Subtitle: with two kids and a beagle puppy.
The Elephant’s Eye cave is situated high up on the Constantiaberg mountain, and has wonderful views over the Constantia Valley and Cape Flats.
It can be done, and it’s worth doing. You’ll need to do a little prep though.
For the kids:
Ours are 6 and 8. It’s quite a hike, so make it exciting: let them know that you’re going to go and see this amazing cave on the mountain. Tell them that it will be an adventure and that they need to be ready for a big expedition. Mention that there will be lollipops and a picnic in the cave.
For the beagle puppy:
You’ll need a dog walking permit. You could look at TMNP’s “Walking With Dogs” pamphlet, but only if you have a PhD in cartography and a deep telepathic understanding of how their dog policies work. Good luck with that.
The simple answer is that you need a Level 1 My Activity Permit. It’s R210 for first user, and you can sign up a second user for R75 at the same time. This allows you to walk two (2) dogs per permit holder within the TMNP for one year. To find where you can and can’t walk your dog, you’ll need to consult the pamphlet above, but suffice to say that the walk to Elephant’s Eye from Silvermine is one of those places that you can.
Check the weather forecast. There’s little point in heading up there on a miserable day. Equally, a scorching hot hike will be of limited fun as well. Also, you’ll need “a morning” for this (we used 4½ hours, all in).
What to take:
- Sturdy trail walking shoes or boots. Flops won’t cut it here.
- Dog leash. Legally, you have to have one with you. Your dog doesn’t actually have to be using it, but your beagle puppy may run off if it’s not securely attached.
- Water. Loads and loads and loads of water. And a bowl for your beagle puppy’s water.
- Picnic. Stuff to eat. It’s not hard. Don’t forget lollipops and dog treats.
- Sensible clothing. Protection from the elements, whatever they might be on the day you choose.
- Sunblock/Sunhat etc. Yep. I know. Still needs to be said.
- Swimming stuff and towel. You’ll want a dip in the reservoir at the end (leave these in your car for hike).
- Camera. Because views.
- Aforementioned Level 1 Activity Card. If you have a beagle puppy.
Park up at Silvermine, via Gate 1, just off Ou Kaapse Weg. It (Gate 1) opens at 7am in summer and this is a walk best started early. It’ll cost you R40 per adult and R20 per child. Your beagle puppy will be allowed in free of charge. Irritatingly, no-one will ask to see your hugely expensive dog walking permit at any point during the hike [personal experience]. *also, see Rich’s comment below
If you’ve climbed Lion’s Head, then you’ll recognise the terrain on this one. Some clear track, some rocky scrambles, some big steps, some big drops. Take care out there.
When you get the car park, you will see three well signposted paths. The one on the right is the one you want:
The middle path is the boardwalk to the dam (but no dogs are allowed up here) and on the right, behind the metal barrier, is the dog-friendly track up to the dog-friendly part of the dam. You’ll need this later.
The first part of the walk is through a narrow, shady, tree-lined path. It’s easy going. About 300m in, there are some loos and the path then opens out into a wide track, surrounded by fynbos like Mountain Dahlias. Watch your feet too: we saw dung beetles doing their thing here.
The track bends up to the right and comes to a t-junction, where you should turn left. This is just about the only bit of the walk where you share the path with mountain bikers, so watch out for mountain bikers.
The first proper climb begins at the 1km mark with the sign Shortcut to Elephant’s Eye. It’s short and steep, but once you’re up to the top, you bear right over the hill and are rewarded with the first of the truly astounding views.
The path runs along the back of the trees (enjoy the shade) and then crosses a small mountain stream where there are tadpoles to be caught. From there, the second big climb starts – gently at first towards the fire lookout – the views from which are well worth the steep but short diversion – and then zigzagging up the elephant’s trunk towards the cave. You’ll probably want to keep your beagle puppy (and your kids) on a short leash for the last 100 metres or so, as the drop on the right is “significant”. But then, suddenly, you’re at the HUGE cave, with its fern-lined ceiling and breathtaking views out across towards the Helderberg.
We saw the cave at its best and its worst – we had the privilege of having the whole thing to ourselves for 5 minutes and not 10 minutes later, there were fifty people in there and it was chaotic. I liked it better when it was just us.
Going back down is, unsurprisingly, pretty much the upward journey in reverse. Just take care not to turn right down the hill too early as you approach the fire lookout – that’s the “alternative route” back – it’s longer and with fewer views. It is signposted as such, but it’s not necessarily clear as you approach from above.
Enjoy the sight of the reservoir as you head back over into the Silvermine Valley. And take care of your tired children and tireder beagle puppy down the large steps on the way down.
Once you’re back at the car park, pick up your swimmies and your towel and head up that left-hand track to the “far side” of the reservoir. Dogs are only allowed in the corner next to the dam wall, but that’s fine – all you want is some cool water and a nice relaxing swim. The water is exceedingly clean and exceedingly red/brown as well – it’s like swimming in (cold) rooibos.
Then, take your newly-refreshed kids back home. You’ll probably need to carry your beagle puppy back to the car because it will either be asleep or want to be asleep. This behaviour will continue all afternoon.
Total distance: 7.33km
Time up: About 2 hours, (leisurely pace with plenty of water breaks and photo-ops).
Time down: About 1 hour 15 minutes, including tadpole hunting.
Total ascent: 380m
Max altitude: 674m
Photo album link
Hiking guides on 6000 miles…? Alfred Wainwright eat your heart out.