The hike to Crystal Pools

Steenbras River mouth
I love hiking in or along mountain rivers and swimming in dark brown pools, so since the day that I heard about it I've wanted to hike up to Crystal Pools, near Gordon's Bay. The problem was that we could find very little information on the Web about exactly where the hike is located and how to purchase permits. After scouring the Internet we spent 2 hours of playing telephone tag, trying to find someone at various nature conservation departments to tell us (a) where the hike starts and (b) where to purchase a permit.

We called 13 (or more) telephone numbers from Cape Nature to the Koggelbaai Nature Rerserve and everyone gave us a different story. After driving out to more or less where we imagined the hike would start, we eventually we located the unmanned entrance to the hiking trail and found a visitors book that contained a page that had been stamped with an official-looking stamp. This (the last number at the dead-end of telephone numbers) proved to be the right one! The ranger on the other end of the line used his 2-way radio to contact the ranger on who should have been manning the entrance to the hike station... and we were told that it was okay for us to go in without purchasing the R15/p permit. What an anti-climax it was after 2 hours of phoning around!

So, to save you the trouble, see the Google Earth image below (and this map) that shows the location of the gate (where, according to some, you can purchase the permit) as well as the location of the three pools - about 1.7km up the Steenbras river. Today's main photo is of the bridge that crosses over the river, and you can see that bridge to the bottom left of the Google Earth photo below.

To find the entrance to the hike, drive about 6km outside of Gordon's Bay, towards Rooi Els. You'll find parking about 100m after the Steenbras river bridge. Leave your car there, cross the road, and walk back in the direction of the river. You'll see the little wooden cabin where you can theoretically purchase a permit.

Before planning your day, be sure to call 021 856 4975 and confirm that the gate will be open and that you are able to purchase a ticket there. Also, just because we had such a run-around, be sure to get the name of the person that you speak to at that telephone number. :)

EDIT: See Githa's comment below for more information about booking.

If you'd like a preview of what you'll see on the hike, take a look at Coda's photostream on Flickr - he has a few great photos of the hike and the pools at the end.

Map to Crystal Pools

14 thoughts on “The hike to Crystal Pools

  1. Glen

    Wow Paul, thanks for the info. I’ve always wanted to know where these pools are! You mentioned that the hike is around 1.7km – I guess it is probably a bit strenious for a 2 1/2 year old .. one of the reason why I’d like to do this one is that there is a geocache there too. :)

  2. Paul

    Post author

    Hi Glen,

    Yeah, not so suited to the liddl one. You best get movin’ – I believe they may be shutting it down at the end of April for a year (at least) in order to rehabilitate the hiking trail area.

  3. Ali

    We called 13 (or more) telephone numbers from Cape Nature to the Koggelbaai Nature Rerserve and everyone gave us a different story […] and we were told that it was okay for us to go in without purchasing the R15/p permit. What an anti-climax it was after 2 hours of phoning around!

    You are a real African, Paul! What a patience! From my own experiences as a customer service representative, I have to admit that Germans usually tend to screaming during the second or even first call if they don’t get the information they want to hear. :D

  4. Ali

    Oh, a question that has come to my mind: Don’t you hestitate to swim in pools, lakes and so on? I remember that the German State Department’s website warns tourists against bilharzia that one can easily get in fresh water.

  5. Paul

    Post author

    I can’t say that we’ve ever been warned about bilharzia in the Cape. I’ve hiked and swam in rivers many times and seem to be fine. Also, I’ve never known anyone who’s contracted the sickness. From the Wikipedia article it looks like South Africa is far less effected by bilharzia than other parts of the continent.

  6. Ali

    Yes, it’s my reaction if customers start screaming. And I love to tease such uncivilized people. :D Unfortunately, not less workers in the customer service endure such behavior. It’s a pity. :S

  7. Hannah Moore

    Hi Paul, very informative article – thanks. Do you know if the River Trail passes the Steenbras Dam? I hear that is still open but not sure how to get to it. Best, Hannah Moore

  8. Paul

    Post author

    Hi Hannah, the river actually leads from the Steenbras Dam. I’d guess that it is accessible by continuing further up, past Crystal Pools – but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you find out from a reliable source that it’s safe to do so.

    I believe you can take a drive up to the dam though. I was there last when I was around 5 or 6 years old, so I’m not sure, but I think the road up to the dam is closer to Gordon’s Bay’s side. Take a look on Google Earth, I’m sure you’ll spot it.

  9. Lee

    hi Paul
    Do you perhaps know if the pools are currently open?
    We want to go there tomorrow and I cant get hold of anyone at the pools to inform me.

  10. Paul

    Post author

    Hi Lee,

    I assume that you called the number that I posted. If they don’t answer their phone then I’d go to the hut at the entrance – there may be an official posted there.

    Since the person at the number that we contacted said that it was okay for us to go in without a permit if nobody was at the gate, if I were you I’d probably assume that the same would apply to anyone else.

  11. Githa Skea-Thuesen

    NOTE :: Steenbras Nature Reserve (not Helderberg nor Sunbird Lodge) issues permits for hikes to Crystal Pools and Steenbras River Gorge – more info at CoCT link… correction of text and deletion of redundant numbers in this article re. contact info will ease the lives of prospective visitors and Nature Reserves alike – please help others avoid two hours of telephone tag :-D

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