The Ebony and Gorge Trails are short walks that offer a different perspective of Augrabies, with thundering falls and dramatic vistas. Easily accessible and well signposted from the chalets and campsite, both will stretch your legs and soothe your soul. By Ron Swilling
Type: Peaceful stroll along a circular route
Terrain: Shady riverine vegetation, a striking contrast to the rest of the arid park environment, supports the surrounding ecosystem, which includes birds, frogs and trees. Dassies (rock hyraxes) scurry about the drier section.
The trail begins across from the day visitors area. Entering the tangled undergrowth and mottled shade cast by the trees, the silence is punctuated by small scurrying sounds that can be heard but not identified, as birds look for delectable morsels in the bushes and frogs leap into the water. Cape bulbuls are visible in the tops of the trees and early on in the walk, curious vervet monkeys make their appearance to see who has arrived in their arboreal kingdom.
Phragmites reeds lining the watercourse act as filters, cleaning the water. Lush bluebush, spikethorn, white karee, buffalo thorn, wild tamarisk and Namaqua fig trees all drink contentedly at the small oasis. Apart from the large, slow-growing ebony tree Euclea pseudebenus, two other protected species along the trail are the handsome camelthorn and the shepherds tree (or witgat), which often appears stunted in drier areas but grows into a surprisingly robust tree when sufficient water is available.
Remember to read the bush along the way as the muddy floor provides a good canvas for tracks that remain embedded and clearly visible long after the animal has moved on. Eland are often seen near the river where they come to feed and drink. Look for their large cattle-like tracks that etch the ground. You may even be fortunate enough to spot those of the elusive leopard.
Several benches have been sensitively placed along the route so you can sit quietly and appreciate the peaceful surrounds. Towards the end there’s an interesting labyrinth of passageways, marking the site of a huge and active porcupine den. All too soon, the path joins up with the start and you pop out into the sunny Augrabies day.
3km return from the reception area or 2km return from the campsite
Type: Linear trail that ends at a breathtaking viewpoint
Terrain: The trail crosses over rocks towards the gorge and the muted sound of the rumbling and tumbling waterfalls is audible.
From reception, wind between ebony, white karee and Karoo boerbean trees, turning in the direction of the gorge and follow the walkways, lined with phragmites reeds and wild tamarisk, westwards until you reach the chalets. It’s then necessary to continue for a short stretch on the road between the chalets, past the swimming pool to the campsite, where the trail begins.
A wooden bridge is placed conveniently over a small stream. The first glimpse of the dramatic drop to the river below is soon visible if you veer slightly off the path. The Dassie (6,6km/3 hour) and Klipspringer (36km/3 days) trails branch off from the Gorge Trail, which continues westward following the sign to Arrow Point or ‘Spiespunt’ in Afrikaans.
You will be walking parallel to the gorge and towards the setting sun, if it’s that time of day. Twin Falls will appear on the left-hand side. The two falls, one long and one short, are clearly visible at the clearing after the sign. Grass heads catch the light and beetles scurry off the path. Soon afterwards you will see Arrow Point, the grand arrow-shaped outcrop between the two gorges. Visitors are permitted to walk to the end point of the trail only. Do not attempt to negotiate the thin line of rocks that balances precariously on the point above the gorge. The trail’s end is more than sufficient to appreciate the spectacular scenery and to sit peacefully as swallows circle above and lizards scurry over the rocks.
When you have had your fill of beauty or if the sun has dipped behind the Swartrante, it’s time to make your way back. Egyptian geese fly overhead honking as they also make their way home for the night and baboon calls are carried on the breeze. Nearing the campsite, you may spot the resident troop grooming each other on the rocks and see the small quiver tree standing as a watchful sentinel. It’s a good end to the day before a hot shower and a delicious supper, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself there again in the morning to do it all once more.
Getting there: Augrabies Falls National Park lies in the Northern Cape, some 120km from Upington.
Cost: The walks are free. Augrabies daily conservation fee is R40 an adult and R20 a child, free with a Wild Card.
Contact: +27 (0)54 452 9200, SANParks Central Reservations +27 (0)12 428 9111