Hiking In the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens.
January 1, 1970
by Cat Lee
Located in Roodepoort, Johannesburg, South Africa the garden was founded in 1982 and though it may be young it has so much to offer. The natural vegetation gives you something of everything from grassland and savanna to dense bush and tall trees. The best part of the gardens is walking down to the waterfall and trying to spot the pair of Verreaux’s Eagles that nest along the cliffs alongside the falls.
If you are from out of town or country, Roodepoort is only 38 mins from O.R Tambo International Airport. There are plenty hotels and bed and breakfasts around the Botanical gardens where you can settle in for your getaway.
Walking through the Gardens
This is a wonderful place, just a stone’s throw away from my hometown. I have been visiting these gardens since I was a child and I feel like I know it like the back of my hand. The old trees, the grass, the birds nesting, the mountains and the waterfall all welcome me back time and time again. The wind whispers my name and I know it does the same for many other people.
I normally start off my day at the gardens with a delicious breakfast from Eagles Fare Restuarant, where if you sit in the right spot you can see the top of the falls and hear its lovely song. The food is good and the service is friendly. While you’re sitting enjoying your meal be prepared to have a guest at your table, or ten. The sparrows and weavers like to socialize around the outside seating area and they shamelessly beg for your food, if they don’t succeed in getting a hold of your food then they decide to attack the sugar sachets on the unoccupied tables. Their company is entertaining and they manage to charm a smile out of anyone watching. After breakfast, the walking begins, I take my water out of my backpack which is holding my picnic lunch and move forth. Just outside the entrance to the restaurant is a little grassy area backed by what looks like a mini forest. When walking closer to the forest you will notice a little winding pathway, I enjoy starting my adventure there. The gardens are made up of small hidden pathways and non-vigorous hikes. If sweating isn’t your thing then I suggest one of these shaded walks.
There is a tuck shop that offers snack foods and drinks, but they are only open on the weekends.
If you don’t feel like having the restaurant experience and you just want to get back to nature, feel free to bring enough food for breakfast and lunch. There are many picnic spots around the gardens, all you need to do is pick a tree and tuck in.
Finding a walking trail
After breakfast, the walking begins, I take my water out of my backpack which is holding my picnic lunch and move forth. Just outside the entrance to the restaurant is a little grassy area backed by what looks like a mini forest. When walking closer to the forest you will notice a little winding pathway, I enjoy starting my adventure there. The gardens are made up of small hidden pathways and non-vigorous hikes. If sweating isn’t your thing then I suggest one of these shaded walks.
There are many trails to pick from but it can be a bit confusing trying to find them, if you don’t fancy getting lost then I sudgest picking up a map at the front gate or asking for directions the staff is very friendly.
Finding the start of the Geological Trail
After warming up the body with a bit of a wander around, I make my way back up to the main path through the gardens. I follow this wide path to the falls where the start of the 2.2 km Geological Trail begins. Depending on the weather, and the amount of rain we’ve been blessed with the waterfall might be flowing strong or it might be a bit weak, but it will always be magnificent.
The first time I hiked this trail I started on the wrong end because I couldn’t find the start of it! It was still fun starting on the wrong side but maybe the map isn’t a bad idea.
You start the hike by climbing some pretty intimidating stairs along the falls until you reach the top of the falls. Know that if you carry on with this hike the views only become more incredible but the view from the top of the falls is a pretty picture in itself. Carrying on with the hike you have some steep bits but nothing bad enough to make you feel like you need the help of your hands too. There are many opportunities to rest on this trail in the form of big rocks to perch on.
Drink lots of water
The most uncomfortable part of this hike for me is the heat, there is hardly any shade and it’s easy to dehydrate so my number one tip is to bring lots of water and tip two- don’t be shy to just sit and breathe. The second time I hiked this trail I forgot to bring enough water and I was close to passing out a couple of times.
When you get to the top the view is so worth it, it is breathtaking and very humbling.
What to look for on the way back down
It always seems like time goes faster on the way back, plus it’s all down hill from there and because it’s less strenuous on the way down I really enjoy the scenery and vegetation. I have a love for wild grass and it lifts my spirits when the top of the grass tickles my hands and arms. The protea trees scattered around add interest and the grasshoppers flying to and fro keeps the imagination going. I try to remember all the little critters that live in these mountains and hills, I give thanks to them for letting me explore their land. Look for the big rocks with geological engravings on them, if you love facts and learning new things then this will be very enjoyable for you.
When you make it back down to the pathways of the garden, take a deep breath and enjoy the shade you’ve been missing.
Refuel with your picnic lunch
After the hike, I like to go down to one of the many picnic grounds around the parameters of the waterfall site, I pick a tree and plonk down underneath it. If you’re lucky an old tortoise will meander across your path and snack on the lovely green grass. Be sure to snap a picture of one when you can because they’re surprisingly fast when they want to leave. Eating your late lunch under a tree, to the sound of the waterfall is a beautiful way to end your hike.
Leaving the gardens at the end of a fulfilling, beautiful day is bittersweet, you don’t want to say goodbye yet but you’re exhausted from the days walking. Just know for however long you are in the area or if you live in the area, the gardens will always be there to welcome you back.
So turn to gaze upon the mountains one last time, wave goodbye and take the spirit of the gardens home with you.
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February 13, 2019
nice write up.