‘You’re going to South Africa! Rocklands, right?’
‘No, we’re going sport climbing’
‘Oh’ (*judgemental look and general confusion)
The classic conversation I had dozens of times with other climbers before going to Waterval Boven in South Africa, a world class sport climbing destination.
It has somehow been completely overshadowed by Rocklands, its equally world class bouldering neighbour (although they are about as far apart from each other as Fontainebleau and Kalymnos!).
(But rest assured)
Walterval Boven world-class sport climbing destination, that CANNOT be missed!
In this article you will find:
- Why You NEED Go Rock Climbing At Waterval Boven Now!
- Essential Gear List When Climbing Waterval Boven
- When Is The Best Time To Go
- How To Easily Get To Waterval Boven
- Waterval Boven Rock Climbing Overview
- Where To Stay When Climbing Waterval Boven
- Where to Get Food and Water At Waterval Boven
- Rest Days Around Waterval Boven
- Super Sneaky Dirtbag Beta
Why You NEED Go Rock Climbing At Waterval Boven Now!
Waterval Boven has, without a doubt, some of the best bolted sport climbing lines in the world.
Formed from a bullet-hard, orange sandstone and with a range of grades from 4 to 8c!
Plus, the rest day is a safari in Kruger, one of the largest game reserves in Africa, and a place to fly across the world for in its own right.
Boven has a personality and charm I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world.
There’s the blissful isolation (good luck getting your sim card to work!), the peacefulness, with the crags astonishingly empty when we went, in prime season (more on that later).
Not to mention the South African culture – think lekker brais (aka epic BBQs) when the locals come down for the weekend!
In addition to Waterval Boven, South Africa is absolutely packed with climbing.
Heading towards Durban, Umgeni, Monteseel and the Wave Cave are great places for sport and trad.
If you make it all the way (18 hours drive) to Cape Town, there’s more sport climbing at Paarl Rocks and Montagu, and trad on Table Mountain.
But all of these places deserve an article in their own right!
If you want to combine a trip to Boven with a trip to Rocklands, you’d be better off taking a cheap domestic flight.
Rocklands is a few hours drive North of Cape Town, and the fuel to get there would probably be more expensive than the plane ticket.
Essential Gear List When Climbing Waterval Boven
We had a 70m rope, and it was enough for ALMOST all the climbs, and we had 20 draws, which was enough to do any single climb.
If you plan on projecting, take a few more: the locals leave their draws in some of the more popular routes, but if you leave your own set up, you’ll need another set to warm up.
Most climbs at Boven are bolted, including a lot of the routes that were initially trad, but there are a few lines left that you could bring your rack for, if you were keen.
We had a full rack, but only used it twice: if you do bring one, I can recommend the 25/7a+ called Witness at Hallucinogen Wall.
You won’t need any multi-pitch here, but be ready to rappel in by the waterfall!
Thankfully, you should be able to buy anything forgotten at Roc n Rope in Boven.
If you’re camping, bring a warm sleeping bag in winter, for sub-zero nights and don’t forget a camp stove, although there are grills for barbecuing in place.
There’s no malaria risk in the area (but do some more research if you go to The Kruger National Park) and we didn’t get bitten once in our whole time there.
But it might be better to take anti-mosquito spray just in case, especially if you plan on seeing more of the country too.
Here at TWC we suggest stocking up on non-DEET products beforehand such as Sawyer Insect Repellent.
Surprisingly, the sun didn’t feel to brutal – it was winter when we went after all, and we climbed mostly in the shade, but do take sunscreen.
Good idea to pick up some oil-free sunblock beforehand, even if you choose to climb in the shade all day. Make sure its oil free to keep your hands dry for sending!
It’s especially take sunscreen if you plan on going to the Kruger National Park where the sun will hit hard through the car windows all day long.
For those of your coming from the North America or Europe, be aware that most of your health insurance plans will not cover you in South Africa.
Couple this with adventurous activities like rock climbing, risk of lost baggage or theft, and the all too common food and waterborne illnesses, makes a recipe for disaster.
Furthermore, many travel insurance say that they cover “adventure” sports like climbing, only to discover that once you read the fine print they add in special inclusions like requiring you to climb with a certified guide to be covered.
