Less than 10 kilometres from Stellenbosch lies one of the most dramatic nature reserves around Cape Town. Jonkershoek Nature Reserve is a popular destination among hikers and nature lovers and for good reason! Towering cliff faces and deep kloofs make these mountains particularly dramatic. The reserve is a key mountain catchment area, with the sources of the Berg River, Lourens River and Riviersonderend Rivers all found high in the mountains here. The Eerste River, which also has its source here, flows through the reserve and into the lower reaches of the valley where some of the Cape’s most renowned wine farms are situated.
For Capetonians, this is one of the more challenging places to go hiking and mountain biking. However, the dramatic views and natural beauty make the effort well worth it. In contrast to other parts of the Boland Mountains, it is quite accessible too! Beautiful waterfalls, endemic birds and rare plants all combine to make Jonkershoek Nature Reserve a truly special corner of the Cape Fold Mountains.
Visitor Information for Jonkershoek
Hours: May to August (08:00 to 16:00) | September to April (07:00 to 16:00); Gates close at 18:00
Costs: R50 for Hiking Permit for adults, R30 for children | R40 for Braai and Picnicking for adults, R20 for children.
We recommend booking ahead for permits!
Contact Details: Office number: 087 087 4118
Pets Allowed: Unfortunately not!
What to do at Jonkershoek Nature Reserve
The reserve is such a beautiful place to wander, with hiking trails that range from easy to very challenging and an abundance of native plants and birds, and exquisite views. Let’s explore in more detail!
The Reserve has four main hiking trails of varying levels of difficulty:
- Swartboskloof–Sosyskloof: 5.3 kilometres, 2 hours, circular. Easy
- Swartboskloof Route: 18 kilometres, 6 hours, circular. Challenging
- Panorama Circuit: 17 kilometres, 6 hours, circular. Challenging
- Tweede Waterval: 6.4 kilometres, 2 hours, out-and-return. Medium
These trails are all far up the Jonkershoek Valley, and all have their starting points at one of the two parking areas along the circular drive for vehicle access.
The Swartboskloof and Panorama Trails all have some steep ascents, up to 900 meters in elevation from the starting point. Once at the top, however, the Dwarsberg Plateau is relatively flat terrain. Guardian Peak is the highest point that can be accessed by day hikers, at 1227 meters above sea level.
The views from the summit and from other areas along the higher elevations of the trail are truly spectacular. On a clear day, it is possible to see Table Mountain, Cape Point, Robben Island, Cape Hangklip and the peaks in the Hottentots-Hollands Mountains.
The highest peak on the reserve, Easter Peak, stands at 1526 meters above sea level and is far from the established hiking trails for day visitors.
The waterfalls and pools in the streams that flow into the Eerste River are one of the main drawcards for people visiting Jonkershoek. The clear mountain water, while freezing, is still amazing to swim in and perfectly safe to drink if you need to refill your water bottles!
It is an easy ascent to the Eerste Waterfall, but the dangerous ascent up the gorge to the foot of the Tweede Waterfall is currently closed.
Check the weather first
For hikers’ safety, it is important to check the weather prior to visiting the reserve. Strong winds, heavy rain, lightning and snowfall could all pose a risk. Even if the weather is calm/decent in the valley, it can change quickly and dramatically once you reach the higher elevations, particularly at the top of the valley.
Assegaaibosch Nature Reserve
The Assegaaibosch Nature Reserve forms part of Jonkershoek Nature Reserve and has an additional two hiking trails, a short 3 kilometre trail and a longer 5.5 kilometre trail.
This reserve is also where you’ll find the braai and picnic areas, as well as the Assegaaibosch Farmstead. First built in 1792 and surrounded by oak trees over 200 years old, this farmhouse is now a National Monument and is used as a guest house.
There are trails for mountain biking on the adjoining Department of Forestry facility (also known as the Jonkershoek MTO forest), which are challenging routes over mountainous terrain and through pine plantations. The views are truly spectacular and the routes are a rush!
There are a total of 69 trails with a combined total of 105 kilometers. A Trail Pass is required to ride all of these trails, which can be purchased at the entrance gate. This area is just outside Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, and if cyclists do wish to cycle inside the reserve, there is an extra cost to do so.
Jonkershoek Nature Reserve sits within the fynbos biome and is part of the Cape Floral Kingdom. Over 1100 species of plants have been recorded here so far.
The three dominant plant families of the fynbos, the proteas, the ericas (heaths) and restios, are well represented. Among the proteas that grow here include the common sugarbush (Protea repens), the blue sugarbush (Protea neriifolia) and the king protea (Protea cynaroides), South Africa’s national flower. The Red Disa orchid (Disa uniflora), the provincial flower of the Western Cape, also flowers here along the rivers in February and March.
When hiking from the parking areas to the top of the mountains, there are clear shifts in the vegetation that can be noted. Dense riparian vegetation lines the banks of the Eerste River and several patches of indigenous forest also grow along the rivers up to the cliff faces.
Along the mountain slopes, large protea bushes dominate while up on the higher elevations at the peaks the vegetation tends to be more stunted. The poor soil quality and strong winds mean only resilient and hardy species can grow. Restios in particular dominate large swathes of the highest areas.
Jonkershoek is a good place to look for a number of birds that are endemic to the fynbos biome, most notably the Cape sugarbird, Cape grassbird, orange-breasted sunbird, protea seedeater, Cape siskin and Cape rockjumper.
Other birds like the malachite sunbird, ground woodpecker and malachite kingfisher can also be seen here, along several raptor species like the Verreaux’s eagle, jackal buzzard and peregrine falcon.
A klipspringer spotted at Cape Point Nature Reserve — you can find them here too!
While birds can be quite visible, most of the mammal species that occur in the reserve are very shy and are unlikely to be seen by visitors. Chacma baboon, klipspringer and Cape grey mongoose are the most commonly seen mammals, yet honey badger, porcupine, caracal and even leopard also occur in the mountains here.
On warm days, several species of reptile may be seen sunning themselves on rocks, including rock agamas and crag lizards. Hikers should be aware of the presence of snakes like puffadders, berg adders, Cape cobras and boomslangs.