Hard to find. Hard to forget.
At times, hiking can be a schlep. I can think of numerous times where a particular hill or an unpleasant couple of kilometres made me question if slogging on is worth it. But, slog on is what we do and usually it pays off. Some of the most picturesque and pristine landscapes are found in the hardest to reach places. These hard-to-reach places, the grassy pools at Castle Gorge being one of them, are so pristine because they’re hard to reach.
We set off from the MCSA parking at the southern foot of the Magaliesberg range. The flat, unexciting first part of the route follows a footpath of compacted red clay and joins up with an equally unexciting jeep track. The path turns to face the mountain and we duck and dodge through the dry forest one typically finds on the southern side of the range.
As the trail exits the tree line it starts to climb. Round orange rocks and a sandy path seem as if they were intentionally combined to make the ascent unpleasant. On we slog. On the escarpment, with most of the complaining behind us, we get a chance to regain our appreciation for where we are. The gently undulating path leads us through some pretty grassland to the first of a series of pools.
The first one is Piranha Pools. We dismissed the name as creative license and weren’t expecting to find any fish. It was in fact filled with little black fish, Marico Barb (Barbus Motebensis). As you place your hands or feet in the water, they swim up and nibble on the dead skin. Not quite Piranha, but their hearts are in the right place. Happy with our free spa treatments we continue.
We follow the stream to the first of the waterfalls. The water cascades down a 10 metre high cliff, into a deep gully and three crystal clear pools. One has to approach the waterfall from downstream by walking around a large rock outcrop to the left and clambering down to water level. This is a spectacular swimming spot. For the brave it has high cliffs to jump from and for the not-scared-just-don't-feel-like-swimming-right-now, large sunny spectator rocks. Just a note to avoid the last pool at this spot; once in, it’s impossible to climb back out without a rope.
There is an equally great swimming spot at the base of the second waterfall. It’s only 15 metres down stream but requires a 500 metre detour. To get to it we have to climb back out the gully and circle around to approach from the bottom – a lot of effort but well worth it. We circle around, clamber up the roots of a tree hugging the rock face to the right of the stream and top out at the last swimming spot. The property owner has installed a chain, which we hold on to while crossing the slippery stream. The pool is pristine and surprisingly deep. The midday light floods the depths of the pool and floating face down with your eyes open, it gives you a sudden and extreme sense of vertigo.
After more swimming, cliff jumping and coffee we head back.
The last stop is at two long grassy pools: hard to find but possibly the most beautiful swimming spot in the Magaliesberg. If one were to visualise a textbook-perfect micro-ecosystem, this would be it. Flawless and unblemished. I feel like I’m intruding just by being here.
I find it strange that, at a well-known trail like Castle Gorge, a spot like this doesn’t ever get mentioned. I’ve heard of and seen plenty pictures online of the waterfalls, but none of these pools. Maybe it doesn’t get mentioned because it doesn’t get found. Maybe it’s because it’s off the usual route which heads straight to the waterfalls and straight back. Maybe it’s this pristine because it’s a secret. Maybe I shouldn’t be telling you this.
As we walk back to the car I hope that when I return one day, the grassy pools will be just as perfect and pristine. Because it’s hard to find, because it’s hard to get to, because the kind of people who would put the effort in to find it are the kind of people who will leave it as they found it.
Total Distance : 12,1km
Trail Type : Return
Trail Markings : Good
Starting Altitude : 1332m
Summit Altitude : 1558m
Lowest Altitude : 1332m
Difficulty Rating : 6 / 10
Dustbins : N
Water points : Y
Toilets : N
Swimming : Y
Picnic : N
Trail Head Location (WGS84)
A permit is required to visit this property.
How To Book
Johannesburg Hiking Club
MCSA - Johannesburg Section
011 067 0326
The MCSA has requested that we do not post downloadable maps of hikes on their property.
Hiked 20 September