Although travel has essentially been a no-go in 2020 – I was fortunate to enjoy the Paarl Rock hike, found within the beautiful Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve… And what a marvellous adventure that turned out to be!
If you are looking for a wonderful, family-friendly hike that is neither too demanding, nor too short/long, this is the ideal hike for you. While you are at it, take time to savour the natural beauty of the Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve.
Exploring Paarl: The Hidden Winelands Gem
To me, Paarl offers natural Cape beauty, scenic panoramas and family-friendly adventures. Best of all, it is a great travel destination, found within a relatively short distance from Cape Town.
Ever since I first explored Paarl in 2014 and again in 2016 for work purposes, I have fallen in love with this little Cape Winelands town. I have always felt welcome when visiting Paarl and left with the most incredible travel memories.
Going Up, Up, Up
Many people drive, cycle or walk up the long gravel road, Jan Philips Bergpad to Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve. It’s quite a winding, rough road in places so best suited to sturdier vehicles or bakkies that can handle farm roads and bumps well. If you do go up in your car, drive very slowly and carefully.
Fortunately, the drive up is peaceful and incredibly scenic. From the moment you start on the gravel road, past farm houses, the views are incredible. Every corner rewards you with expansive views of the entire Paarl valley and let me tell, it’s spectacular from the word go.
The road leads right up to the main Paarl Rock, as well as to the Bretagne and Gordon’s Rocks.
There is nice, though limited, parking space at both attractions. So if you are pressed for time but still want to see the rocks, this is a great drive or cycle alternative.
Setting off from Meulwater Botanical Garden
In 2014, I had the pleasure of visiting the Taal Monument with my brother and his girlfriend. Catching its beauty at sunset was a special memory for me. This is probably when I first realised how much Paarl has to offer travellers and locals alike.
One of our stops that evening was the Meulwater Botanical Garden. Returning several years later, I was impressed to see the garden and nature reserve are as beautiful and well-maintained as ever.
Meulwater Botanical Garden is also a delightful place to explore or spend the day in nature, picnicking or admiring the local beauty. Picnic benches and braai spots add to its family-friendly appeal.
This is where you can start your hike to the Paarl Rocks from. We set off from the Meulwater parking lot and, according to Google Maps, this is about 2.7 km to the Paarl Rock.
This is definitely an accurate estimation, as we hiked 8km (overall), covering some 12 000 steps on the day.
It sounds like a lot – but it’s a lovely, relatively easy hike that won’t pose too much of a challenge, even if you aren’t in peak fitness.
There is a slight upward climb from the Meulwater parking lot but the rest of the route is pretty easy-going, especially coming back down.
Along the way, you pass two booms – one at Meulwater parking lot and another just a few metres up, above the Meulwater Water Treatment Plant.
As it was a weekend, I was told that we might have to pay. So my friend and I took cash with but there was no one collecting fees that day. Either way, I would suggest taking cash with; it’s meant to be about R40 per person.
Hiking in Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve
There is not much signage on the hiking route so we were a bit confused at first. However, once you pass the water treatment plant (you really can’t miss it) and second boom, you are well on your way. 🙂
The hike up was beautiful. You pass gorgeous proteas and other rich Cape flora, punctuated only by stunning vistas and distant valleys that peek out behind the fynbos.
I also love how there are literally huge granite boulders everywhere in Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve. It’s a wonder to see.
For a time, we were the only ones on the road (except for the abundant birdlife) but eventually we passed other hikers and cars.
However, even as two women hiking alone, at no point did we feel unsafe. While caution is always advisable when hiking anywhere and you should never hike by yourself, this is a safe, family-friendly hike.
A lot families with young children either walk or drive up here. It is a great way to get the whole family outdoors. Especially if you want to enjoy a leisurely walk or hike in the Cape countryside.
History of the Paarl Rocks
After a short trek up the gravel road (much improved on the one leading to the Meulwater parking), we arrived at the Paarl Rock Heritage Site/View Point.
Here, you find limited parking, a lovely bench and an impressive, well-cared for wooden walkway; this leads towards Paarl’s famous rock.
For those who don’t know, Paarl is famous for the huge granite outcrop of rock(s) that cover its mountain. Although there are three outcrops – Paarl Rock, Bretagne and Gordon’s Rocks respectively – the Paarl Rock is indeed the most famous and easily accessible.
