A little railway town , with nothing more than an OK supermarket , twee slaghuise (due to the fierce competition, expect some pretty good biltong!) and a bottelstoor might be all that is Waterval Boven for most first time visitors. If it wasn’t for the sign of Roc ‘n Rope Adventures situated in the Main Street of town, it would seem as if the only adventurous thing to do was to look at the majestic 75m high Elands Falls situated just beneath the town, hence the Name Waterval Boven.
I sort of got into Rock Climbing about two years ago when a friend who I used to work with told me about climbing in Boven. I always wanted to do rock climbing but never really knew how to do it or what I would need to start dangling from all those weird looking things called harnesses. In high school I scrambled around our local Steiltes koppie/Granite Dome in Nelspruit. This helped me build confidence with heights and to be honest I felt like Anton Kupricka could learn some scrambling skills from me hahaha. Being an avid trail runner I enjoy being outside and generally just having a jol wherever and whenever I see a mountain or piece of rock. When I got the invitation to go rock climbing I was incredibly excited and didn’t think twice. Fast forward two years and plenty of climbing trips, and Waterval boven has become my go to weekend breakaway destination.
Sport Climbing in Waterval Boven started way back in the early 1990’s when Peter ‘Lobster’ Lazarus the owner of a rope access company from Johannesburg, drove down to the Lowveld to wash an arbitrary building. Both him and Gary Lotter was mesmerised by the sea of orange 2,3 billion year old quartzite cliffs in the Waterval Boven Area. They decided to investigate the climbing potential and stayed the week at the old Elandskrans Holiday Resort on the slaaihoek road ( the road leading out of town past the hospital today ) this gave them enough time to open three routes, the first being World’s Apart (26), and to plan great things! They wanted to keep it a secret until all the best lines had been climbed, but informed Mike Cartwright who together with his climbing partner Grant Murray made quick work of another few lines. Grant Murray and Gary Lotter wasted no time in developing some classics on the Acra wall next to the famous Elands River Falls. Pictures of climbers on the wall has featured in lots of international magazines, but one photograph in particular caught the eye of the of the international climbing scene. German and American climbers took a few pictures and published it in the Rotpunkt Magazine of January in 1993. This lead to climbers streaming to the little town to come and develop the new found gem and test their strength on The Restaurant (At the End of The Universe) Crags . Since then more than 800 Sport climbing routes ranging from grades 8 to 34 has been established together with multiple Traditional Climbing routes. This is quite surprising since some of the prominent climbers in the seventies said that “they could not find ten could lines here , if you paid them”.
The flurry had the owners of Roc ‘n Rope Adventures an adventure guiding company , Gustav and Alex Janse Van Rensburg settle in Waterval Boven. They own the local gear shop, and although it might seem small in size it holds a great range of different climbing gear, be it shoes, ropes or carabiners. You’ll find them at the shop or at the crag, as they are usually guiding tourists or belaying their crusher son Mel ( he recently climbed a route called Life in Orange which is one of the hardest routes in the country) Not too bad for a kid who has only been climbing for about three years. They are usually the go to people if you need any information about anything climbing related in Boven, take time and get to know Alex and Gustav, they are always willing to help and Gustav still believes that Boven could possibly be the best place in the whole country! Today Waterval Boven is Africa’s premier Sport Climbing destination attracting climbers from across the globe with it’s moderate climate and majestic orange cliffs. It is not uncommon to hear some German, Italian or French around a campfire! With all the different cultures , comes different food prepping techniques, and it’s always interesting to see who believes what to be the best for climbing and general adventure activities! With an altitude of around 1700 metres it is not only perfect for climbing but for running mountain biking and highlining as well.
