Last weekend, after months of day dreaming, it was time to hit the hiking trails again. It’s one of the few activities that’s both safe and legal to do in lockdown South Africa – as long as you don’t cross any provincial borders to do it.
So, we headed as close to the Northwest Province as possible, without crossing over, for a morning at Hennops Hiking Trails (within Gauteng, because that’s the rules).
Depending on the time and day, it only takes about 45 to 60 minutes from Joburg to reach the trails, following the route to Hartbeespoort Dam.
Arriving at the frosty parking lot around 8h00, it seemed, simultaneously, that it was both busier and quieter than expected.
Despite the cold, the blue skies and distant hills beckoned. Though the single-digit temperatures would’ve been a valid reason for our hustle to registration, it was actually the number of cars pulling in behind us. A crowded hike, with everyone huffing and puffing around us was (and remains) terribly unappealing.
We were directed to the registration hut by a marshal, quickly paid the entrance fee and then completely forgot that the hiking trails at Hennops begin behind the little hut.
But, it did provide us with an opportunity to observe the social distancing and masks of our trailmates for the day.
Once you figure out where to go as a hiker (as opposed to a mountain biker – which Hennops is also known for), the trails are well signed, with frequent markers, and are easy to follow.
Having hiked the Krokodilberg Trail at Hennops before – and survived it (despite some snags, which we’ll get to), it wasn’t even a question that we’d hit this long, challenging trail. We headed left.
The riverside walk at the start of the trail is peaceful, to be sure, but it’s a tough start during the winter. We found ourselves scurrying quickly to overtake slower hikers, but mostly just to stay warm and make it to higher, warmer grounds as fast as possible.
And, really, it didn’t take long to hit the first peak of the Krokodilberg Trail, near the Smuggler’s Cave.
A detour to the cave might’ve been a possibility during this walk, except there were 20 or 30 people sitting on the rocks or making their way through to the cave.
That’s a traffic jam on any hike. Once you add in Coronavirus-prevention measures, you can understand why we sailed swiftly past this spot to the first real challenge of the Krokodilberg Trail: the suspended bridge.
Those who know me know that I’m afraid of heights and I suffer with occasional vertigo.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time crying at the top monuments and churches in Europe. Hell, I’ve cried on the viewing deck of the Voortrekker Monument.
The combination translates as a fear of becoming unsteady and, subsequently, falling. My knees and hips lock and I’m psychologically unable to move.
Irrational? Yes. Getting better? Also yes (thanks to tackling difficult trails).
But, a suspended bridge such as this one terrifies me – and requires a fair amount of mental preparation.
The frost on the bridge certainly didn’t help matters, but knowing that I’d managed it before certainly did.
And, somehow, with very little prompting, I climbed up and marched across. Actually, I didn’t march; I timidly, gingerly, slowly placed one foot in front of the other, while clutching the sides and doing everything possible to remain centred.
It also helped that we wanted, desperately, to put some distance between ourselves and the groups of hikers we’d left on the summit.
With the strength of my triumph behind me, I quickly felt the challenge moving from the mental to the physical. The very real disuse of my leg muscles were felt with each climb. My legs cooperated, however unwillingly, and soon we reached another peak – the Tierbos Lookout with a view of Johannesburg far in the distance.
For reference, tier in Afrikaans means tiger and bos translates to bush.
It was somewhere around here, however, that the wider trails offered a false sense of security.
Taking in the wide blue skies, contrasted with the brown, blonde grasses and green bush around me, I nailed the big toe on my left foot.
I mean, I really nailed my toe – swearing and hopping and shouting nailed it on a rock sticking out of the path. For a moment, I thought it was possible that I’d broken it. At the very least, I was fairly certain I’d lose the toenail.
As I cast my mind over the (truly well stocked) first aid kit in my pack, we began looking for a spot to picnic and take a look at the toe.
We chose to stop at a spot I’d made use of previously – overlooking the power plant at Hartbeespoort Dam… in the Northwest Province.
