Walk, climb, swim, barbecue, see animals.
Johannesburg can make you dizzy. The hustle and bustle is inescapable. But while we don’t have the beach, we have other ways to cool off and decompress—dams, rivers, and and seemingly limitless nature just beyond the concrete jungle.
The Hennops Hiking Trail is only an hour’s drive from Johannesburg, but once you’re on the trail(s), it feels much more remote. The paths snake through historical sites, caves, with plenty of opportunities to sight animals and birds. There are also two river crossings—via a suspension bridge and a cable car. (Though I should add, this latter contraption looks more like a sturdy swing set—which works by passenger-powered rope pulley system—than the kind of cable car that takes humans up mountains.)
The best time to hit the trails is October and onwards, when the skies are blue and there is less chance of rain during the day. Pack a considerable picnic basket, a sturdy pair of sneakers, comfortable clothing, and swimwear, and head out early in the morning. Just Make sure you bring cash—there are no card facilities available onsite.
PRICE: The cost for the hike is US$4.90 for adults and US$2.80 for schoolkids.
The Hennops Hiking Trail is just outside of Pretoria—South Africa’s capital city, renamed Tshwane in 2016 but still commonly referred to as Pretoria—38 miles (and about an hour and a half by car) from Johannesburg.
If you plan on braa-ing (or barbecuing) after the hike, stop at one of the many shopping centers on the drive along the R511 where you can get fresh delicious meat for your meat. Make sure you have a water bottle and/or bottled water with you, because there are no water points along the route.
You may also want to make sure your accommodation is booked well in advance if you plan on staying the night. The price for one Garden Cottage (that sleeps two people) is around US$56 per night, and comes with a barbeque area. I particularly like that the room comes fitted with a king-size bed and a kitchenette, so we could cook for ourselves. Bath towels and linen are provided and the shower is ensuite.
The cottage fee also gives you access to the Hennops Picnic Spot, which provides swimming pools and braai-ing spots. There is plenty of parking and there are small stalls selling food, snacks, and drinks at reception area.
Also bear in mind that the facility closes at 5 p.m, so be sure to arrive early enough after opening time at (7.30 a.m) so you have plenty of time to relax and enjoy it.
There are two main trails departing from the Hadeda Camp, and a third shorter trail suitable for children.
—The Zebra Trail (5 kms, or 2 hours) is where you might spot some game/wildlife (the list includes zebra, gnu, impala, kudu (a what which is local to the area) and zonkies—an appealing donkey-zebra crossbreed.
—The Dassie Trail (2.5 kms), which is ideal for children, starts off with the Zebra trail and then loops back to camp via the Dassie caves.
—The Krokodilberg Trail (10 kms, 4-5 hours) is a more challenging hike, with a higher elevation. Here too you might see some game, such as kudu and eland.
At the beginning and end of both trails, the route follows the Hennops River before climbing into the surrounding mountains.
On the Dassie and Krokodil routes, there is a cave that was onces a field hospital used during the First Anglo-Boer war (December 16, 1880 to March 3, 1881). The war is known to the British as the first of the Boer Wars, and to the Boers (or Afrikaaners, the descendents of the predominantly Dutch settlers of the 17th and 18th centuries) as the first of their Wars of Independence. The conflict was born from Boer opposition to British colonial rule; in the war’s aftermath South Africa regained its independence.
On the Zebra trail, there is also the cave where “Pruimpie’ is said to have lived in the 1830s. According to folklore, Pruimpie was an orphan left behind when King Mzilikazi (who founded the Ndebele nation) fled to the north to escape the Zulu militia under King Shaka’s rule in the 19th century. Apparently he was famous for borrowing chewing tobacco (“pruimpie”) from the farmers in the area.
Apart from the many animals in the camp, the indigenous trees along the river also makes this a prime bird-watching spot, if that’s your thing.
After the hike, grab an iced coffee at camp, and make your way to the designated picnic site, and cool off in the pool (not the river). If you’re lucky, may catch a few well-timed, light afternoon showers to refresh For me, the best part of the Hennops Hiking Trail is getting to relax on the grass alongside the riverbank after the long hike. Enjoying summer days next to water with cool refreshments is an age-old South African tradition.