Karkloof Falls 2 Falls Slackpacking Hike 27 – 30 April 2018

Hosted by Julia Colvin from Spekboom Tours www.spekboomtours.co.za

Phone:    076 819 0615    Email:     julia@spekboomtours.co.za

Cost R4,000 which includes 3 night’s accommodation, Karkloof Canopy Tour, cheese and wine on arrival, all meals including lunch packs, transportation of luggage each day, 3 full days of hiking.

What Is Slackpacking?

Slackpackers can move far and fast over difficult terrain because they’re carrying a small pack or no pack at all, while most everybody else on the trail will be toting full-on camping gear.

You see, slackpacking is backpacking without all that awkward carrying of gear or sleeping outside.

Day 1 – 20kms – fairly tough for the first 4kms

This hike in the beautiful Karkloof a mere 20kms from Howick in the KZN Midlands encompasses 3 major waterfalls namely Grey Mare’s Tail Falls (101m), Karkloof Falls (105m) and finishes at Howick Falls (111m).

Our group of 10 intrepid hikers met at Shawswood Cottages at 5pm on the Friday. We were welcomed by a wonderful spread of snacks and drinks.

Welcome drinks and snacks at Shawswood Cottages

Shawswood has been in the Shaw family since the mid to late 1800’s. Our cosy and rustic accommodation was once polo pony stables.

Shawswood polo pony stables turned into rustic and comfy accommodation

Roxy an outside caterer from Copperfields Country Café and Catering in Howick prepared dinner for us. Rob on our hike said her cheesecake was the best he’d ever tasted.

We awoke on Saturday to a glorious sunrise all amped and ready to roll. After a delicious breakfast prepared by Roxy we set off at 8am through the forest following old logging trails. It was a tough 4km pull to reach the escarpment where we enjoyed spectacular views of the Karkloof Valley and Mount Gilboa. We followed the hiking path crossing the Grey Mare’s Stream which eventually led us to a magnificent view of the Grey Mare’s Tail Waterfall.

Up through the forest we climb
Grey Mare’s Tail Falls

After a short snack break we continued to follow the path on the top of the escarpment, we were fortunate to see some buck grazing in the grassland. Before we started our descent into the forest we stopped for our lunch break.

Lunch stop before descending into the forest

The Karkloof Nature Reserve consists of about 60% mistbelt forest, 40% mistbelt grassland and ranges from 1000m to 1767m above sea level.

After a most enjoyable day we arrived at Thistledown Country House our home for the night. www.thistledown.co.za/index.html

The house was built in 1937, it has beautiful gardens with the Nkonkwane stream flowing through the Thistledown property which then meets up with the Karkloof River further downstream.

Thistledown Country House

Of interest the one bedroom features a bath which has been restored, having originally come from the Imperial Hotel in Pietermaritzburg, and which at one time was used by the Prince of Wales during his visit there! If it was good enough for the Prince it is good enough for our slackpacking hikers!

Norma the host at Thistledown is an absolute “Master Chef” – we had the most delicious dinner seated around a roaring fire. After dinner Julia had organised for Kia from Karkloof Canopy Tours to do a presentation to us about conquering our fear – rather apt for what awaited us the next day.

Day 2 – 15kms – moderate terrain

After a delicious breakfast at Thistledown we walked up the road to start the morning with the Karkloof Canopy Tour which took approximately 2 hours. The Karkloof Canopy Tour consists of 12 platforms and 10 zip-line slides, the longest of which is 200m!

Easy down we go!


After picking up our packed lunch we started our hike which took us through mealie fields, wetland and we visited 2 hides in the Kloof Conservatory, we were fortunate to see 2 Wattle Cranes. We transgressed through private farms where the hike leader Julia had obtained permission from land owners. This is the beauty of doing these hikes, you see places you would not normally be allowed to go. Very special.

2018-04-29 12.59.02_resized
One of the hides at the Karkloof Conservancy
Walking through private farms – what a treat!

Our hike then went through beautiful forests where we picked up the pace and came out at the Polo fields of the Karkloof Country Club. We then followed the mountain biking trail along the Karkloof River where we finished our day at the picnic site where a beautiful tea had been set up for us by our hosts at Amber Avenue Guesthouse our accommodation for the night. I am embarrassed to say I had never seen the Karkloof Falls before, absolutely magnificent waterfall in the most beautiful setting. I so enjoyed the views today along the Karkloof River. We were kindly transported (a short hop) to Amber Avenue.

Delicious tea prepared by Amber Avenue Guesthouse
Trail along the Karkloof River
Karkloof Country Club
Karkloof Falls

After freshening up we sat down to a lovely dinner prepared for us by Lyn the manager at Amber Avenue Guesthouse. https://www.amberavenue.co.za/

Amber Avenue Guesthouse

Day 3 – 20kms – moderate terrain

After another delicious continental breakfast we set off from Amber Avenue at about 8am and made our way through the Everson Estate with sweeping views of Albert Falls Dam. We walked through huge avocado plantations. Westfalia Fruit Estate (held in the Dr Hans Merensky Trust) supplies avocado pears basically all year around to major retail groups in South Africa and abroad. I have never seen so many avocado pears in all my life! Of interest Dr Hans Merensky initiated the first avocado orchard in 1933.

Everdon Estate
Everdon Estate
Avocado trees forever!

We took a little break at a peaceful dam on the estate and set off again into the Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve with the most unbelievable views. After approximately 18kms of hiking we were welcomed at our lunch stop by Paul Colvin (Julia’s Dad) who poured us each a glass of champagne where we toasted to 3 wonderful days, great friendships made and Julia’s birthday! Just further along the path Roxy from Copperfields Country Café and Catering had set up a beautiful picnic lunch for us.

Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve
What a way to end a 3 day hike!

Those of us with a long journey home left the group at this point whilst the others continued on to the finish taking the Black Eagle Trail and ending at the education centre at Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve. The last stop on this hike being the impressive Howick Falls.

Howick Falls


I covered 55kms on the 3 days and I can now say I have conquered the Karkloof. A hidden gem on our doorstep. Thank you to Julia from Spekboom Tours and her team of helpers Jonathan, Ingrid and Teigue for a most enjoyable 3 days of slackpacking – well done on another highly recommended hike!

Some of the proceeds from this hike go towards the Kloof Conservancy to read more about the conservancy visit their web site at http://karkloofconservation.org.za/

Written by Alison Chadwick

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