Karoo Hiking – Eerstefontein Trail

So often a sign lacks the detail of what it is indicating. In Graaff Reinet, as you enter the town from the south, there is an insignificant sign indicating a hiking trail.

No trail name. No trail distance. Merely, turn west off the N9.

Recently, while visiting Graaff Reinet, I again saw the sign and decided to do some online research. All I found was a name, the Eerstefontein Trail, and a featureless map which indicated that the trail follows a loop between the Valley of Desolation and Spandau Kop, two distinctive geological features that dominate the western skyline of this historical town.

From the map I calculated a rough estimate distance for the trail at 12km. With an early start and a fast walk I would be able to do the hike in the morning before heading home. After years of driving past, tomorrow was finally going to be the chance to do the hike.

The Trail :

The view of SpandauKop from the jeep track after entering get the reserve.

The trail starts at the western edge of Spandauville at a disused quarry site and enters through a pedestrian opening into the Camdeboo National Park.

The geology along the route is varied and interesting.

From the gate the trail follows a jeep track on a gentle climb for 1km. It hen splits to the left off the jeep track onto a single track lined on both sides by stones.

The trail is initially well marked with route markers featuring an African Hoepoe in green on a white background.

The junction of the outgoing and return trails of the loop.

The trail reaches a saddle at 915m with distinctive flat rocks. This is the intersection where the loop meets on the return section of the loop. The outward trail splits right and follows a contour to reach the first of two springs. Eerstefontein, the first spring, has a trough for wildlife to drink and a tap for hikers to fill their water bottles. I tested the water, which like so many of the artesian well of the region, has a strong mineral aroma which may be too overpowering for a sensitive stomach.

From the contour there is a panoramic view of the Camdeboo Plains extending to the southwest.

Emerging from the thicket which surrounds the spring, the trail begins a gentle descent to reach a contour of boulders. Through the Boulder field the trail has a few indistinct sections where you end up making your own way, but the route markers are ever present.

A typical dry riverbed in the Karoo.

After the boulders the path levels out before reaching a deep river bed with a short steep climb to get out.

It is important to know that the trail is in a wildlife area with a mix of Plains species such as Zebra, Eland, and Ostrich as well as Giraffe and Kudu. As such, the surface of the hiking trail is rough in sections where the wildlife have used the path. There are also numerous sections where game trails crisscross the path, at times seemingly presenting a variety of options to walk. I did find some of the game trails smoother than the main trail.

Shortly after the river crossing the trail crosses over a gravel road which goes north to the educational center.

Crossing the road the trail becomes less distinct and you need to look for the route markers to confirm the direction that you need to walk.

Soon the path starts a gentle climb, again passing through a ledge of boulders and then joins a well maintained trail from the educational center.

The lush spring flush of a White Stinkwood over the second spring.

Veering left onto the clear trail you soon reach the second spring with a series of benches which is used for outdoor presentations.

Disappointingly this spring was only a muddy pool which, from all the spoor, is used by lots of wildlife.

A stand do of Shepherd Trees before the trail becomes indistinct.

From here the trail gets both steeper and less clear up to the high point of the trail. Once you reach the 1000m contour the trail swings south.

From the burnt vegetation and resprouting growth it is apparent that a wildfire burnt through in the Pat two years. The grass has recovered well, but it does cover the path making the section between the 9km and 10.5km to navigate. Some of the route markers were obviously also destroyed in the wildfire and you just have to trailblaze and constantly look for the odd route marker.

A possible Dinosaur trackway.

I wound up at a section with what looked like a Dinosaur trackway which I still need to have confirmed.

Three Eland came to investigate as I followed the drainage line.

While beating about the Bush in search of the path, I rounded a boulder and came face to face with a Zebra which, though curious, made a nimble retreat before I was able to get my camera out.

The final section of the drainage line up to the saddle.

Back on the path, the trail descended to the plain, crossed the gravel road and then followed a drainage line up to the saddle to link up with the outgoing trail.

Logistics :

  • Trailhead : -32.266553, 24.527951
  • Trail length : 15.5km
  • Trail markings : Yes, though poor between 9 and 10km
  • Trail condition : mixed, rough in sections, indistinct in sections. Crisscrossed by game trails.
  • Water : Yes at spring, approx. 4km into trail. Emergency supply at education center.
  • Short cut option : turn south (left) onto gravel road and continue to second intersection with trail and turn left onto trail.
  • Dangers : High temperature in summer, snakes in summer and Ostriches.
  • Managing authority : SANParks.
  • Reserve : Camdeboo National Park.
  • Permit Required : Yes, obtained at tourism office in town. No permit available at trailhead.
  • If you are not confident trailblazing in the Bush, consider the shortcut along the gravel road.
  • Altitude : Max 1000m, min 782m
  • Ascent gain : 430m
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