Ezemvelo Nature Reserve
When you’re here, you’re here. You may as well be present.
Ezemvelo, a game reserve we hadn’t heard of, is on the border of a province we often visit, Mpumalanga. Here it feels like the sun gets up earlier to chase the day across the sky. So it should, Mpumalanga’s name means ‘the place where the sun rises’. It’s hot and harsh by six in the morning, becoming increasingly bloody minded throughout the rest of the day.
Arriving at the park’s gate at this early hour to sign in, we have contrasting expectations that mirror our vastly different moods. Eras loves the grassland and savannah landscape, the big five and any little critter in between. He arrives full of energy from a cancelled 10 km run he was supposed to have taken part in en route to the start of this hike. For him, the fact that the race was cancelled just means we get to the gates of Ezemvelo earlier than expected – early enough to catch the sun running out along the grassland from sunrise. I, on the other hand, am flat-out grumpy that we got up so early for no good reason and that I am missing out on the nap I would have been able to take while waiting for him at the finish line. The bushveld is my least favourite terrain, and the harsh sunlight shows up all the wear and tear of everyday work and life. I am tired.
And yes, I am well aware that technically, Ezemvelo is savannah, not bushveld. But technically, I am in no mood to be corrected.
We park the car under a giant thorn tree and start the 6 km hike down a small strip of road, over a drift and out into the veld. With the first step from concrete onto soil, it dawns on me that the thing about the start of a circle route hike is that every step you take puts you both further away from and closer to the end. It doesn’t help to drag your feet.
The sun lights up the grass in shades of pink, green and melon yellow as we walk up the first hill and then across a sweeping grassland. By midday, all this nuance of colour will be washed and bleached by its full audacity. The lesson learnt: to really appreciate the beauty of the grasslands, you need to do what the animals do. You have to get up early or stay out late.
I have to appreciate the honesty of this landscape. It is what it is, and it is simple. No ravines, gullies, crags or cracks. It doesn’t seek to suck you in or trip you up. It allows you to sit and see for miles.
Ezemvelo is a reserve protecting 4 500 hectares of land and is fully stocked with over 1 500 head of game. It’s a privilege to hike down the hillside and happen upon a mixed herd of zebra, wildebeest and warthog in the flats bellow. The veld here is aflutter with birdlife, so keeping a bird book handy would have been a good idea. It comes as no surprise that the game drives offered by the on-site lodge are really popular, so we have decided that for our next visit, we should book into one of the chalets to do a two- or three-day hike and fully traverse the landscape of the park.
Leaving the flats behind us, we walk between jagged rock spires on our way up to the river bend viewpoint. These step changes in landscape are a recurring theme in the game park. For no sooner have we gotten used to the otherworldly canyon-like formations, than we are up above them on a giant rock outcrop and staring down at the rivers bellow. This is the coming together of the Zaalboom Spruit and the Wilge River. Two massive bodies collide and negotiate their way into a single body of water that continues onwards. The view is spectacular. Spectacular and spectacularly hot; up here there is neither shade nor shelter. So, we stand and stare down for as long as we can withstand the reflected heat, walking up and down the rock outcrop to take it in from every angle.
The descent to the river’s edge promises some shade and encourages us to make quick work of the boulders en route. It’s a comfortable walk in and out of the shade of the riverside trees and back to the car.
The drive through the remainder of the park to the exit feels like a game drive with the added luxury of our leftover snacks and the air-con. We pass a group of teenagers who have been hauled out here on some or other camp outing. They are carrying impossibly full-looking packs with noisy bits and pieces tethered to the outside. At the helm of the hiking contingent is an adult who the boys follow in single file. They trudge steadily, cutting right through the midday heat along the red sandy road. They seem to have given up on talking to one another long ago as they march with heads bent forward. The last of the group lags a few paces behind the rest. As we pass, he sticks out an arm, hand and thumb upturned in the universal language of travel, and shouts, “Take me with you!”
I find myself thinking, “Son, when you’re here, you’re here. You may as well be present.”
Trail Head Location
S 25º 42’ 46.34” E 28º 59’ 0.00”
Other Trails At Destination
Ochna Trail 4km
Penduka Trail 6km
Protea Trail 14km
Burkea Trail 23km
Total Distance : 6km
Trail Type : Circular
Trail Markings : Good
Starting Altitude : 1286
Summit Altitude : 1356
Base Altitude : 1266
Difficulty Rating : 4 / 10
Dustbins : N
Water points : N
Toilets : N
How To Book
Closed until further notice.
This trail is closed to public due to a traversing agreement that has been changed.
Hiked 8 February