the hike. The rest of the time the path meanders beside the river and veers away to cross grassy hills. So when you’re not ambling along the water, you’re taking in the mountain peaks dotted into the distance. I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure this area has never encountered alien vegetation invasion. It looks pretty pristine to me.

Since it’s not such a popular hike, the paths are narrow with long grasses reaching across. Compared to some of the more well-trodden hikes in town, this is quite a treat.

After about 1.5 hours you’ll reach a cave overhang. This is the end of the hike and a perfect spot for a picnic, a beer, or just an hour or two of lazing around. There’s another pool here, and although it’s not as deep as the first, it has some lovely boulders protruding from the water to bask in the sun on.

In the heat of summer I find few things as lovely as swimming in an icy mountain pool and soaking up the sun on a rock afterward. I might like this more than going to the beach. The hike is limited to 24 people per day, so even if we visited on an unconventionally quiet weekend, you’ll never find these pools overcrowded and noisy.

That said, this hike is also great for winter, as there are no river crossings like on some of the other hikes in the same reserve. You may not be brave enough to swim, but a cup of hot coffee in the winter sun beside the clear mountain water also has a certain ring to it.

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The details

Permits for the hike cost R40pp and can be obtained from Cape Nature. Phone them on 021 483 0190 or email reservation.alert@capenature.co.za. Do this at least three days in advance, as the money needs to be in their account before they issue the permits. When we hiked, the toll gate was R35.50 for a standard car. Pack your cars full to save money here.

Click here for a PDF of the entire Limietberg Nature Reserve and its hikes. 

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