Hiking Above Wellington – Happy Valley Trail in the Limietberg
An easy there-and-back 9 km hike, ideal for families and beginners that starts in Bainskloof, is limited to 12 people a day, and follows a section of the Limietberg Trail to Junction Pool.
The start of the Happy Valley trail is at the entrance to the Limietberg Nature Reserve, perched up above the town of Wellington. To reach there we’ve scaled Bainskloof pass by car, the hairpin bends and intense mountain views a consistent reminder of the scale of work that must have gone into creating the pass.
‘The mountain that limits’ – the Limietberg – despite sounding as though it severely hindered the passage of latter day wagons was not, in fact, a limit to crossing the mountains, and today we come and go through a hole with barely an acknowledgement of the magnificence of this range that forms part of the Du Toitskloof mountain range.
The Limietberg Nature Reserve stretches from Franschhoek in the south, east towards Groot Drakenstein and to the north as far as Voëlvlei Dam. We head over a stile at a cluster of houses just up from Bainskloof Corner Lodge that form something of a village. One of our group recounts a story of how they once overnighted in one of these homes with an old lady friend. “She was a quaker”, he remarks, “They make good neighbours”, and he smiles, as we head up the path that will soon join the main track of the hike.
The Happy valley trail is beautifully clear, some of it (barely a few metres, and intermittently at that) is a jeep track, but for the rest we spend most of the day walking on stones – which makes the 4.5 km each way feel far more like 12 km in total by the time we finish 6 hours later. But then we’re none of us seasoned hikers, and we’ve a couple of children along, who easily manage (bar the last hour in the late afternoon sun).
The trail officially starts at Eerste Tol, past the remains of a house that is rumoured (another story by said member of hiking group, who is a mine of information) to belong to the Gant (of the tinned food) family, where, during the 1970s there was a murder by a couple of local escapees of the jail down in the valley below, who obviously wished to remain undetected. The murder escalated a search and they were re-captured. But not before they made headline news.
The day is a scorcher, but it’s late March and a wind blows the brunt of the heat away from our skins. We’re grateful for its presence as it lifts the hair from our foreheads on the way out to Junction Pool, and upon return allows a barely perceptible nudge from behind that eases the return journey.
The beauty of the Limietberg is palpable. All around us is evidence of fynbos – restios, Ericas gently in bloom along the way – their pink flowers such a challenge to grow in my garden, and yet so obviously in their element here -, proteas, the red of new leaves on the edge of fine bushes of fynbos, and lower down, as we edge around the corner and leave Bainskloof pass behind us, rushes and water grass line the edge of the Witte (White) River.
The Witte River is well behaved today. It’s late summer and we remark at how much of it is flowing. It’s crystal clear and ice cold. Evidently though, at other times of the year, the river can swell to sinister volumes of water, if the 1895 monument we pass close to the start of the hike is anything to go by. The lives of four people, said to be children and their teacher, were lost here.
We’re finding the trail easy going – there are very few rises and when there are, they’re gentle – and the route is easy to follow, so much so that one of the little ones is pacing himself at the head of the group in a bid to get us to the pool, to which he’s looking forward, that much faster.
In due course we reach what looks like a fairly new suspended wooden bridge across a stream. On the other side of it is a home-made wooden sign that is clearly marked ‘Raymond se brug’ (Raymond’s bridge). The stream is clear, filled with boulders and with a series of little pools a little higher up that look inviting. We make a note, should we not find Junction Pool.
Photographs — Left: The hike begins / Right: Glorious erica
We’ve been going now for a good 2.5 hours and are starting to lag. It feels high time for lunch and a good dip. We’ve already stopped a couple of times for snacks and water. Ahead of us it becomes fairly obvious that two valleys intersect, that there is a natural junction and, in due course, there is a rough path that heads left down to the river, whose course we have followed for a while but from a distance – far enough away not to have monitored its flow.
My six-year old ahead of me on the path is overheard to distinctly point out that this is away from the path and shouldn’t we continue on ahead? But some of us are intent on reaching the river now, come what may. A swim is overdue.
The pools, if this is indeed junction pool – and the intersection of two rivers strongly suggests that it is – are somewhat disappointing. We remind ourselves that it is summer and that during winter this can look quite different. But there is no shade and little place to sit, unless we’re prepared to wade through the river over boulders to the opposite bank.
We press on, this time following the path to where it changes distinctly, continuing over strewn heaps of restio grass laid on the path to ease our passage, over grassy tussocks and scratchy burned out fynbos. But we now feel as though we’re bundu bashing. All around us are the waving tufts of water grass. It is clear that maintaining this path is something of a mission, along the banks of the river.
Before long we reach what looks like a river crossing, but its shaded and has enough rough bank space for us to offload our backpacks, stretch out our legs and for the children to paddle. One of us goes on ahead to see if he can’t find the pools, but after a while (and, we later discover, barely minutes from the actual pool) gives up to come and join us in the shade.
When the little ones begin bickering over the ownership of pointed water grass roots, we decide it’s time to return, with the intention of stopping at Raymond’s stream for a dip there instead. We reckon it will serve well as an alternative.
We’re right. The rocky crops on the bank are in full shade, and with enough space for us to find a perch or two. Some of us head into the icy water where there are giant tadpoles, frogs and rock crystals to provide entertainment, and we replenish our depleted water supply.
Raymond’s bridge and stream has the benefit of incredible views of the Limietberg Mountains as they loom on the other side of the river. I felt momentarily expansive, grateful for the chance to have this part of the Limietberg virtually to myself, apart from having to share it with a couple of friends; to count myself one of the few privileged ones to experience this incredible beauty, and to be able to walk through it, unhindered, to breathe in the beauty without challenge. We truly are blessed to live with this on our doorstep. It allows for a moment or two of true contentment.
Our day ends at Linda’s Kitchen up at the lodge, where, after copiously ringing the bell and side-stepping the ‘brown’ dog that a sign warns one not to touch, we enjoy ice-cold beers and drinks on a veranda overlooking the Limietberg.
Photographs — Left: Rocky path / Middle: One foot in front of the other / Right: Raymond se brug
Useful Wellington Links:
General tourism enquiries:
Telephone: +27 (0)21 426-0723 / +27 (0)21 423-9611
Tourism reservation office: (for overnight hiking permits)
Telephone: +27 (0)21 659-3500
Other hikes in the Limietberg Nature Reserve include Bobbejaans River Trail and the Rock Hopper Trail.
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