The Genadendal Trail is a fairly tough two-day hike with little shade, but the flower-speckled mountainsides, interchanging views and refreshing swimming holes make it memorable.
The small town of Genadendal, lying just 5km from Greyton in the Western Cape, isn’t well known, but it has a fascinating history. It was the first mission station in Southern Africa and Nelson Mandela renamed the president’s official Cape Town residence after the small town. It’s also the starting point of a two-day hiking trail that winds its way up and over the Riviersonderend Mountains and down into the Robertson Valley on the other side.
This beautiful overnight hike traverses the Riviersonderend Conservation Area, which is 70000 hectares of rugged terrain, disappearing gorges, and gurgling mountain streams. You spend the night in a farm hut and then return to Genadendal on a circular route.
Genadendal lies at the confluence of two rivers that join to form the Baviaansrivier and was founded almost 300 years ago. In 1738 a German missionary of the Moravian church, Georg Schmidt, arrived in a region known as Baviaanskloof (Ravine of the Baboons). Schmidt encountered an impoverished and dispersed Khoi people and set about teaching them to read and write.
Today the centre of town is run by locals as a community project. They care for a museum, the water mill, a printing museum, a bookshop and country-style accommodation, which is rented to visitors. Arriving on a Friday night, we had a meal in Greyton, and spent a night in dorms at the Moravian Mission Station. On a bright October morning, we left at 08:00 passing a national monument on the way out of town.
The Genadendal Trail was launched about 15 years ago, but it follows paths that are hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. I photographed each stage of the trail to give you a good idea of what to expect.
After a relatively tough day, we finally made it to camp. Our very long swimming stop at Groot Koffiegat had turned the seven-hour hike into a ten-hour one.
The accommodation on the trail has recently been renovated and there are now three new huts, each catering for eight hikers. There is warm water, a fridge, braai wood, and the farmer can even arrange braai meat, drinks, and milk for you with due warning.
After a good sleep we set off again. The two-hour climb with no shade on day two was probably the most challenging part of the hike, but we knew what to expect thanks to the sacred hiking text of Mike Lundy’s Weekend Trails in the Western Cape.
Mike is a Cape hiking legend and his words have guided hikers for decades across the region. He was, in fact, part of the original clearance party that broke the Genadendal trail back in 2002. My friends and I discovered the book about a year ago and are slowly ticking off the different hikes. We’ve completed nine of the 24 thus far and hope to do them all within the coming years. After that, we’ll probably be ready to start all over again.
As Mike Lundy wrote, the trail is, ‘demanding but beautiful.’ The best hikes always are.
The two-day Genadendal Trail details
Distance: 25.3 km (first day – 14.3km and second day – 11km)
Estimated time: 15 hours (first day – 8 hours and second day – 7 hours)
How: Call CapeNature on 0214830190 for permits. For Friday night accommodation in Genadendal phone 0282518346. For the Saturday night on De Hoek Farm phone 0236262176.
Costs: Hiking permits are R40 per person per day. It costs R80 per person to stay in the Moravian Mission Station in Genadendal and R171 per person to stay on the farm.
Our tip: There is not much shade on the hike so be sure to take a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water. We rued not arranging cold beers to be waiting for us on the Saturday. I definitely recommend considering that.