Being a runner,Waterval Boven is the perfect training ground as it has some really decent uphills and downhills. Tranquilitas Adventure Farm has played a major role in developing the endless trails stretching and winding their way through plantations and mountain grassland. The trail distances range from 4 to 42 km’s and was designed by Trail guru Glen Harrison. The trails are really flowy with enough technical sections to keep the adrenaline levels high and just the right amount of easier single and jeep track to be attractive for plenty of weekend warriors. Tranquilitas is also the accommodation of choice for many mountain bikers, runners and climbers, as it is situated central with easy access to climbing crags and trails. It boasts four neat Chalets, 6 perma tents, lots of camping space and a farm house that can sleep up to 12 people. Piet,the manager of Tranquilitas is always ready to greet you with his warm smile. Do yourself a favour and order a cappuccino at the camp cafe, Piet has some serious skills and his brews always leave me wanting to have another one!
There is abundant bird life around the crags with Red winged Starlings keeping a close a eye on climbers as they make their way up their chosen route. They can sometimes cause some interesting situations! Believe me, there is a few things as terrifying as sticking your hand in a crack or hole and then suddenly have a bird flapping in your face! With a bit of luck you might see a pair of African Fish Eagle circling above looking for some trout sashimi at the numerous trout dams in the area. Runners and mountain bikers can expect to see duiker, mountain reedbuck and Vervet monkeys. During Summer months caution has to be taken while out training as puff adder and other snake species can be stumbled upon.
As mentioned earlier the Elands Falls is quite an iconic feature to Emgwenya( as Waterval boven is known after it’s recent name change), Climbing next to a roaring waterfall is quite unique and something that climbers all over the world wants to come and experience. Going down to the waterfall you have to go through a section of rural community, this also adds to the experience as some tourists treat themselves to chicken dust and a quart beer, usually Black Label. Some say you can’t climb at the waterfall and not treat yourself to this afterwards otherwise it is not the whole package. The Waterfall can be accessed either by abseil or by walking trough one of the few train tunnels that is still in operation.
Waterval Boven as a town has unfortunately not had any maintenance and the roads and state of town is actually quite bad. The people that live in town are not all well-off and do rely on the business of tourists coming to enjoy the adventure activities the town has to offer. When in town please do support the local businesses and make an effort to put back into the community, even if it is by buying a bit more than what you would actually need. The Mountain Club of South Africa has also invested in the area and owns a section of land close to Tranquilitas. This ensures that people will be able to climb for generations to come. With this opportunity comes a lot of responsibility as visitors needs to respect these natural environments and the rules set out by the Land Owners of the multiple climbing areas. Without proper land access there will not be any climbing running or mountain biking.
All in All Waterval Boven might not look like much, but if you are willing to give it a chance I can promise that you will yourself become a crag dweller and Boven Lover. Life here is still raw and without any frills. It has lots to offer if you are willing to experience and try out new things. Leave your stereotypes about people and places at home and just come and immerse yourself in this gateway to the lowveld be it for climbing , running, mountain bilking, highlining trout fishing or just having a weekend away. You will leave refreshed and hungry for more! Over the two years ofgoing to Waterval Boven I’ve met plenty of people and have made more friends than I could ever imagine making in such a small town! This Place is Special!
Want to Go? Some handy info – See what I did there…
Roc ‘n Rope Adventures is the main gear shop and gear hiring company in town, they offer tours and climbing courses and accommodation, if you are new to the sport out if it is your first time in boven, do stop at the shop, Gustav and Alex are always keen on helping newbies. http://rocrope.com
Tranquilitas Adventure Farm – Climbing, Running , Mountain Biking, pretty cool spot with a swimming pool and bouldering area for the rest days! http://tranquilitas.com
If you’re not keen on being all too adventurous, stop by at the Troutways Private Retreat for a day of trout Fishing http://troutways.co.za
Good to know – Waterval boven has one OK supermarket with the basics, if you need coconut milk with almond cream and sliced blueberries bring it with you, you’re probably not gonna find it here! Boven is a malaria free area. It gets quite chilly and can easily drop below 0 degrees, thus always have a down jacket close by. Summer months usually brings late afternoon thunderstorms with heavy lightning and thunder, do be cautious, lightning has killed a beloved climber in boven in the past.
A link to Gustav’s guide can be downloaded on the Climb Za website here – http://www.climbing.co.za/wiki/Waterval_Boven
Let me know if you would like to add any more info!