A couple of weekends ago, we joined our friends L and V and Little N for a hike at Jonkershoek Nature Reserve outside Stellenbosch. Not having been there before, we were curious to see whether our friends’ enthusiastic accounts of the splendours of hiking in those mountains were true.
Indeed they were!
This reserve encompasses both the Jonkershoek Reserve (14,527 ha in extent) and the smaller Assegaaibosch Nature Reserve (204 ha). These mountains act as a catchment area for several rivers, which provide Stellenbosch and its neighbouring areas with water. Summers are warm to very hot, with the south-easter winds being quite common during those months (fuelling the risk of fire), while winters can be very cold, with gale-force north-westerlies bringing rain, and even snow on the higher peaks. The predominant natural vegetation is mountain fynbos, with more than 1100 plant species, some of which are rare and/or endemic to the area. In the kloofs, which tend to be sheltered from devastating fires, there are even remains of old forests.
A number of hiking trails are available, ranging in length and difficulty. The Tweede Waterval (Second Waterfall) Route (8 km) is described as
“a scenic and easy out-and-back option with the Eerste River in sight for most of the route. The ascent to the gorge is fairly steep; the dangerous ascent to the waterfall is closed to hikers.”
This is the route we decided to tackle on our first visit. It was quite wonderful, even though I’ll confess that the final ascent up the steep steps leading to a delightful shady picnic area at the foot of the waterfall was rather tiring – both on the way up, and on the way down.
On our way up, we came across two women hikers by the wayside; one of them had badly twisted her ankle, which had swollen to almost double its normal size. They were awaiting the return of their hiking companions, two men with children, who had decided to continue onwards to the waterfall – and even further up the gorge, boulder-hopping in the river, which struck us as quite dangerous. They came down while we were having our picnic by the waterfall, and one of the young girls slipped and landed in the water. Luckily, she was not hurt, but it could have turned out quite differently.
These two incidents were a sobering reminder that one needs to be responsible when hiking, particularly in such rugged terrain. And that it really is essential to carry a first aid kit – not only for oneself or one’s companions, but also potentially for other hikers. Slipping and twisting an ankle, being stung by bees or bitten by a cape cobra or a puffadder, or even getting caught out by rapidly worsening weather, are always possibilities for which one needs to be prepared.
It also drove home the point that we are only guests in Mother Nature’s domain, and that we are privileged to visit such vast and awe-inspiring mountain wildernesses.