I spent the first weekend of spring in Waterval Boven (which was renamed Emgwenya in 2009 but is still referred to by its original name), a little town off the N4 highway between Middelberg and Nelspruit in Mpumalanga. This town, world-famous for it rock climbing routes is approximately 250km from both Johannesburg and Pretoria, and can be reached in +-3 hours.
There are a few B&B’s and hostel accommodation in town but I chose to stay closer to the crags on Tranquilitas Adventure Farm which is 7 km away from town (accessible by dirt road).
Regarding accommodation options, Tranquilitas has farm houses, chalets, safari tents and camp grounds available for you to reserve.
I stayed in a safari tent which shares an ablution block with the campers.
The facility is very clean and has both indoor (gas) and outdoor (wood on fire) heated showers available.
The vibe at Tranqulitas is amazing. When I visited on an orientation weekend with the Mountain Club of South Africa – JHB section, we were also there with climbers from a local SA university climbing club and a few South Africans and foreigners (Dutch, German, US and French) of all ages. The tuck-shop on site was manned by a small group of diligent German kids!
Waterval Boven has approximately 450 sport climbing and 150 trad climbing routes available. Most of the crags are accessible from Tranquilitas Adventure Farm. There is a parking lot outside the farm for climbers that are not staying at Tranquilitas.
It’s a beautiful hike from Tranquilitas down to the crags.
There are some basic safety and cleanliness rules that you need to adhere to in the area.
The crags that we climbed at took about 20 minutes to get to. I was there with 3 friends.
One is getting really good at climbing (as an amateur on his 4th climb only). He even lead on one route.
I think I’m getting better at understanding some of the basics
We were part of a really cool group of climbers.
To learn more about the routes available in the area you can download the newest version of the Boven climbing guide here.
There’s also mountain biking, hiking and trail running trails around Tranquilitas.
I tried some mountain biking but soon gave up. I admit, I’m not that skilled cycling narrow mountain passes with sharp bends and my bike is not the most comfortable on rocky terrain.
Still, I saw other cyclists manage fine…
I spent some time at a nice small waterfall along one of the trails.
Back at Tranquilitas there’s a nice pool with a cool climbing wall beside it. The water was freezing cold (the temperature in the area dropped to zero degrees Celsius at night and rose to 30 degrees Celsius in the day. At mid-day the water was still extremely cold but this did not stop me from taking a plunge).
The venue has good facilities for you to braai (South African term for barbeque) or prepare food on a gas stove. Power outlets are available to heat water or food (the safari tents come with kettles and there are power outlets in the camping area). It’s nice to socialise and enjoy snacks around the fire at night.
There is a club house with an ice machine and fridge to leave your food in.
As mentioned above, there is a tuck shop available on site that has basic snacks and reasonably priced hot drinks (hot chocolate, tea, coffee…).
If you want something better you can head down the dirt road back into town.
Town is pretty dead with many liquor stores and a few restaurants and supermarkets which were all closed when we drove by at 4pm on a Saturday.
Nearby in Waterval Boven Nord we found a pizzeria that was open and ordered a few takeout pizzas before they closed. Across the road from the pizzeria is a small supermarket where we stocked up for the next morning’s breakfast.
Another group of climbers also went into town looking for food. They found another pizzeria that was run by an intriguing and entertaining cult of “alien worshipers” who believe in portals that can transport humans far away. Their experience with this cult was a fascinating topic of discussion around the camp fire on Saturday night.
The sister town to Waterval Boven is Waterval Onder which has a beautiful waterfall. To get there from Waterval Boven we were told to head back onto the N4 highway towards Nelspruit and once we pass a bridge at Waterval Onder we should park our car and follow the rail tracks to the waterfall. However, this is a very “dodgy” area and we were advised to go in a large group and leave people behind to supervise the car before swapping with each other. It was getting late so we skipped visiting the waterfall.
If you’re leaving Waterval Boven and heading back to Johannesburg or Pretoria stop at Milly’s Restaurant and Bakery at the Caltex petrol station, just after the Machado toll plaza on the N4.
The restaurant serves a variety of trout dishes including their famous trout pie. I tried one which was served with mushroom sauce and chips. It was delicious.
The restaurant overlooks a large dam where they catch trout from.
This restaurant also has some inspiring history. In the bakery you can get a variety of goodies including frozen trout pie, trout pâté, rusks, sweets and many flavors of fresh Milly’s jam. I purchased a Watermelon & Pineapple jam and a Strawberry Jam.
When to visit
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast then Waterval Boven is a perfect destination to visit throughout the year.
Keep note of the Boven Mountain Festival (previously known as the Boven Roc Rally), an annual event that draws hundreds of outdoor climbing, mtb and trail running enthusiasts to Boven. In 2014 the Boven Mountain Festival runs from 3 – 5 October. Read more about it here: http://www.bovenfestival.com/
It’s supposed to be one big party!
If you’re interested in climbing and live in Johannesburg, why not check out the Reel Rock 9 screening on 1 October 2014 at the MCSA JHB clubhouse:
I love their trailer: