Rugged and scenic with gorges and rock pools, abundant bird life and fern-filled ravines, a “Baboon Hotel” and ancient ruins, Suikerboschfontein hiking trail is both beautiful and fascinating as I and 12 fellow members of the Johannesburg Hiking Club recently discovered. It was my first away hike.
The lucky group of 13, from left to right: Rod, Ellen, Asher, Alice, Kim, Lorraine, Janet, Nick, Mary, Tracy, Steve. Kneeling in front: Mark and Anthony.
Located on a farm in the Carolina district of Mpumalanga, Suikerboschfontein is approximately 220km from Johannesburg and although designated a backpack trail, there are two overnight camps with bunk beds, bathrooms and self-catering facilities. The two camps, Oom Japie’s House and Rooikrans Camp, are 10 km apart and linked by a circular route which means the trail can be started from either end. Our arrival point on Friday June 22, a warm afternoon, was Oom Japie’s, formerly a holiday home for the man after whom it is named. It comfortably accommodates up to 20 hikers.
Oom Japie’s House, our starting point.
The Club’s trademark camaraderie means that whether you’re a veteran hiker or a newbie, everyone is treated like family and that was certainly my experience on the hike. After selecting our beds, we fired up the “donkey geyser” resulting in wonderful hot showers for all of us.
The “donkey geyser”.
I also discovered that Happy Hour is customary on away hikes – and not to be missed!
Getting ready for happy hour from left to right: Asher, Janet, Nick, Kim, Alice, Mary, Mark, and Anthony.
We enjoyed cheese, biscuits and liquid refreshments plus a glorious sundown (not a cocktail, but Nature’s salute to the end of the day) with the position of the house guaranteeing spectacular views over the valley.
Sunset from Oom Japie’s House.
Saturday morning (June 23) marked the start of the hike and it wasn’t long before we were greeted by the stunning views of Suikerboschfontein. Everyone was buoyed by the beautiful scenery, the fresh air, and the absence of city noise and smog.
The beauty of Suikerboschfontein.
A bit further on down the trail we came across the “Baboon Hotel”, a bunch of rocks and baboon poo, with some remarkable “decor” in the form of rock paintings.
We had fun debating this rock painting.
Then we began our climb uphill. One of the draw cards of Suikerboschfontein is that the terrain is so varied, it never gets boring. We finally reached the top and put down our packs. One of the best things about carrying a backpack is putting it down! After the banana break (as it is called, regardless of whether anyone is eating the fruit), we continued, first passing what Mark, our hike leader, called “rock city” but I think “cairn city” would be more apt. We decided that it was time the Jhb Hiking Club had its own “cairn” on the mountain too.
A bit of hike fun-foolery, the temporary “cairn” we created to the Johannesburg Hiking Club.
Another amazing feature about Suikerboschfontein is the number of ruins you will come across, a testimony to history I, for one, had never heard of before. Apparently, according to Dr C A Hromnik, a South African historian, the ruins were left by Indian gold prospectors as early as 6 BC; although before that, in 1 BC Buddhists made reference to gold trading in Africa. Throughout this region, prospectors and traders erected shrines, temples and places of worship. Perhaps the most mystifying and complex ruin to be found here is the Chariot Temple of the Dying Sun set up to observe the Winter solstice. If true, this changes the narrative of Southern Africa as we know it. The Temple is so-named for its shape, comprising the body of a chariot with two wheel-like compartments.
The Chariot Temple of the Dying Sun.
The group exploring the Temple.
After exploring the ruins we began the final ascent of day one to our overnight stopover, Rooikrans Camp, named I suspect, after the masses of Red Hot Pokers in the vicinity.
The entrance to Rooikrans Camp.
Rooikrans Camp, set high among rock pillars.
After a nice hot shower, thanks again to the marvel known as the “donkey geyser”, we enjoyed another magnificent sunset and settled in for a night of fellowship and laughter.
The Balancing Rock.
After a good night’s sleep, we rose early to catch the sunrise. Rooikrans has a view point overlooking the valley and the sun did not disappoint us. Following a quick breakfast we packed out bags and were off on day two.
Steve, Tracy, and Lorraine braved the early morning chill to take in the sunrise.
The rock formations at Rooikrans are dramatic and it was a breath-taking experience hiking and climbing through them. After encountering our last ruin we changed tack and began hiking along the edge of the mountain.
Ellen in one of the last ruins we came across.
The scenery is magnificent with high cliffs and sheer rock faces.
Enjoying the view.
It’s a long way down from where you are hiking.
Hiking on the edge.
After soaking up the spectacular views we began our descent into the first kloof, and discovered a kind of natural wonderland under the trees.
Easy does it.
Welcome to “Jurassic Park” – in Suikerboschfontein.
One of the many waterfalls on the trail. There are several clear streams that provide drinking water for thirsty hikers.
At the bottom of the first kloof we decided on an early lunch to replenish our energy levels for the tough ascent out of the kloof, back to the top of the mountain.
The kloof from above.
We had a rest at the top, then we were off again. We were delighted to learn that we were going through a second, shorter kloof. Mark had kept it a secret, thus reinforcing the practice that a good leader bends the truth a bit to help motivate his fellow hikers.
Heading into the second kloof.
Slippery when wet.
After exploring the second kloof we continued on the last leg of our hike. In total we hiked 20km in Suikerboschfontein, 10km on the first day, and 10km on the second, so it was a fairly relaxed adventure, but a very memorable one.
The last leg, that’s Mary in the distance
Mark was a fantastic leader and we all had an amazing time, pledging to return. We got back to Oom Japie’s House at around 2:30pm on Sunday June 24 where we connected with our cars and drove home to Johannesburg. What a hike....what a hiking weekend. Suikerboschfontein delivered – and on so many levels. I will be back!