As we approach the outskirts of Stellenbosch, one of our hiking party reads aloud from a brochure about Jonkershoek Nature Reserve‘s claims to beauty. I scoff, and am heard to mutter that every nature reserve claims ‘beauty’ as their major charm (and most of them are). Cynical me.
I was to eat my words.
Jonkershoek is one of four nature reserves that form part of the greater Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve – a World Heritage Site registered by UNESCO in late 2007. The reserve is gorgeous – ‘beautiful’ is the understatement of the year.
It lies just outside of Stellenbosch, surrounded by the imposing Jonkershoek mountains that in turn form part of the larger Boland mountain range (part of the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve). Jonkershoek also includes the smaller Assegaaibosch Nature Reserve.
What you can infer from my ramblings is that you are in mountainous company. All around you are a series of towering peaks.
In fact, the Tweede Waterval hike heads right up the valley of Guardian Peak, hemmed in on both sides by the soaring crests of mountain fynbos covered mountains – over 1 100 plant species are said to occur in the reserve.
The route is peppered with proteas, various ericas – all in violet and mauve flower at this time of year -, restios, and grasses. The banks of the Eerste River, alongside which we walk for much of the way, are covered in dense riparian vegetation (really important for their value as bank stabilisers and water quality protectors) and in the narrow, moist kloofs are relics of the old forests that grew here – where they have escaped any danger of fire.
Jonkershoek is popular. We arrive at the main entrance to find it teeming with bikers, cars, locals and students. My heart falls – is this a Stellenbosch weekend hangout?
The reserve, though, is fairly big – 11 000 hectares. And the hikes begin around 5 kilometres from the main gate. We head off along the dirt road by car up the valley floor leaving much of the crowd – who hang out around the restaurant at the main gate – behind.
Parking is available along the 10km circular route in designated areas, to allow one to set off on the four major hiking routes in the reserve. Or, as a group of students did, you can walk from the gate and include the 5km dirt road (beautiful views and lots of cyclists) in the Tweede Waterval hike.
Much of the hike is on the flat. If you have really little ones, you will easily make it to the first waterfall and back. Even reaching the waterfall viewing point, inside a little kloof, is easy, and definitely worth the detour. There you can happily swim in pools, although there is not that much ‘bank’ space, and parties tend to cheerfully move on, as others arrive for their share of the water.
I would hazzard a guess that in summer, this walk is extremely popular because of the pools.
The real beauty of the walk begins after the first waterfall, as you head up the valley to the second. The initial part of the walk brings you to yet more river pools at which you can stop and picnic, or swim.
There is more of a steep ascent as you take the final leg, and the wind caught us along this strip. Watch out with little ones, as there are sheer drops as you reach the the foot of the second waterfall, where there is another lovely little cove. It isn’t dangerous if you’re prepared, and for part of it someone has kindly provided a hand rail. The even more sheer uphill to the waterfalll above you, is closed.
We then headed back the same way we had come. If you want to make it a much longer hike, you can continue in a circular way after the second waterfall, which takes you along the Panorama Circuit, a 17 km circular route.
- Stellenbosch Accommodation
- Stellenbosch Hotels
- Western Cape Accommodation
- Cape Town Hotels
- South Africa Accommodation