We dropped our packs and ourselves to the ground. First aid kit in hand, I stripped off my left shoe and sock to discover a crack in my toenail, extending from the centre top of the nail downwards, with a right angle bend to push it into the edge of the toenail bed in the middle of the nail.
You don’t need pictures of this. Promise.
In any case, I taped it up, replaced my footwear, sanitised my hand and then dug into the blueberries and cashew snack I’d brought for just such a stop in the trail.
We weren’t there long before a group of seven or so hikers crawled up into our private picnic space. And they stayed, mask-free, for far too long.
Wearing a mask while hiking at Hennops during the Coronavirus pandemic
Please allow me to break here for a brief rant on masks and wearing them.
Masks make a difference. Whether you consider what’s known about the transmission of the virus – or you look at the experiences of areas that managed to get the virus under control – masks are useful tools.
I don’t really care whether you feel fine or you find mask-wearing uncomfortable. So do I. You’re supposed to wear the mask because:
- They work.
- It’s the polite thing to do.
- It’s not about you anyhow.
While walking along in your own little bubble, by all means, remove your mask and breathe deeply. When you approach other people, put your protective gear on. And, if for some reason, you refuse to do this, don’t hang around for 15 minutes near people who are making an effort to wear their masks and avoid your presence.
Even if all it does is reduce this awful lockdown situation by 1 day, wear the damn mask. It’s not that difficult.
In any case, the non-maskers eventually left, and we carried on as well.
By this time, the sun had risen, though only high enough to stare us right in our faces.
A stop to apply sunscreen was, however, how we managed to spot this little beauty growing out of the rocks on a rather sharp descent from our picnic spot.
We also managed to catch this bit of genius. A young hiker passed, alone, ear buds in and holding her phone to her face, she was having a fat chat with someone while not caring a fig to check where she was placing her feet.
Take a look at this trail; her blind manoeuvres definitely demonstrated a skill level I hope to attain someday. Instead, I beat up my toes on predominantly even terrain.
The Krokodilberg Trail at Hennops Hiking, in all its 10 kilometre glory challenges hikers with a lot more up and down than I remembered.
My withered leg muscles sought relief on the flatter sections. But, throughout it all, it was such a relief to be freed from the four-walled views of Joburg city.
Sadly, the only animals we spotted were these cows grazing by the Kakloond (lime oven) marker on the trail.
And it wasn’t just the cows having a munch here either; this appears to be one of the more popular picnic spots on the Krokodilberg Trail. The groups of hikers taking a bit of respite pushed us forward faster, towards more ascents and descents until, eventually, it felt like we were closing in on the finish line.
It was with some sadness that we hit the final segments of the trail, all while realising that, yes, muscle soreness wouldn’t leave as soon as we did.
And, there was one more hurdle to tackle: the Long Tom Bridge.
A highlight for many at Hennops is the self-propelled cable car over the river, completing the loop back to the entrance.
It shouldn’t surprise you that this wasn’t on the cards for me. An extra kilometre to face a different challenge was far more preferable than standing in a crowd, waiting to touch the same surface they’ve just sweated over and zooming, unsecured over flowing, freezing water.
Nope. Not for me. The Long Tom Bridge, even with bouncing cyclists hot on my heels was more comfortable. And it carried us to the end of the trail, promises to return and a renewed commitment to indulge in as much local budget travel as I possibly can.
What you need to know about Hennops hiking
The trails are open every day, except Christmas Day.
April to October
- Weekdays | 8h00 to 13h00
- Weekends and public holidays | 7h00 to 14h00
November to March
- Weekdays | 8h00 to 13h00
- Weekends and public holidays | 6h00 to 13h00
Hennops hiking trails close at 17h00.
- Adults | R80
- Children | R40
Payments are cash only and payable upon registration.
Hennop has 4 hiking trails.
- River trail | 1.5 kms
- Dassie trail | 2.5 kms
- Zebra trail | 5 kms
- Krokodilberg trail | 10 kms
There’s a picnic spot (entrance included in registration fees), toilets and limited accommodation for hikers.
If you’re into offroading and mountain biking, Hennops is going to make you very happy.