For the moment, we’re confined to the borders of the Gauteng province. This makes it challenging, to find cheap activities and experiences to enjoy, especially while social distancing.
As the province with the highest population density in South Africa, it’s easy to surmise that the two big cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria hold most of the attractions. That means, in a pre-Covid world, most excursions boiled down to shopping, eating and drinking.
When you want to get out into nature, it’s a lot easier to head to neighbouring provinces.
But it’s far from impossible.
You’ve just got to dig a little deeper. And that’s how I stumbled on Windy Brow Adventure Trails, just outside Cullinan in, yes, the Gauteng province.
They’re about an hour from Johannesburg, even less if you’re travelling from Pretoria. And absolutely worth the visit.
Almost immediately, I was busy on Whatsapp with the folks at Windy Brow to figure out the costs, and the best day for hiking. And then it was off to loading my pack and figuring out trail snacks on a budget.
Arriving at the Windy Brow base camp
The directions were as clear as a Highveld winter sky. We were to meet at the Windy Brow base camp to get the lay of the land and hand over the, perfectly reasonable, R50 hiking fee before setting off.
One look at base camp and I was sold. It looks deserted here, simply because we chose to hike during the week, on a cold day, in the middle of lockdown. But, I imagined it teeming with children climbing trees as parents unpack picnic baskets and cyclists stretch their legs after a ride.
You see it too, right?
We were met at base camp and shown an overview of the hiking trails.
Though I had planned on the Geology Trail, we were swayed towards the other two, as there was the possibility of animal spotting on the easy walk.
Either way, I’d rate both of the smaller hikes on the easy side. Either one, would be a great hike for beginners.
Whatever hike you do, you’ll find the starting points easily, the trails well-marked and that they’ve maintained the trails well.
Hiking the Geology Trail with Cullinan views
We started with the Geology Trail, which has a few more hills than the easy hike. You know, just to get those out of the way.
Almost instantly, we were greeted with blue skies extending in every direction.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I find seeing wide African landscapes in the middle of lockdown refreshing. It’s like remembering that the rest of the world exists – and that, perhaps, one day, I’ll be part of it again.
And while there may be diamond mining just next to Windy Brow Adventure Trails, it was certainly difficult to imagine that from our initial vantage point.
After rounding the first ridge on the Geology Trail, the terrain became a little rockier. But, it’s the good kind of rocky, where it makes it easier to find your footing.
The folks at Windy Brow clearly enjoy outdoor activities. It’s easy to see in their trail markers. At no point was I ever looking for direction. When it was obvious, they didn’t bother to add a marker. When it wasn’t crystal clear as I watched one foot going in front of the other, all I had to do was look up – and the guidance was there.
This may not seem like a big deal. But it is. I’ve hiked trails in the past where, you’re not entirely sure if you’re going the right way, or how far you’d need to backtrack before you get it right. It’s not a pleasant feeling; in fact, it’s quite draining on tough hikes.
As we rounded towards the Cullinan mine view, we decided to sit on the rocks for a bit to take in the view, wondering at the diamond mining process.
In non-pandemic times, we’d probably have shuffled our itinerary to take in a mine tour. But, with mines acting as super-spreaders at the moment, the idea of mine shafts and closed lifts isn’t truly palatable. That said, I specifically avoided researching anything, giving us a local excursion for the future.
The other question in our mind as we walked related to the exceptionally large barn we’d passed on our initial climb. We hadn’t spotted any evidence of crops or animal agriculture as we walked.
To be fair, we weren’t traversing the whole property, but why the need for the giant barn? We decided that Windy Brow was once the headquarters of the Cullinan rave scene, and then proceeded to develop an entire story to support our idea.
And that’s when I made my first awesome find of the day.
Looks like an amphitheatre tucked behind a seriously large warehouse or barn structure, right?
I have no idea what this is for. And, I could’ve asked when we finished our hike and returned to base camp, but I didn’t want to ruin my story.
Animal spotting on the Archeology Trail
We rounded off the Geology Trail and headed back to base camp for snacks. That was vegan breakfast burritos, cashews and plenty of water, in case you’re interested.
With a lighter load, we set out for the Archeology Trail, hoping to spot a few animals and looking forward to a leisurely second half of our morning hike.
And, yes, you can expect the same excellent signposting throughout. And, yes, it is an easier walk.
After a long, easy descent into a valley, we came across this little watering hole. There wasn’t a single animal there, drinking clear water. But, take a look at the edge.
Do you see those footprints?
I’m no tracker, so I have no idea who those tracks belong to, but they certainly promised animals in the area.
A few steps away, I stumbled on my second amazing find.
Can you see it?
It’s there in the middle of the photo, just hidden behind the trees.
Yes, it’s a giraffe.
And, in the middle of lockdown, this was the best sight in the whole world. It was like looking at the real South Africa for the first time in months. It’s the reason I’ll put on safari livecams on in the background when things get tough.
So, obviously, we cut across trails and tried to get a little closer.
As we moved closer, the giraffe moved further away, ever distant.
But, as it turns out, we needn’t have bothered. There were plenty waiting for us just around the bend.
The were so close, just off the trail. So we walked slowly, timidly, not wanting to startle the giraffe – though it is quite a sight when they gallop away.
And then there was this sweetie on the path ahead of us.
We slowed to a stop and simply watched him (or her, I can’t say) as he watched us.
As we inched forward, he considered us, but didn’t turn into the bush until we were almost upon him.
Could you possibly ask for a better sighting on a hike? I doubt it.
While I had the urge to remain, just watching, I didn’t want to miss our post-hike plans in Cullinan (the town, not the mine), so we moved close enough that he moved aside. And then we carried on.
Really, if these guys don’t make you want to spend a morning hiking the Windy Brow trails, I don’t know what will.
As we passed the final giraffe, turning our heads to keep them in view as long as possible, we came upon the final challenge this hike threw my way.
If you’re like most people, this totally stable bridge over a ravine won’t make you think twice. You’d simply watch your footing and move along.
I’m not most hikers. This kind of thing scares the crap out of me. I’m getting better at handling them, but it still requires sincere mental effort to manage it.
Luckily, those trees on the side provided almost enough balancing spots for me. I was across it in a matter of minutes. Yes, minutes. I know that most people would cross this in a matter of seconds… okay, less than a minute.
But from there, it’s just a matter of a few short climbs and a few more declines.
We probably could’ve rushed through the next hill.
But, as we hit the tree line at the top, we paused for water – and more importantly – another view of the countryside, the glimmer of hope that wide open spaces instil in anyone that’s been locked up at home for a few months (no matter how lovely that home is – or how delicious the vegan home-cooking has become).
Also, I was forced to recite line from The Princess Bride. I say forced; I mean compelled – as I often do after climbing through rocky terrain.
From this spot, it was a quick walk to base camp. Though, we spotted zebra, guinea fowl and impala running (or flying) past us, I just wasn’t quick enough on the camera.
That means I have no choice but to return for another hike. And next time, I’m packing a proper picnic lunch to enjoy at base camp. Then again, lunch in nearby Cullinan is totally worth it too.
What you need to know about the Windy Brow hiking trails
The trails are open year round, from 7h00 – 16h00.
You’ll need to make a booking to hike on weekdays, and you’ll probably want to book for the weekend too.
R 50 per hiker. Payments are cash only and payable upon registration.
Hennop has 3 hiking trails.
- Archeology trail | 5 kms
- Geology trail | 4.6 kms
- Ecology trail | 9.5 kms
There’s a picnic spot (entrance included in registration fees), toilets and mountain biking trails.
It appears they’re also building a conference centre, and they have game drive vehicles.