The fastest, easiest and most respected travel insurance in the world which covers rock climbing is World Nomads.
Be sure to select the “Explorer Plan” on the next page so that you’ll be covered for outdoor rock climbing!
Go here to read more about travel insurance and you can’t travel without it!
When Is The Perfect Time To Rock Climb In Waterval Boven?
The South African winter is the European and North American summer.
Winter is the best time of year to visit, as this is when you’ll get colder, ‘sending’ conditions at Boven.
We visited in July, and climbing conditions were perfect, although we did sometimes have to wait till early afternoon for the shade to hit the walls.
When it did, someone more prone to the cold would probably want a warm jacket to belay.
The nights are cold, but comfortable to camp in (with a warm sleeping bag!) thanks to the massive campfires dotted around the campsite.
At the time of writing, a big bag of wood from the manager, Pete, was the equivalent of 50 pence.
Days are short, with dark setting in around 5, but who can climb for more than 10 hours a day anyway?!
The locals do say the crag is climbable year-round, and it’s true that most of the crags are in the shade by midday, but (as a Northern European), I can imagine you’d need a lot of chalk!
In 21 total days in Boven, we saw 1 day of rain.
We woke up one morning in a cloud, and I was so surprised (having not seen a cloud since leaving the UK) that I wasn’t even disappointed.
Winter is the dry season, and you’d be very unlucky to lose a day’s climbing because of bad weather.
If you do go in the South African summer (November to February), expect thundershowers!
Thankfully, the locals reassured us that the rock dries fast, and that the landscape is even more beautiful after a bit of rain.
How To Easily Get To Waterval Boven
By far the easiest thing to do is to fly into Johannesburg, rent a car at the airport and drive the 3 hours East to Boven.
This also allows you the greatest freedom for shopping, visiting the (few) crags you can’t walk to, and of course self-drive safaris!
Cheap rental cars quotes for South Afica can be found here in minutes.
We didn’t have any major problems driving outside of cities in South Africa.
There are a lot of big trucks on the road, and people do drive fast, but the roads, especially the major ones, are good.
If you do drive through the centre of Johannesburg for any reason, keep your doors locked.
It’s a classic robbing method (and we had it tried on us) for someone to try and pull open the driver door at traffic lights, and demand a phone or wallet.
There is apparently bus that will drop you on the motorway nearish to Boven leaving you to make your way into town or the campsite.
Cheap daily flights to Johannesburg can be found here:
If renting a car really isn’t an option, I would recommend looking on the Climb ZA online forum.
I definitely wouldn’t personally recommend hitchhiking in South Africa – I have done it in many European countries, but would not have felt safe here.
But of course, everyone’s standards are different!
There’s an amazingly friendly community of Joburg climbers who we met over the weekends, and I’m sure someone would be happy to give you a lift.
In fact, the only other international group of climbers we met in our first trip to Boven was a group who had met up through this forum.
South Africa is a brilliant place for a road trip, so if you do rent a car, and have the time, do some exploring.
Picture: A majestic climber looks out over the African plains!
Waterval Boven Rock Climbing Overview
The guidebook for Boven (helpfully free to download from the Climb ZA website is well over a hundred pages long.
We visited first for two weeks, then for a third (because it was so good that we drove all the way back across South Africa to climb again!).
We didn’t see every crag, although that was partly because we quickly found ones we wanted to go to again and again.
Many of the crags have the full grade range (great for any mismatched ‘belaytionship’) and anyway, most of the crags are along the same side of the valley, walkable from the campsite up at the top.
The exception to this is the Waterval crags – these are the cliffs right beside the waterfall that gives the town its name.
It’s a surreal and somewhat eerie place to climb – and the approach involves walking through an in-use railway tunnel.
We were assured that there’s place for both you and the train if you stand against the wall, but thankfully we didn’t have to test that out.
For the full experience, try the rappel in climb Urisk the Rustic Brownie (23/6C+). Its right next to the waterfall and a unique position to climb in.
The guidebook gives star ratings, which as always are completely subjective and not entirely reliable.
But honestly 99% of the climbs are brilliant, if a little erratically graded. It uses the South African grading system of numbers: there’s a conversion table in the guidebook.
