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When travelling from Johannesburg, disregard the unremarkable road because once you reach Emgwenya, the terrain miraculously changes into lush green hills and you are transported into a world of natural beauty.
Emgwenya, meaning Place of the Crocodile in Zulu, is in the Mpumalanga Province of South Africa and located at the edge of the escarpment before the landscape drops down into the steamy Lowveld. The town lies alongside the Elands River and above a 70m waterfall.
At 1.5km above sea level, the air is thin and the climate mild at Emgwenya, ideal for adventure sports lovers. The area is renowned for rock climbing with over 500 climbing routes established in and around Emgwenya. But the town has a lot more to offer; history and railway enthusiasts will enjoy the magnificent railway bridge and tunnel, the waterfall and surrounds attracts nature lovers and the region is perfectly suited for hiking, mountain bikes and horse riding.
Top 6 reasons to visit Emgwenya
1. Climbers new to the sport can attempt the Madiba Magic rock climbing route before progressing to the popular Waterfall Crags route directly alongside the Elands River waterfall.
2. Grab a rod and collect a permit from the Boven Trout Fly Tackle shop before heading out to find a fishing spot on the Elands River banks. Expect to catch yellowfish, carp and bass. Some dams are stocked with trout for fly fishing devotees.
3. If you have 5 days to spare, join a hiking party on the Num-Num Hiking Trail. This spectacularly-scenic 50km trail crosses private land, passing waterfalls and rock pools, and through natural forest.
4. There are a number of challenging mountain bike trails in the Elands River Valley and the organisers constantly change the routes to control erosion. Trails range from 5km to 20km in length.
5. The Blue Swallow Reserve in Kaapschehoop is where the critically endangered blue swallow is to be found. There are less than 100 birds recorded worldwide, however, they are protected in the reserve with 35 nests located here. The reserve has several other bird species and a group of wild horses roam the park.
6. Arrange with a local guide to visit Adam’s Calendar (on private property outside Kaapschehoop), an ancient stone circle believed to be far older than that of Stonehenge in the UK. The circle has been dated to around 200000 years in age.
Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport in Mbombela is 126km from Emgwenya. An alternate airport is OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, 240km away. A vehicle can be hired from the airports and most large towns in Mpumalanga otherwise order a rental online. Most major towns have metered taxi and shuttle services for trips to Emgwenya but a rental is the best option.
Did you know?
The num-num tree, or Natal plum, is a bush commonly found in South Africa. The bush has glossy green leaves and silky white flowers with the red fruits making it an attractive bush for the garden. The fruit is edible but quite sticky. Beware when collecting the fruit, the bush has large white thorns too!
Emgwenya used to be called Waterval Boven, meaning Above the Waterfall in Dutch. The name was changed in 2009.
The trains that once ran between Emgwenya and Waterval Onder had to negotiate a 1-in-20 incline over a 7.5km stretch and a rack railway system was designed to help haul the carriages up the steep ridge. The railway station has a memorial showing a sample of the rack system.