Paarl means ‘pearl’ in Dutch and it is believed that it was so named because the rock(s) are smooth and glisten like a pearl when wet.
I am not so sure on the pearl bit but the Paarl Rock is definitely an amazing natural wonder.
Things You Need to Know about Hiking to Paarl Rock
When you climb up onto its smooth, almost slippery surface and stand overlooking the Paarl Valley and beyond, it feels like you are on top of the world. Or perhaps on top of some foreign planet’s surface.
It can be extremely windy and cool on the Rock and it’s pretty smooth and slippery in places, so you need to watch your step and stay a safe distance from the edge… trust me, there is a massive drop on almost every side.
I was initially gingerly walking around on top of the Rock’s surface because my hiking shoes were a bit worn and don’t have the best grip but if you go slowly and crouch if needed, it’s pretty safe.
Families took their kids up to see the views, keeping a safe distance from the edge. This is fine, I suppose but definitely keep a hand on little ones when exploring.
Once we were up there, braving the elements and soaking up the incredible views, especially near the white beacon, I was enthralled. It’s one of the more invigorating, special travel experiences I have had in the Cape. 🙂
I think the photos speak for themselves but this is definitely an attraction everyone visiting or staying in the Western Cape should try see.
Who Should Hike to Paarl Rock?
I think overall, the hike to Paarl Rock is safe and fun for all ages. Because it is not particularly strenuous or long, it’s especially fun for kids around aged seven and up.
For younger kids, you might have to carry them and that could get a bit tiring but if you are driving up, it’s a breeze.
I feel this is one of the most family-friendly hikes I have ever done. What’s especially great is that you can picnic or braai afterwards in Meulwater Botantical Garden and make a real day of it. 🙂
Tackling Bretagne and Gordon’s Rocks
For those who are brave enough, you can also hike up Bretagne Rock. Apparently, Gordon’s Rock is inaccessible from what I have read online.
If you walk a bit further up the road from the Paarl Rock, you will encounter the Bretagne and Gordon’s Rocks Heritage Site/View Point.
This is where our journey essentially ended because the rock’s surface is extremely smooth and slippery and there was no way I would have risked it with my shoes and expensive camera.
A lot of hikers, even some with older kids, attempted this next climb – but if you do it, you will need to be careful and ensure you have proper, sturdy hiking boots and a backpack for all your essentials so that you can climb up hands-free.
Once you get up a bit higher, there are chains and makeshift steps cut into the rock face. However, as we didn’t venture high enough (I climbed a bit of the way and then slid/ran back down), I can’t really comment on that. 🙂
While you are at the view point, be sure to follow the second wooden walkway to find the secret ‘cave’ and little forest, which lies at the end of a short wooden staircase.
Standing alone in that gnarled, almost desolate forest floor, overlooking a distant dam, felt like something out of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers… an unexpected bonus for any Tolkien fan. 🙂
How the Hike Rated Overall
The hike back down was even better once the sun came out more and the sleepy Proteas opened up to line our pathway.
Overall, this is one of the most scenic, lovely hikes I have done to date and I can give it an easy 10/10 rating for stunning views, overall hiking safeness, ease of access, distance and natural beauty. It’s a great hike that I can definitely recommend. 🙂
A special word of thanks to my dear friend and travel partner, Alicia, who accompanied me on this hike and essentially made it possible. 🙂
Important Information on Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve
Below is some important information for anyone keen to visit Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve (especially for this memorable hike):
- Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve opening times: During summer (1 October – 31 March), 07:00 am – 19:00 pm. During winter (1 April – 30 September) 07:00 am – 18:00 pm. No entry is permitted within one hour from closure.
- Wear good, sturdy shoes and comfortable clothing. A backpack is also recommended so you can have your hands free, if needed.
- Pack in water, sunscreen and a warm top or jacket, as it can be very cold on top of the rocks.
- If you visit during the COVID-19 pandemic, please wear a mask, practice safe social distancing and apply hand sanitiser before and after your hike – or as needed.
Author: Tamlyn Ryan
Content writer by day and blogger by night, Tamlyn Ryan passionately runs her own travel blog, called Tamlyn Amber Wanderlust, from her home base of Cape Town, South Africa. And, despite a national diploma in Journalism, in her free time, Tamlyn’s preferred niche remains travel writing.
Tamlyn is a hopeless wanderer, equipped with an endless passion for road trips, carefully planned, holiday itineraries and, above all else, an innate love for the great outdoors.