After the relative ease of the Elsie’s Peak trail I felt like something more challenging was in the books for this weekend. We settled on hiking Skeleton Gorge up to the reservoirs with a descent down Nursery Ravine.
There are many ways to access Skeleton Gorge. The options include either Newlands Forest, Constantia Corner or Cecilia Forest via the Contour Path or the more direct route up from Kirstenbosch Gardens up through the Yellowwood trail. While we initially planned to go via Kirstenbosch Gardens, we decided to shake things up at the last second and start from Cecilia Forest instead.
This might not have been the best idea as no one knew exactly how to get to the Skeleton Gorge trail from Cecilia Forest, so we got slightly lost a few times before finding it. It wasn’t all bad though, we got to spot some really nice flowers while trying to find the Contour Path.
Essentially you want to make your way to the Contour Path from whichever starting point you choose and then head in the direction of Kirstenbosch Gardens. Once you start getting close to Kirstenbosch Gardens there should be sign posts pointing you in the direction of Skeleton Gorge.
The first half of the Skeleton Gorge trail has you climbing up a wide, stepped path. These stairs will test your fitness a bit, so it might be a good idea to rest a bit before tackling the trail.
This feels like it goes on forever
After about 40 minutes the trail starts getting even steeper and eventually the steps disappear in favour of wooden ladders. These can be quite tricky to navigate if heights are an issue for you, so be prepared.
Having proven yourself on the ladders you will have to navigate the rocky ravine itself. These rocks get very slippery when wet, so watch out for that if there has been any recent rainfall.
At the top of the ravine climb you will encounter a big gabion with an easy-to-miss sign showing that there is danger ahead. Take heed of the sign and rather find the path to your right. This is a gently rising path that will eventually emerge from the forest. It’s definitely worth taking the time to admire the views from here.
Keep following this path until you reach an information beacon. This is beacon 4 and shows the routes from your location to the reservoirs and Maclear’s Beacon.
From the beacon it’s a short walk along what looks like white beach sand to the Hely-Hutchinson resevoir. This sand is from the reservoir water eroding sandstone after the reservoir construction in the early 1900s. It is an unfortunate side effect of the reservoir constructions, but it is incredibly beautiful.
We took a really long break here to take in the views of the reservoir and mountain peaks around us.
Once we managed to tear ourselves away from the beauty we set off on the path to the left when facing the reservoir. There are so many beautiful flowers and views to see, so take your time here.
After following this path for long enough you should reach a small navigation beacon which shows you the path to Nursery Ravine.
This rock really captured my imagination
The Nursery Ravine path starts with a pleasant walk through a lovely forest then along another valley until you emerge at information beacon 5. This beacon shows that the descent to Kirstenbosch Gardens should take around 90 minutes. I have mixed feelings on Nursery Ravine as a descent path. On the one hand it offers some really stunning views but on the other it is very tough on the knees and has many hazardous spots along the way. Be careful with your descent, slipping here would spell disaster.
Eventually you’ll find your way back to the edges of Kirstenbosch Gardens. From here it is really simple to find your way back to the Contour Path and then back to your starting point.
I would rank this trail as moderately difficult with a few difficult steep sections. The ladders could also be quite difficult to navigate for people afraid of heights, so this might not be the best hike for them. The entire route was around 8km with just under 700m of elevation gain. We were going at a good pace and got back to the cars just over 5 hours after setting out. We did rest for quite a while at the reservoir, but I think 5 hours is a good amount of time to budget if doing this trail. This is a great trail to do any time of the year as most of it is under the shade of the forest, but I would advise against doing it after heavy rainfall as it could become very slippery. I highly recommended doing this trail provided that heights are not too much of an issue.