Visiting Emgwenya (Waterval Boven) – Outdoor Adventures and South African Historical Sites

The South African town of Emgwenya (previously known as Waterval Boven) is known for its stunning waterfall, the Elands River waterfall. Originally founded as a railway depot, this town is now popular for its outdoor activities and rock climbing, historical sites, and a possible hiding spot for the Kruger Millions – the mysterious lost treasure of South Africa.

The town sits near the top of the waterfall (the meaning of its name). Together with its counterpart Waterval Onder (below the waterfall), these settlements were formed in order to build the Pretoria-Delagoa railway line in 1895. The two towns were an important lifeline for the Boer War effort. Since then, Waterval Boven grew into a sizable town of several thousand people, whilst Waterval Onder remained as just a village. In October 2009, Waterval Boven underwent a name change (as did other towns in the area), renamed after its township, Emgwenya.

What To Do And See In Emgwenya (Waterval Boven)

This is little to do in the town of Emgwenya itself, but there is plenty to see for people who like adventure and the outdoors, or are interested in the history of the area. The area around the waterfall is a popular destination for outdoor activities, such as horse riding, fishing and hiking along some of the many walking trails. It is also considered to be one of the best and most challenging rock climbing destinations of South Africa.

Historical Sites Of Waterval Boven

Since the town was founded, it was a critical transport hub during the Second Boer War, due to its location between Pretoria and Mozambique, a safe haven from British troops. There are also some very interesting archaeological sights to check out.

Waterval Boven Railway Tunnel

The tunnel at Waterval Boven is a historically important site, and a Provincial Heritage Site of South Africa. It formed part of the Pretoria-Delagoa railway line for the NZASM rail company, linking the country’s capital with present-day Maputo bay. During the Second Boer War, the railway was a valuable transport lifeline to a non-British port, allowing the transport of troops and supplies, helping President Paul Kruger escape to exile.

Historic tunnel at Waterval Boven

Drilling and explosive work started in 1892, with the tunnel fully completed in 1894. The 211 metre tunnel is no longer in use, but visitors can walk through the eerily pitch-dark tunnel (bring a smart phone for light!). Emerging on the western side offers a magnificent viewpoint of the majestic Elands Falls. The tunnel stopped serving trains in 1908, and used briefly in the 1920’s for road traffic, whilst a larger, newer tunnel was built, opening in 1936.

Elands River Waterfall

Elands River waterfall

The 70-metre (230 feet) Elands River Waterfall is the main attraction of the region, and a great spot for sightseeing as well as rock climbing. It is often considered one of the best rock climbing destinations in the whole country, with over 700 bolted routes of all difficulty levels. The Crag is a good resource to learn more about climbing in this area.

Waterval Boven Five Arch Bridge

Another national monument in the area is the Five Arch Bridge, which was part of the eastern railway line, spanning part of the Dwaalheuwel Spruit. The stone bridge opened for railway traffic in 1894, and has since been converted into a road bridge. However, with the opening of the new tunnel, it is rarely used by traffic.

Blaauboschkraal Stone Circle Museum

Located on the edge of the town is the Stone Circle Museum. It is dedicated to educating visitors about the ruins of a civilisation that lived in large areas of South Africa and Zimbabwe. The stone circles, known as the Blaauboschkraal Stone Ruins, are rings of stone walls attributed to the Bokoni people of the 16th century. The stone walls they built, which spiderweb over a colossal 150 square kilometers, form networks of circles that are thought to have been used to enclose cattle.

The Kruger Hof Museum

Near the village of Waterval Onder is one of South Africa’s historical attractions – the Kruger Hof. This small cottage was the last residence for South African President Paul Kruger, before fleeing to exile in Europe. Escaping from advancing British forces marching on Pretoria during the Second Boer War, Kruger moved to the Kruger Hof on 30th June. He left on the 28th August, living briefly in a train carriage at Nelspruit, before leaving South Africa forever.