The best and most famous crags are Superbowl and the Oh God No Wall, both of which offer steep, long and mainly hard climbing.
For easier grades, try Baboon Buttress, which winds its way through the forest, providing many quality climbs, as well as plenty of baboons who will try to steal your lunch!
So, what’s the style like?
Well expect a bit of everything!
There’s plenty of small crimpy edges, but because of the blocky formations, you’ll also find lots of big ledges and big moves through blank sections.
If you like your climbs steep and powerful, head to Oh God No Wall and get on something like Monster (29/ 7C+) , whereas if you want something a bit more technical, Superbowl is a better bet.
One thing you’ll need on every climb though, is good footwork!
There’s not much to smear on, which leaves you using some appallingly small footholds.
Crack lovers are welcome too – I recommend World’s Apart, a 26 (7B) at the Restaurant crag, for some agonisingly good finger jams.
And the Bolting?
Just right, in my opinion. It’s not holiday bolting (aka a clip every two moves), but there’s no dangerous runouts either.
If you like fun, but safe whippers, you’ll find a few, and the guidebook will warn you of any potentially risky falls (a very small minority of the routes are a bit ledgy).
Having done a bit of bolting myself, it’s impressive to see how well the routes have been done.
I don’t remember seeing a single rusted bolt or loose hanger, either, something that is becoming unfortunately common in popular seaside crags.
But as always, have a look at the bolts before you climb: you can never know be certain put it there and when!
The icing on the cake is the surprising gentleness of the rock.
I suffer from terrible skin on longer climbing trips, but something about the Boven sandstone just never seemed to wear my skin down.
The magic combination of good friction and good skin means you can climb hard day in day out, without horribly painful tips.
Suggested Climbs at Waterval Boven That Can’t Be Missed!
Grizzly Behr – Baboon Buttress 16 (5B): Looks good and climbs good, what more can you ask for?
The Harder you Push the Harder it Gets – Hallucinogen Wall 18 (6A): There’s a pretty big surprise in this one. As in a massive and slightly terrifying one! You’ll have to try it to find out (or if you’re really desperate drop me a message and I might tell you!)
Freak-On – Oh God No Wall 24 (7A): The guidebook calls it a classic, and it is. Shout-out to whoever wrote ‘60% there’ in chalk by the rest halfway up.
Lotter’s Desire – Superbowl 27 (7B+): This line has a wall of its own and deserves it. Consistently fun headwall climbing, with nice safe run-outs (you’ll be too pumped to clip more often anyway!)
The Bovenator – Baboon Buttress 28 (7C): More like 29, or 30… You’ll think the crux is at the start till you get to the ridiculous moves on the headwall. I’ll be back to do the last (impossible?) move.
Jack of All Trades – Oh God No Wall 30 (8A): You guessed it – it’s got a bit of everything. A very satisfying climb, with a series of cruxes than need to be unlocked before the send, but which flow beautifully once they are.
Picture: The cover of the Boven Guidebook, featuring Mo Hopf on the famous Lotter’s Desire (photo by Michelle van Aswegen)
The Best Places To Stay When Climbing Waterval Boven
I’ve mentioned the campsite a few times, and this is where most of the climbers, local and international, stay.
It’s called Tranquilitas Adventure Farm and sits looking down on the valley where the crags are found.
You can’t see the crags from there, but rest assured, a blissfully easy 10 minute walk in will take you down to the foot of the first climbs, and most of the crags are within half an hours walk.
Camping was 80 rand (about 4 pounds) per person, per night and there are also some luxurious perma-tents and bungalows.
There’s a quite bare common room area, with a couple of tables and benches, as well as a fridge, kettle and microwave, and there’s warm showers.
When we left, the campsite had just adopted two great dogs, who followed us to the crag on the last day, and were very good at chasing away anyone who tried to steal our lunch.
Down in the village (near the waterfall crags themselves), there’s Roc n Rope – the hostel and shop set up by two local climbers, where you can get a very reasonably priced hostel bed or a room.
Plus you can buy any guidebooks (for the rest of the country too) or gear.
Gustav at the Roc n Rope has written previous guidebook, and bolted many of the lines, so it’s the place to be to get local advice.
Their website doesn’t give much about the accommodation, so just drop them an email.
