Grasslands. Escarpments. Plantations. Jungle.
Kaapsche Hoop is a small mining town that sits at the edge of the Great Escarpment, just off the N4, as you're heading towards Nelspruit. The town is tucked away between 240 000 hectares of Sappi plantations. As you approach the town you wouldn't expect that a 500 metre walk out of town gets you to one of the most spectacular views in South Africa.
This is the second time we've hiked this trail. What is so striking about this trail is how drastically the landscape changes in a single day. One moment you're walking through beautiful grasslands, filled with bright red Aloes scattered amongst the quartzite rock formations, the next moment you're engulfed by a jungle that looks like it should be surrounding an Inca Temple, only to pop out on the other end in a pine plantation.
We start off from the corrugated iron Kaapsche Hoop Hut, through the little tin town and head towards the escarpment. The trail leads us through a surreal landscape of tall, grey quartzite rocks, that made us wish that we were kids playing hide & seek.
The Great Escarpment
It's not even 10AM when we reach the precipice, but we're almost tempted to stop and have our lunch here. The view is unrivalled and the expansive landscape and rolling hills below is a captivating sight, even when you see it for a second time (or a third).
Both of the times that we've been here the air has been very hazy, which makes it really hard to do a view like this justice in a picture. If you want to get a good picture of this, come straight after a thunderstorm or pack a polarising filter for your DSLR camera.
We're hiking to Florence Hill Hut (on older maps its referred to as Coetzee Stroom Hut). On our first visit we were reluctant to leave such a view behind, but we know we'll be treated to this view for the next 9 kilometres as the trail follows the escarpment, before it drops down into the indigenous forests below.
During the Anglo Boer war battles in the area some horses escaped and have founded a few herds of wild horses that roam freely around the area. It's a real treat to spot them, even though they're quite skittish.
Thriving indigenous forests
From the grassy escarpment we follow the trail to a small track that leads down into the lush indigenous forest that flourishes against the edge of the plateu. Giant boulders are held in place by the intertwined roots of the trees. For some reason the rocks here break with perfectly square corners, which makes it look like the loose boulders and sheer faces are remnants of some ancient Incan temple.
Somehow the rocks have split in such a way that they have left a path through the forest, with right-angled walls and a flat forest floor. We follow this path through corridors and courtyards that look like they have been chiselled by an ancient civilisation. It's awesome to explore and you find surprises around every corner.
Komatieland Ecotourism, the booking agents and conservation managers of the trail, have carried a wooden picnic table all the way down to one of these 'courtyards' and it's possibly one of our favourite places to sit and have a hiking picnic. One can sit and gawk at the other-worldly trees around you for hours.
With our stomachs full of hiking food we leave the forest behind and climb up to the plateau. From here the trail leads us into some of the Sappi plantations and skirts an entirely new side of the escarpment.
Florence Hill Hut
When we arrive at Florence Hill hut we are ecstatic to find out that Leonard, the hut's groundsman, has stoked a donkey for us and that we can look forward to a hot shower. It's such a luxury and it almost feels like cheating. The hut is basic, but exceptionally well equipped. It sleeps eight and has two bathrooms and two showers. Komatieland Ecotourism supplies potable water and firewood every day.
We spend the afternoon on the west-facing stoep and watch the sun set behind an abandoned fire tower, making for a fine end to a superb day.
We start early on our second day from Florence Hill to Barret's Coaches. The Kaapsche Hoop hiking trail is part of a network of trails that run between five hiking huts and can be combined to make a variety of hikes, from a single day hike to five days. The trails are very well marked and they supply accurate and up to date maps with your booking. Well done to Komatieland Ecotourism!
The trail leads us through a series of pine-scented plantations. One would think that after the previous day's jungle that a plantation would be boring – it's all but. The plantations are beautiful in their simplicity and hiking through them is distinctly therapeutic.
Large chunks of the trail follow service roads that criss-cross the plantations and it makes for easy hiking. It's very social being able to hike with four people next to each other and we make good use of this banter opportunity.
The reality is that these plantations are utilitarian. As we pass Battery Creek and start ascending to Barret's Coaches we pass through a section of the plantation that is being harvested. It's brutal to see and awful to walk through. This plantation will be cleaned out and replanted within the year, but it will take some time to establish itself. It might be wise to check with Komatieland which sections are being harvested and to plan your trip around that. It gets especially hard if a section of the trail leads through one that has recently been harvested – it's a dirty business walking through the mess and can even be dangerous.
After a long ascent up from Battery Creek, we reach Barret's Coaches – two old Spoornet railroad carriages that have been parked and now serve as hiking accommodation. It's a unique experience to sleep in these coaches, even though they're cramped and more than just a little worse-for-wear.
We are treated to clear skies, and its hard to beat lying on the lawn with tired hiking legs, looking at the stars.
The last day is a very short hike back to Kaapsche Hoop. We make short work of it, because, let's be honest, one of the best parts of hiking is stuffing your face afterwards. The Koekepan is a pancake restaurant that serves more types of sweet and savoury pancakes than we care to count.
Trail Head Location (WGS84)
S25° 35' 22.4" E30° 46' 20.3"
Other Trails At Destination
Kaapsche Hoop has a network of trails running between 5 huts. any of them can be combined to create hikes from 2 to 5 days.
Some good options are:
- Battery Creek Two-night Trail, (total distance either 23.5km or 16.3km)
- Starvation Creek Two-night Trail, (total distance 24.7km)
- Two Creeks Three-night Trail, (total distance 38.6km).
- Kaapschehoop Two-night Trail, (total distance 31.96km).
- Kaapschehoop 3 day no 6, (total distance 46.42)
Total Distance : 39,6km
Trail Type : Network of Trails
Trail Markings : Well marked
Starting Altitude : 1408m
Summit Altitude : 1555m
Lowest Altitude : 1389m
Difficulty Rating : 5 / 10
Dustbins : Y
Water points : Y
Toilets : Y
How To Book
Hiked June 2015, July 2016