The Kruger Hof

Today, the wooden cottage is a museum. Visitors can walk around the house, seeing the exhibitions written in Afrikaans in two of the rooms. The house is odd, with no interior doors, each room having separate doors to a wooden verandah encircling the entire house.

Sudwala Caves

About an hour’s drive to the north-east is Sudwala Caves, the world’s oldest cave formation. Known for its spectacular speleothem rock formations (such as the famous Screaming Monster), its cavernous amphitheatre, and challenging Crystal Tour that offers the chance to squeeze through cracks and traverse water to see the crystal cave, Sudwala Caves is an exciting day trip from Emgwenya.

Urban sketching South Africa drawing of Sudwala Caves interesting rock formation
The Monster rock formation in Sudwala Caves

Adventure And Outdoor Activities Of Emgwenya (Waterval Boven)

Because of the wild landscapes and stunning natural features of the area, Emgwenya is the perfect destination for outdoors enthusiasts.

Best Hiking Routes At Emgwenya (Waterval Boven)

There are plenty of great hiking spots in the nature areas surrounding the town, ranging from single day trips, to epic 5-day adventures.

Rockydrift Private Nature Reserve

The Rockydrift Private Nature Reserve is a huge area of valley and bushland covering 257 hectares, irrigated by one of the Eland river tributaries. Walking trails promise great bird and wildlife watching, as well as the chance to learn about Boer War history, with the area used by Boer guerillas to hide out. There is accommodation available, and must be reserved in advance.

Bermanzi Hiking Trails

The Bermanzi Hiking Trails is one of the best places to start for a wide range of hiking trail difficulties. The private land offers several different options. The 5-hour, 12km day hike is perfect for more casual hikers, offering the chance to see waterfalls, and crossing through thick forests and amazing rock canyons. There is also a 2-day hiking experience, which includes accomodation, and is even suitable for kids. The Oom Paul hike is another 2 day option, which crosses into part of the Num-Num hiking trail.

The Num-Num Hiking Trail

For serious hikers looking for a challenge, the Num-Num Hiking Trail is a 3-5 day trek, with camps along the way with kitchens and showers. Part of the Num-Num extends into the Bermanzi area. The trail covers many terrains, such as forests, grasslands, and with a few waterfalls to spot. The hike is difficult, and features ladders, swing bridges, and hill climbs. The trail is 36.5km all up, and has a service to deliver heavier bags to the next camp. Bedding, food and drink needs to be brought along.

BBK Horse Trails

The BBK horse trails (Blaauwboschkraal trails) just outside Emgwenya is the best place to do horse riding, for riders about 8 years of age of all competency levels. There are different trails to choose, from 2 hours, 1 hour, 30 minutes, and even pony rides for kids. For more confident riders, there are half-day, full-day, and overnight trips that offer overnight tents/hiking huts, and stables for the horses. The trails are all guided, and offer the chance to soak in the amazing mountains, grasslands, and waterfalls and of the Emgwenya area.

The Kruger Millions at Emgwenya

The legend of the Kruger millions is a rumoured hidden treasure of gold, which may be buried somewhere in the area. When the British advanced on Pretoria in 1900 and threatened to capture the capital, it is said that all the gold bullion from the city was recorded and packed into trains that left for Mozambique, to keep it out of British hands. But the gold never arrived, vanishing into thin air somewhere around the Waterval Boven area. There have been many theories, rumours and treasure hunts ever since – and it’s disputed whether it even exists at all!

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Getting to Emgwenya, and getting around to the surrounding areas and sights requires a car, as distances are long and public transport is limited. But once you’re there, there is a lot to do to enjoy the beautiful natural environment. Whether you’re interested in history, natural caves and archaeological sites, or adventure and outdoor sports (or maybe even want to try and track down the Kruger Millions for yourself), a visit to Emgwenya is a wonderful destination to visit in South Africa.


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