In addition to Roc n Rope – Accommodations at various price ranges can be found here:
Where to Get Food and Water At Waterval Boven
The campsite has a clean water source – better, apparently, than the water in the village, although both a drinkable without purification.
Everywhere we went in South Africa, we found enough clean water.
As you had towards Cape Town, it gets sparser, and make sure you do some research before going, as the situation may change.
Its best to buy a big stash of food before you arrive.
There is a shop in Boven, but it only sells a small selection of dried food and an even smaller selection of very bad looking veg.
Meat is the only thing that can reliably be bought locally, if you can work out the opening times of the local butchers – a mysterious thing!
Be prepared to get very lost if you stop here – it’s a massive complex, by European standards (although any Americans should be ok)!
In the same complex you’ll find some outdoor shops, where you can buy camping gas to fit any standard stoves.
Don’t try and bring any on the plane!
Killer Rest Days Activities Around Waterval Boven
There’s only really one option for what to do other than climbing – so thankfully it’s a good one!
The Kruger Game Reserve is a couple of hours drive from Boven, and the perfect place to go for a few days.
If you’ve rented a car already, a safari can be quite cheap.
The camping in Kruger is around £15 a night, and the daily entry rate is about the same. There are cafes and restaurants all around, but we cooked our own food, which make the visit much cheaper.
Over 2 days we saw all the big 5, including a baby rhino. It’s an unforgettable experience and not to be missed.
Picture: A magic moment in Kruger – baby rhino by the watering hole
Things you NEED TO KNOW before Climbing Waterval Boven (but didn’t know you needed to know)
Cell Reception and and Wifi:
Buy a local South African sim when you arrive – Vodacom is supposed to be a good one – and top it up with some data and minutes.
BUT don’t expect it to work very well!
If you walk around in circles near the campsite, or leave your data on all night, you might be able to receive some Whatsapp messages.
For anything more important, you’ll need to drive a bit further away, or plan to stay at Roc n Rope, where you can get WiFi. (Just definitely don’t expect to do work calls from the campsite!).
Power Around Waterval Boven
The power supply on the campsite is good: there’s plug sockets on the lampposts in the camping area and more in the toilets.
Just make sure you get an adaptor – the South African plug is quite unique, and an adaptor at the airport will cost you a lot more than one off the internet.
Bonus tip: we found the signal was surprisingly good from the Superbowl crag!
Meat and the Local Butchers
The meat is good, and very, very cheap (sorry to any vegetarians out there, myself included).
The local climbers from Johannesburg, for whom the quality of meat is very important, advised us that the butchers in Machadadorp (another nearby town) is better than the one in Boven.
My climbing partner assured me they were right!
How To Avoid The Last Toll
The road (N4) on the way to Boven from Joburg hits you a few times with surprisingly pricey (as in £5-10) toll gates.
There is one final toll just before you enter Boven, BUT you can skip it if you are driving to the campsite:
Take the turn off for eNtokozweni (also known as Machadadorp), which is on the right a few km before the turn off for Boven.
From there get google maps to take you through the back streets to hit the campsite from the opposite side.
Here’s a link to the google maps route from the airport to Tranquilitas campsite, which skips that last toll.
The full route to skip this toll is described at the start of the guidebook too!
And don’t forget to purchase travel insurance for South Africa to protect you against illness, injury, and theft. This is a super important thing to have on hand.
The Wandering Climber recommends World Nomads Travel Insurance and you can get your custom quote here:
Waterval Boven is a magical and unique place, and astonishingly (for now at least) you’ll still find empty crags and unpolished classics.
It’s a place to go with a lot of time, and even then you’ll find yourself dreaming of going back.
South Africa is full of climbing gems, but having seen a few, this is the one to go for.
Let me know if you make it and give me some good climbs to do – I know I’ll be back one day!
I’m a 19 year old, London based climber who took a year out after school, travelling solo around Europe, couchsurfing and hitchhiking. Thanks to the climbers I met, I ended up road tripping round South Africa for almost two months. Over a year I’ve worked in 3 climbing hostels and campsites, climbed in almost a dozen countries, and even ended up bolting in Bosnia. At the moment, dirtbagging is on pause for university, but I’ll be back out swinging axes in the Scottish Winter by the end of the year!