STELLENBOSCH, SOUTH AFRICA
Set off early, ascending in the cool of morning in the valley, and slowly gain the foot of the sheer sandstone cliffs. You’ll pass a few streams, where a variety of indigenous trees can offer welcome shade over the warmer months. Beautiful trees such as Silky Bark, Tree Fuchsia, Spoonwood, Wild Peach & Red Alder.
As you proceed up the gentle granite mountain slopes you’ll pass through diverse young fynbos, affording a wide array of floral beauty at any time of year, but especially noticeable in the spring season. Spiloxene, lobelias, gladioli, ericas and proteas sparkle among the green foliage.
Be on the lookout for Klipspringer which are small, diurnal antelope with incredible agility and finesse over rugged, rocky terrain. Mostly, you’ll spot their spoor (tracks) along any damp soil on a footpath – we did, over a stretch of a couple hundred metres. Scanning the slopes proved fruitless in our hopes to catch a glimpse of the indigenous mammals. Nevertheless, it is always pleasing to sight evidence of the faunal life in the mountains: be it porcupine quills, mongoose droppings or the tracks of a Cape leopard.
There are some magnificent stands of proteas along the way, as well as a number of isolated specimens such as the Flame Pincushion, Leucospermum oleifolium. It was starting to flower on this hike in late September, and the flowers will become a deeper red colour in time.
The trail is in great condition in the early stages, and the hiking is relatively easy going at a moderate pace. After a while you’ll cross a couple streams, where you’ll notice the presence of water loving fynbos species such as Berzelia, as well as a number of Afromontane tree species.
As things warm up one should be aware of the presence of venomous snakes along mountain trails, most notably the Puff Adder. Typically hikers hardly ever encounter snakes and they are not going out of their way to bite, but you should always pay attention to your surroundings, and tune into the sounds and sights of nature.
Veer right at the junction of the contour path, which traverses wonderfully until you reach the steep zigzagging path up to Bergriviernek. Going left at the contour path takes you across the small Jackalsvlei and Lang rivers, in the direction of The Twins (standing at around 1500m elevation) and can be done in a there-and-back manner. It forms a part of the Panorama Circuit.
The views over Jonkershoek Valley gets better and better the higher you climb, and Tweede Waterval acts as a great landmark for where you’ll progress to as the day wears on. Falling into a cauldron-like ravine, the headwaters of the Eerste River have carved out a magnificent natural hollow which changes appearance as your line of sight differs.
Things get tough for a short while as you climb the short, steep, zigzagging path up to the nek, but there are a couple interesting boulders which hint at pausing to take in the view over your shoulder while sucking in fresh air!
The next thing you pop up onto the ridge and what lies beyond will put your jaw-to-the-floor-in-awe if it the first time you lay eyes on the scene. Assegaaiboskloof is iconic, and deserves a few minutes of your time. We took lunch here and savored the sight of the Berg River flowing towards Franschhoek as we sipped on our rooibos tea.
From the Bergriviernek viewpoint the trail swings to the South and is signposted – you’re now heading to Kurktrekkernek over the beautiful Dwarsberg Plateau path.
The path here is wonderful to hike. After a short climb, things level out through beautiful vegetation (think big patches of ericas shimmering pinks and purples), and then finally drops steeply down to Kurktrekkernek.
You cross a couple wet patches, where sundews and restios thrive and once again have the opportunity to sip on fresh mountain water. Look up from time to time and you’ll catch a view of The Dome at Helderberg Nature Reserve, and beyond to the Cape Peninsula and Table Mountain.
The track descending to the nek is taking strain here and there, but still in fairly good condition. At the next junction however this is where you will need to tread more carefully. The trail down from Kurktrekkernek to Tweede Waterval is in a poor state: overgrown with scratchy vegetation near the top, becoming severely eroded with numerous shortcuts adding to the problem. CapeNature will need to upgrade this section in the near future before things degrade too far.
The sound of the streams flowing will let you know that you’re approaching Tweede Waterval, which can be walked to after crossing the stream. Once again it’s a there-and-back path, so you’ll need to do a time-check to see if time allows (it’s a good 1 hour hike directly back to the vehicles). This is also an ideal water top-up point where the river flows well.
Ending up hiking alongside the Eerste River you’ll have countless opportunities to take a dip in the rock pools or simply put you feet in the icy water. Nothing picks up the energy levels like cooling off in and sipping on icy cold Cape Mountain water – great reward after a long trek at Jonkershoek!
While cruising along the home-stretch be on the look out for the wonderfully scented buchus – aromas to put a smile on any hikers face late in the day 🙂
Take your time when you head out to hike the Panorama Circuit, and enjoy the sights and smells of the greater Boland Mountain Range. It’s a special place.
- Start/end – Parking area at Witte Brug along the jeep track leading from the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve gate.
- Duration – 7 hours (incl. lunch and swim)
- Distance – 17 km (full loop)
- Altitude gain – approx 900m AMSL (Start 380m AMSL)
- Grade – A
- Difficulty – Strenuous
- Exposure – Moderate
- Water – Perennial Eerste River, and multiple small streams along the way (wet season more notably).
- Get a Wild Card – you’ll save on permit fees when entering Jonkershoek Nature Reserve.
- A GUIDE adds immense value in terms of interpretation of the natural environment you pass through, on top of playing the role of navigator.
- The trail is very easy to follow in good weather, and when using your map. In foul weather the area can become trickier to navigate, so always head out prepared, and know how to read a map.
- Take care when descending from Kurktrekkernek to Tweede Waterval: there are numerous steel bars posing a hazard, and the loose eroded path is easy to slip on.
- Visit www.capenature.co.za for all Jonkershoek Nature Reserve details.