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Mountain Escapes

TTypically, rock pools are formed by the continuous scouring action of water. Found where rivers or waves work their magic on the landscape, naturally created rock pools can be thimble-size or big enough to swim in, metres deep or a few centimetres shallow, freezing cold or invitingly warm. 

Rock pools are found throughout South Africa, and in many instances are considered major attractions. These natural spa baths occur abundantly in the Drakensberg Mountains, the mighty range that separates KwaZulu-Natal province from Mpumalanga, Free State and neighbouring Lesotho 

Hikers will tell you there’s nothing more rewarding than rounding the corner during a strenuous trek, to be greeted with clear natural pools to dip tired feet into, or swim in to cool off. Those who prefer their bathing in the Drakensberg a little more adventurous and active should try Ploughmans Kop, at the edge of the Amphitheatre, with its slip-and-slide collection of pools. 

In North West province, Tonquani Gorge in the Magaliesberg Mountain Sanctuary Park has dozens of rock pools to float in, combined with some high velocity butt-sliding. Near Rustenburg, the Tierkloof pool creates natural bubbles to tickle and tease – just like a hot-tub! 

Rockpools also abound in Mpumalanga province, thanks to the high number of waterfalls – especially around Waterfall Boven, Sabie and Hazyview. 

If you prefer seaside rock pools, head for the Wild Coast in Eastern Cape province, where there are kilometres of intertidal zone to explore. 

Another excellent spot for marine rock pools is northern KwaZulu-Natal, where the tidal pools on remote beaches like Black Rock and Rocktail Bay brim with life. 

Western Cape’s rock-pool roundup is equally impressive. In Knysna’s Forest Edge Nature Reserve, the Drupkelders rock pools on the Homtini River are scenic, cola-coloured (from vegetation in the river water), and invigorating fun. 

Experience the diversity of South Africa’s rock pools on the country’s most famous hike, the Otter Trail. On the trail, which runs along part of the Garden Route between Western Cape and Eastern Cape, there are some exquisite rock pools, both inland and beside the Indian Ocean, to explore or splash about in. 

If its size you want, look to the Winterhoek Mountains in Western Cape. The Eden pool in Die Hel is one of the biggest in the country, but be warned: paradise is at the bottom of a steep cliff. Another favourite Capetonian spot for liquid lounging is the Rondegat rock pools in the Cederberg Mountains. 

To visit South Africa’s more extreme rock pools like those in the Steenbras River Gorge, alias ‘Kamikaze Kanyon’, or those in Suicide Gorge in the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve near Grabouw it’s best to go with a professional canyon/river operator. 

Did You Know?

TTravel tips & Planning  info 

How to get here  

There are rock pools all around the country. You can fly to most metropolitan areas or alternatively, hire a car and get off the beaten track. There is also a wide network of intercity buses and trains. 

Best time to visit  

Summer (December to February) will make the water temperature more inviting. 

Get around 

The only way to see the country’s best rock pools is on foot. 

What will it cost? 

Many of the pools are in reserves, so entry fees will vary. Most rock pools on public beaches are free. 

Length of stay 

Generally, a hike to a rock pool will be a day trip, unless it’s part of a longer trail. 

What to pack  

Walking shoes and cameras are a must. Sun protection is essential, and of course your swimming costume. 

Where to stay  

Rock pools are often found in nature reserves, which offer accommodation ranging from camping to self-catering chalets. Some even have 5-star lodges or tents. 

Related links 

 

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