Day 1 – Aloe Kaya

The Num-Num Trail

3 Day Premium Trail

It takes a while to shed your city skin

If weekdays belong to the city, to work and worry, to making lists and making ends meet, then weekends must belong to the backcountry, to roads untravelled and to the trail. 

Weekends are for exploring, and a three-day weekend means that we can explore more. We’ve had the Num-Num Trail in our sights for a while, a beautiful set of interlinking trails in Mpumalanga, about 4 hours outside of Joburg. It’s a great option for a long weekend adventure.

Our 5pm city escape slips back into the quicksand of yet another quickly-before-you-go work meeting and it’s 9pm by the time we make it onto N1 heading out of Joburg. We arrive at the Pongola Express, a set of renovated 1954 train carriages and our first night’s accommodation, in the early hours of the morning. We make our way through the old creaky train, like midnight train robbers, to the first empty bunks we find. We are careful not to wake the more sensible hikers that are already ensconced and asleep. 

Day 1

In the morning we wake-up to the sound of hikers leaving. We haven’t even started and we’re already behind. We still need to rejig our backpacks, leaving some overnight luxuries in the boot of the car and send food supplies on to the night’s camp through the slack pack service they offer. Packing all our food into a slack pack tub in the communal kitchen, we read the notice on the door of the train which advises an early start and that all slack packs need to be loaded and collected by 9am. Double fail. After an apologetic phone call to the trail operator – we leave our slack pack behind and chase the day through the rest of the hike. 

The Num-Num Trail - The R51 winding through the valley

We walk in silence. We are tired and it is already hot, even though it’s winter. Starting the hike right before the midday heat leaves us no time to acclimatize to weather or walk and we force ourselves into a brisk pace up and down the hillside. We wind through grassland and gullies filled with brush and trees, still caught up in our own thoughts until we break the crest of the escarpment atop the red shale cliffs. The view from the top whips us into the present. We see the R51 dotted with tiny cars and trucks as it winds through the valley bellow us and it feels like a fitting farewell to our city selves.

It takes a while to shed your city skin. To make peace with the loose ends you left behind and bring your mind in check with your step. Sometimes it’s a small detail that brings me to the present. The shadow of a bird. The husk of another Tok-tokkie beetle in the path. Today it’s the enormity of a view from the edge of the cliff. From up here, my problems look really small.

Day 1 – Aloe Kaya communal kitchen

It’s time to explore. Leaving the escarpment, we pick up pace, eager to make it to Aloe Khaya, our second night’s accommodation before dark. We wind our way between sandstone rock spires glowing in the late afternoon light and find our camp nestled between them. It’s one of the most intriguing places we have ever stayed in. The communal kitchen and fire pit feel like the set of a western movie and with the full moon rising above the surrounding stone crags, we could be cowboy country. With only one other group of hikers on the same section of trail, we have a glass bunkhouse all to ourselves. The bunkhouses are cleverly built from upcycled industrial windows. The walls, which are entirely constructed of mismatched steel window frames, make for an enchanting glass house set amongst stone spires. 

Day 1 – Aloe Kaya

Day 1 – Aloe Kaya

Day 1 – Aloe Kaya communal braai area

Day 1 – Aloe Kaya loo's overlooking the valley

Day 1 – Aloe Kaya loo's with a view

Day 2

Let it never be said that we don’t learn from our mistakes. This morning we are up early just before sunrise, eating oats and stuffing packs by the light of our headlamps. It’s not just cold, it is freezing and the first section of the hike gets inconceivably colder as we descend into Hell’s Kloof. We are wearing every layer we packed as we make our way through the indigenous forest nestled in the kloof, ducking under vines and clambering over branches. 

Day 2 – One of the many waterfalls on the Bladdernut track

Day 2 – Bladdernut track

Day 2

Climbing out the other side and onto a plateau we begin to shed layers. The perspective of the landscape changes and so must we. Striping and zipping, zipping and striping so that by the time we enter the sandstone labyrinth, we feel light in the winter sun. This is a 4km detour at the whim of the trail. We duck under rocks, walk between grey rock fingers and twist and turn our way forward. 

Day 2 – Skurwerand escarpment

Day 2 – View from the Skurwerand escarpment

Out the other side, we make our way down through another kloof into a grassland below. From here the path follows the Bankspruit river, criss-crossing it playfully, it hops from side to side – and so do we. Across wobbly wooden bridges with well weathered planks. One wouldn’t expect any more or less. 

Day 2 – Swimming pools in the Bankspruit river

Nguni cow

Day 2 – Bankspruit river

Traveling up stream builds expectation, your headed towards the source. You may never get there, but that doesn’t seem to matter - it has a different energy to the usual downstream destination. We hear the great Uitkomst falls long before we see it, and it feels like a reward for the hard yards of the day. Rounding the corner we come out at the base of the 85 metre high waterfall and down packs to stand in the spray. On either side the forest continues, home to hundreds of indigenous tree species and one that has caught our imagination. A silver-white tree, bared by winter shimmers like a ghost amongst the evergreens. We call these the ghost trees. 

Ghost trees tower over the forrest canopy on the banks of the river

Day 2 – Candlewood camp view

A rest at the falls prepares us for the last merciless uphill to the Candlewood camp. Another wooden camp complete with communal kitchen, fire pit and bunkhouses. This camp has no electricity and so we light a fire under the donkey and enjoy a hot shower before joining fellow hikers at the fireside. From the bunkhouse stoep, the last view before bed is the full drop of the Uitkomst falls. 

Day 2 – The spectacular Uitkomst Waterfall as seen from Candlewood Camp

Day 3

The last of the three-day hike brings us right back to the start at the Pongola Express. We have found our rhythm and despite more steep climbs in and out of kloofs, we find it the easiest as well as shortest of the sections. With the last of the kloofs behind us we make our way across grasslands. Cresting the escarpment once more, we can see the end point below and scramble down a forested area to the road crossing and the railway carriages. We manage to beat our slack packs to the end and spend some time walking the campgrounds and dining cart of the train. The wooden interior tells tales of a bygone time we can scarcely begin to imagine.

Day 3 – Pongola Express

The weekend is over and we pack it in with all our luggage and close the boot. There are still four hours of country road to explore before we reach the city limits and we intend to make the most of them. 

Day 3 – Pongola Express

85l slackpacking crates are available at additional cost and will be transported to each overnight spot

4 National Geographics wide and 2 High

Trail Head Location (WGS84)

S 25º 47’ 49.1” E 30º 22’ 26.1”

Other Trails At Destination

Die Bergbas Roete - 5.9km
The Bladdernut Track - 8.7km
The Milk Plum Path - 5.8km
The Pom-pon Way - 6.8km
Die Koko Boom Pad - 6.8km
Any of the above can be combined into 2, 3, 4 or 5 day hikes

Route Info

Total Distance : 22,5km
Day 1 : 7,5km
Day 2 : 11km
Day 3 : 4,3km
Trail Type : Circular
Trail Markings : Very Good
Starting Altitude : 1495
Summit Altitude : 1831
Lowest Altitude : 1396
Difficulty Rating : 6 / 10
Dustbins : N
Water points : Y
Toilets : Y
Picnic: N

How To Book

+27 82 8896757 

Hiked 11 Jul 2014