Location: South Africa » Kwazulu Natal » Natal Midlands » Midlands Meander » Karkloof Nature Reserve » Karkloof

Karkloof, adventure, nature and spectacular waterfalls

The Karkloof is an area little visited by tourists but inevitably rewards those that do. The Karkloof is a flat topped range that forms a barrier between the Natal coast and the Drakensberg.

The highest point at Karkloof is Mount Gilboa almost 1800m above sea level and commands unsurpassed views of the Midlands. Most of the Karkloof is heavily wooded either with plantations or protected indigenous forest.

The Karkloof Nature Reserve is a 900ha area of yellowwood and stinkwood in which the rare martial eagles breed. The Karkloof Falls is a delightful spot with picnic, swimming and braai spots.

It was also in the Karkloof the some of the firsts in aviation history was accomplished here. John Goodman Household fabricated a glider based on the form of a vulture he had killed. It was made of oiled fabric and bamboo. In 1871, fearlessly launching himself from the top of a kloof, he glided the full width of the Karkloof Valley - well over a kilometre - before crashing into a tree and breaking his leg. His mother dissuaded him from any more foolish pursuits.

Hiking Trail The Karkloof Trail

The trail goes through a SAPPI plantation and takes about 6 hours with a 4km stretch above the Karkloof waterfall.

The Karkloof Canopy Tour

The Karklook Canopy Tour is the biggest in South Africa. This cable slide travels over a km through the Karkloof Forest passing a series of 12 platforms.

Hidden Valley of Beauty’

Not too many tourists head from Howick on the R141 to Rietvlei. But the drive brings a special reward: the Karkloof Valley – beautiful place of abundant streams, dense woodland and fertile farmland with some of it’s features having changed little since first wandered by the San people and, much later, settled by Nguni clans. The 19th century impis of King Shaka left the area virtually empty – which was how the white settlers found it. The Voortrekkers didn’t stay long, and it was a wave of British immigrants in the 1850’s that paved the way for the present crop of farmers, gardeners, artists, conservationists and recluses.


How to get there

Take the R617 from Howick in the south, or from it’s intersection with the R622 at Rietvlei. It’s a scenic, wooded drive, with part of it still gravel.


Natural Works of Art

The Karkloof range forms a barrier between the coast and the undulating plateau of the Midlands. It’s a steep, flat topped kloof that stretches for over 50 km in a continuous ridge, roughly between Curry’s Post and Rietvlei. Heavily wooded, by both timber plantations and protected areas of indigenous forest, it rises to a peak that is the highest point between the ‘Berg and the coast. If you were able to stand at the top of Mount Gilboa, you’d be 1768 m above sea level and commanding a spectacular view of the region. As travelers, we have to content ourselves with panoramic views from lower down on the ridge – and visualize how Goodman Household might have felt when he attempted to fly from a Karkloof slope. Having modeled a crude flying machine on the wingspan and promotions of the secretary bird, he built his glider from light wood, reeds and calico. Observed by brother Archie, Goodman launched himself into space. He flew briefly, then crashed back to earth. Goodman broke a leg and, as promised to his mother, never flew again. If he had, he might had beaten the Wright brothers to it, as the Karkloof flight occurred in 1871. Much of the early settler focus in the valley was at Shafton (near the present Country Club) which began life as a farm belonging to James Methley. A church built in 1860 is surrounded by settler graves, and was barricaded during the Anglo Zulu War of 1879 as a fort.

Forest Retreats

A private nature reserve called Leopard’s Bush occupies a slope of the Karkloof, overlooking the valley, and is a perfect retreat from the world. Offering walks, trout fishing and birding, it has limited accommodation in rustic cabins and a wooden forest lodge. An indigenous nursery is located at the foot of the slope. Another 936 ha of indigenous forest is in the care of the Kwazulu Natal Nature Conservation Service, and visits to the Karkloof Nature Reserve can be arranged through the Reservations Office in Pietermaritzburg. Crowned and Martial Eagles breed among the yellowwoods and black stinkwoods, and small game roams the area. The Karkloof Falls are reached along a 6 km firt road through SAPPI plantations. With their 88 m drop, these falls are just as impressive as those at Howick. Picnic and braai sites are laid out under the trees, and the smaller Woodhouse Falls are a short distance upstream. Access is restricted in winter due to fire hazards.


Country Hospitality

For an overnight stay with tasty cuisine, the valley’s first B&B in Thistledown Country House. A colonial verandah house built in 1937, it has five guest rooms and can take 24 guests for lunch and dinner. Book in advance.


The Karkloof Polo Club, with it’s beautiful setting, has a long and lively history. It was in 1886 that several brothers of the Shaw family played their version of a game they’d only heard about, cutting sticks from indigenous wood and shaping balls from willow and bamboo roots. Together with the Mackenzie brothers, they formed the club in 1897, and their descendants have produced many Springboks in it’s over one hundred years of experience. It’s the only club in Africa to have three polo fields, so several major tournaments are held here each year with a trio of matches being played simultaneously. Visitors are welcome.


Accommodation in and around Karkloof

Karkloof Spa     accommodation in Karkloof
Karkloof Spa boasts a luxury boutique lodge with 16 individually decorated villas, an expansive world-class Spa and 3500 hectares of bountiful terrain abundant with wildlife, offering you a variety of unforgettable experiences. Enhanced with the... More

Shafton Grange Guest House / Lipizzanner Stud and Sangoma    accommodation in Karkloof
Shafton Grange, situated in the beautiful Karkloof valley, was built in 1852 and retains the elegance of a bygone era. Hosts Craig and Nina Rogers invite the lovers of country living and fine hospitality to indulge themselves in the experience of a t... More

Rainbow Retreat    accommodation in Karkloof
Nestled in the foothills of the Karkloof amongst indigenous and pine forests. Three fully stocked dams with rainbow and brown trout. The ultimate peace and tranquility! Our aim at Rainbow Retreat is to welcome our guests i... More

Directory of accommodation in Karkloof