Johannesburg - As hiking trails go, a thicket of acacia trees surrounding a rocky path is a treasured find. Add to this the high-pitched chorus of cicadas and you know you are truly in the bush. The hiking trails around the Thabela Thabeng Mountain Retreat in the Dome Bergland don’t disappoint. They pass through the Bergland, a lush, hilly region that straddles the Vaal River near Parys.
The trails are well suited for a day trip or a weekend getaway if you live in Joburg or the surrounds.
The terrain is a mix of grassland and lush hills, the summit of which affords a vista over the valley through which the Vaal River meanders.
The sharp contrast in landscape is largely due to the geological history of the dome. A meteorite that smashed into the earth here two billion years ago created the crater known as the Vredefort Dome. The impact lifted and melted together rocks that would normally not be found in the same area. The diversity of its vegetation - grassland and woodland - also distinguishes the dome from the surrounding countryside.
The Dome Bergland, as it is called in the Free State, has a variety of trails to suit a range of hikers, from a moderate walk in the park to a more challenging climb over rocky terrain.
The Golden Valley trail at Thabela Thabeng (which means “Be Happy in the Mountains”) is a moderate climb with flat stretches of path that make for an easy walk in the beginning.
Soon enough, the hiker can expect to make an ascent over lose shale. With the climb, the mountainous terrain begins. In between the acacia and other trees, one finds wild olive, silver proteas and khakibos, all of which are common in the Western Cape.
Remembering that this is in the Free State and a mere hour’s drive from Joburg, the biodiversity makes one wonder.
The increase in altitude rewards the hiker with a view overlooking the valley, which is forested with pecan nuts, which thrive in the fertile Vaal River basin below.
Soon the trail ends at the summit, halfway on the 3.5km route.
The reward is a view of the vast valley below with hills that stretch as far as the eye can see. Standing at this point, one is on the second outer ring of the Vredefort Dome, a geological wonder listed as a World Heritage Site.
It is a hiker’s paradise of epic proportions.
There are luxury self-catering chalets available. High ground clearance vehicles are recommended.