Home Trails/venues Sunday hikes Castle Gorge
A small piece of paradise ...
On arrival at the Castle Gorge JHC fenced off area and after parking the car and fastening your boots, take a little time to look around. Enjoy the peace and quiet before you start making your way along a well marked path which takes one through pleasant bush consisting of buddleja and old willowy Rhus, with the characteristic trios of lance like leaves, and thorny acacia. Then follow the dirt road for about 300mtr with magnificent views of the mountain range. Follow the JHC signs back into the bush and the wonderful sounds of nature. As you progress along a slightly rising sandy path, through the remains of a silver poplar forest one enters a mixed woodland. Tread softly to listen for arrow marked babblers and to take note of the saphrolitic fungi growing on fallen trees.
The woodland path continues for about 450m becoming increasingly steeper and stonier.
Examine the texture of 2,7 billion year old sandstone boulders; rough, medium grained to fine grained and smooth, sometimes banded.
Take a rest when the path breaks sharply westwards at a grove containing three ancient Kiepersols. This Cussonica or cabbage tree family has a characteristic pale brown to grey corky bark, an ideal habitat for spiders and many other insect species. Look for spikes of small greenish yellow flowers between April and June. As you gather your breath, listen for the sharp squeak and strong flapping flight of the chin spotted batice. Take heart, you have now completed half of the climb.
Stop frequently in the next 200m as you continue your climb. Look southwards and take in the panorama of patchwork fields and scattered homesteads bordered to the south by rolling hills. Look westwards along the ragged steep cliff edge and north into its face. To the east, a scarp slope stands sharp and proud with a carpet of jumbled tales stretching from its base to the forest below. Above its crest, a gently inclined dip slope strewn with boulders, falls away to the north. Listen around you for the squawky chatter of francolins in the grass and twittering of sunbirds in the proteas.
The final break in slope that signals the end of your steep climb occurs as the path again turns northwards and is marked by a grove of boekenhout trees. You will see many of these trees in the sour veld of this area but this group gives you an opportunity to reach out from the path and feel the deeply grooved bark and thin tough leaves. Watch them shimmer in the breeze and see how alike they are to their cousins, the willows. From January to April, enjoy the honey like scent of their pink, spiky flowers.
Onward for a further 200m and you can rest at a small group of flat, lichen stained sandstone boulders that just invite you to sit on them. You are now at the crest of the slope and can enjoy the view whilst catching your breath. From here you can continue along the beaten track or alternatively, turn northwards and make your way up the grassy slope between the stunted stamvrugs (but that is another trail and another description).
The path now descends gradually to a fence stile. Pick your way carefully as the path is boulder strewn in places. Stop occasionally to look ahead through the nek and pick out the remains of hundred year old fortifications. When you reach them, after a short walk along a concrete roadway, take time to feel the hosts of soldiers once stationed there, now long dead.
As you look ahead to the west, you will see rolling hills with grassy plains and you will shortly walk down towards them and select one of many trails that lie there.
Take the well marked path, hiking through different types of long grasses gently swaying in the breeze. If one is lucky, baboons can be seen perched on the rocky outcrop and they might bark in disapprovement at one ‘trespassing’ on their territory. Klipspringers and dassies can often be spotted darting in and out of the rocks.
Eventually the path descends and becomes very stony as the Piranha Pools come into sight, which is a very good lunch spot. The crystal clear rock pool is an invitation to cool off or soak those weary feet, or one can relax in the shade of the trees and doze off.
After a relaxing lunch, one can hike to the magnificent waterfall, about 10 minutes along a path, which is well worth the effort. The path takes one through dried ferns and along next to a vlei area, a small jump over a riverlet, up through a rocky outpost where lots of hairy dassies look in amazement at one hiking in the midday sun. Clamber down over a few rocks and a beautiful view of the waterfall can be enjoyed. Water cascades down into 3 rock pools before flowing down stream.
Photos by Robbie MacDonald and Huntly Pringle.