Ezemvelo: Great Hiking Close to Joburg

by | Feb 20, 2024 | Joburg Weekend Getaways, Johannesburg, Lodging, Parks/Nature Reserves | 11 comments

Those of you who follow me on Instagram may have noticed I’ve been hiking a lot lately. I’ve always loved to hike. But for some reason — maybe because I now have a car that can take me to any hiking trail in South Africa — I’ve started wanting to hike a lot more. So when Ezemvelo, a privately owned nature reserve less than two hours from Joburg, invited Thorsten and me to come check out their hiking trails a few weeks ago, I was excited to check it out.

View from our chalet at Ezemvelo Nature Reserve
Big skies at Ezemvelo Nature Reserve.

Ezemvelo is owned by the Maharishi Invisibility Institute, a non-profit organization based in downtown Joburg that focuses on consciousness-based education for youth of all ages. This peaked my interest; in addition to its mission as a hiking/camping destination and game reserve open to the public, Ezemvelo also hosts Maharishi students for various programs. Maharishi students practice transcendental meditation and yoga as part of their studies and Ezemvelo must be a great place to do that.

Sketch of Ezemvelo by the Thinking Hand
A sketch by @theThinking_Hand (including his own hands), drawn somewhere in Ezemvelo.

A Weekend at Ezemvelo: Top Tips

One of the best things about Ezemvelo is its proximity to Joburg: It’s about an hour and 45 minutes from our house in Brixton, and closer to those living east and north of town (closer still to Pretoria). Thorsten and I left Joburg at about 1:30 p.m. on a Friday, and despite hectic afternoon traffic we still reached the reserve before 3:30 p.m.

The reserve offers both self-catering chalets and a camp site for visitors. The chalets cost R990 per night for two people and camping costs R330. We stayed in the chalets, which are not fancy but perfectly adequate for a weekend away.

Our chalet at the reserve
Our chalet.
Inside the chalet
Inside the chalet. Technically it sleeps three people — there is a single bed in the small loft below the roof. There is also a small kitchen and a decent bathroom with a shower.

While you could theoretically visit Ezemvelo as a day trip and skip the overnight stay, I wouldn’t recommend that — this reserve is at its best at sunrise and sunset, and the only way to experience it at those times is to stay overnight.

Thorsten braaing outside our chalet
Thorsten braaing outside the chalet before sunset. We moved the small kitchen table outside for better outdoor seating.
Sunrise before our hike
A fantastic sunrise the next morning.

The other great thing about Ezemvelo is the wildlife. This is a serious game reserve with hundreds of bird species and dozens of mammals and reptiles. We didn’t do an organized game drive because we were too exhausted from hiking (more on that in a moment), but we saw tons of animals as we walked — including a giant monitor lizard who crossed the trail right in front of us — which was really cool.

Not the giant monitor lizard (I sadly missed that photo-op) but a cool lizard nonetheless.
Mother and baby black wildebeest
A mother and baby black wildebeest (more rare than the blue wildebeest we’re used to seeing).
Zebras at Ezemvelo

If I go to Ezemvelo again I’ll definitely do a game drive, as it’s possible to see rare animals like brown hyena (who we heard howling but didn’t see) and aardwolf.

A couple of other important notes and pieces of advice:

1) This is Ezemvelo Nature Reserve and NOT Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the provincial organization that runs wildlife reserves in South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal province.

2) While some dirt-road driving is required, you don’t need a 4×4 to reach this reserve.

3) Ezemvelo’s landscape was very green when we were there in January, but it would look quite different (much browner) during the winter dry season. I think winter would still be a nice time to hike there though, as it would be cooler during the day.

4) The hiking trails at Ezemvelo are mostly out in the open with very little shade. Start early and load up on sunblock, water, and snacks.

5) Be prepared to walk through a bit of mud and water during summer — there are some marshy areas.

6) Ezemvelo is very close to the spectacular Anton Smit Sculpture Park, which is worth a stop if you’ve never been.

Hiking at Ezemvelo

The reserve offers 5-kilometer, 15-kilometer, and 21-kilometer hiking trails. We set out at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, unsure yet which trail we wanted to do, but wound up hiking about 19 kilometers (the 21-kilometer route minus about two kilometers that we skipped at the beginning). I was ridiculously exhausted by the end but really glad we did the long route — it was really, really beautiful and at least now I know what I’m capable of.

Setting out to hike on Saturday morning
Setting out on Saturday morning.
Thorsten hiking in Ezemvelo
We saw very few other humans so Thorsten is the star of this show.
Impala on our hike
Some impala we met along the way.
Blesbok on a hillside
Herd of eland
A big herd of eland, the world’s largest antelope, with a couple of ostriches in the background. (Sorry, I forgot my long lens on this hike so all of my wildlife shots are very distant.)
Heather on the hike
More distant wildlife.

A long section of the hike went along a small river, with nice views and rock formations along the bank. There were also bits of shade and some pretty rocks pools to walk along.

River view
River view.
Thorsten’s rocky riverbank sketch.
Rock pools at Ezemvelo
The rock pools, which probably look more pool-like during the dry season.

The final third of the hike was a brutal yet beautiful jaunt over some big hills and across the grassland, back to camp. The hike took us a little more than six hours in total — I hadn’t felt that tired in a very long time.

Green grass we walked across
The camp is somewhere in that dark green patch at the horizon.
Shot (badly) on my phone because I was too tired to lift my camera.

The next morning, because we are insane, we got up at 5:00 a.m. to do the five-kilometer hike and get out onto the trail before the sun came up. I was rewarded with some really spectacular morning light.

Sunrise at Ezemvelo
More twinsies.
More sunrise
Sunrise perfection.
Thorsten sitting on rocks
A final zen moment at Ezemvelo.

One more tip: Tanya Pembroke of My Hiking Logbook wrote a great review of Ezemvelo on her Facebook page, which includes lots of interesting details that my post doesn’t cover. I highly recommend following Tanya’s page for tons of useful recommendations about hiking in Gauteng province and surrounds. (Unfortunately I can’t link to the actual review, because Facebook is lame, but you can find it by scrolling down the page to Tanya’s Ezemvelo post on 6 January 2024.)

Expect more 2Summers hiking posts in the near future.

Heather hiking

My stay at Ezemvelo was complimentary. Opinions expressed are mine.


  1. Nancy

    What a beautiful place. The skies!!!!!

    • 2summers

      I know. We’re lucky to have so many amazing places to travel that are really close to the city.

  2. dizzylexa

    Great sunrise shots. Is this not the organisation that now occupy the Anglo American building on Main street?

  3. dizzylexa

    I always complain about people not reading the full story and I’ve done just that. Sorry I should have clicked on your insert.

    • 2summers

      Haha, well I really didn’t explain it so you weren’t wrong to ask 🙂

  4. AutumnAshbough

    Hiking at sunrise is my favorite. And I am so impressed you did 12 miles!! (If I converted correctly.) Well done, you.

    • 2summers

      Haha thank you. I was going to translate it into miles but just got lazy.

  5. Lani

    Absolutely stunning. Wow. What a beautiful country and great place to hike with all that wildlife. The lizard pic is my favorite! Great hat by the way, too. xo

    • 2summers

      Thanks Lani! I got that hat years ago at a cowboy shop in Santa Fe and it has really served me well 🙂


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