There are six stunning waterfalls within a 17-kilometre radius of the pretty forestry town of Sabie. The Forest, Maria Shire and Mac Mac Falls are conveniently situated near the main road to Graskop along the Panorama Route. While the other three, Horseshoe, Lone Creek and Bridal Veil Falls, are on a road that snakes out of the village along the valley floor to … well, nowhere, actually.
It is possible to visit all six of the Sabie waterfalls in a day. A hectic day, charging from waterfall to waterfall. But we’re slow travellers preferring to take our time without the pressure of ticking off a must-see list.
After all, trips are about taking time out and relaxing, aren’t they?
So, of course, we choose to visit the three waterfalls on the road to nowhere.
The 3 Sabie Waterfalls’ Road to Nowhere
We plan to head out to the furthest waterfall, Horseshoe Falls, and wind our way back to Sabie via Lone Creek and Bridal Veil Falls.
At first, the road forces us to weave around potholes until we pass a timber mill, and then, the tarred road surface improves. Tall eucalyptus and pine forests line the road. Their scents waft through the open car windows, competing for attention.
In the gaps between the forests, we glimpse the early morning mists floating up the mountains lining the Sabie valley. Each opening offers the promise of a perfect day and reveals more and more of the mountains dressed in an alluring splendour of summer green.
We arrive at a split in the road. On one side, the tarred road curves in towards a fold in the mountains and Lone Creek Falls. And on the other, an awful, rutted gravel road leads to the Horseshoe Falls.
We hesitate. Should we put our car through this torment?
But it’s only a kilometre or so to the Horseshoe Falls parking lot, so we continue.
The rocky pathway to Horseshoe Falls meanders along the banks of the Sabie River. Its soothing melody of water surging through rocky chutes, murmuring in small pools and babbling over stones accompanies us as we scramble through a riot of jungle-like summer shrubbery.
A light breeze carries the buzz and whine of chainsaws in the nearby timber plantations, and a not entirely unpleasant but strong medicinal scent of eucalyptus oil wafts towards us.
And then the pathway dips into a moss-covered shady green glade strewn with giant boulders. The roar of cascading water echoing off the rocks confirms that we have arrived.
But first, we must manoeuvre around a huge boulder. Cautiously we ease ourselves over slippery rocks and muddy bits, and there it is, the Horseshoe Waterfall. And this Sabie waterfall certainly lives up to its name. Here the Sabie River splits and plunges about 10 meters over several cascades in an almost perfect horseshoe shape.
Lone Creek Falls
A polyphonic melody of insect sounds emanates from the thick indigenous forest—a stone pathway beckons, inviting us to step from the parking lot into its remarkable interior. But as we draw nearer, the melody becomes an assault of strident screeching from the summer screamer, the cicada.
I’m convinced my eardrums are about to burst. It’s as if this cicada barrage is intended to prevent us from entering this verdant world.
Once we’re inside the forest, the acoustic attack stops. It’s still, except for the occasional bird trilling in the canopy high above us.
We stroll along the pathway. Dappled sunlight draws our attention to the delicate green tracery of a fern leaf over here and a dainty pink impatiens-like flower over there.
After a while, the pathway becomes a stairway lined with moss encrusted handrails. As we near the top, we hear the thrum of cascading water. Through the foliage, we glimpse silvery-white foam plunging into the depths. A breeze blows a fine icy spray through the gaps in the greenery, cooling our bodies.
Slipping and sliding down the slick stairs, we emerge on a small beach, where the magnificent Lone Creek waterfall thunders down striated red-sandstone cliffs into a pool 68 meters below.
We poke our toes into the pool, but the fresh mountain water is icy and way too chilly for us. Instead, we lounge on a sun-warmed rock for a while, mesmerised by the sight and sound of the falling water and spellbound by the natural beauty surrounding us.
Bridal Veil Falls
Somehow the day has slipped through our fingers. It’s well after lunchtime when we leave Lone Creek, and there is still one more waterfall left on the road to nowhere, the Bridal Veil Falls.
Despite loud protests from our stomachs because I never thought to pack a picnic basket, we agree to make a quick stop here. After all, who knows when we’ll have another opportunity.
Unlike the gravel road to Horseshoe Falls (I don’t think our SUV has forgiven us for that yet), the gravel road to Bridal Veil Falls is in a near-perfect condition, and the surrounding forest is beguiling.
The road lures us onwards through dark bottle-green pine forests carpeted with a hubbub of tufted plants. Their long arching strap-like leaves glow an almost luminous green in the dappled sunlight.
All too soon, we emerge out of this enchanting pine forest wonderland into the Bridal Veil parking lot.
We can see a silvery ribbon of water trickling down the red sandstone cliff. A third of the way down, the trickle dissipates into a delicate mist that appears to waft this way and that over the thriving indigenous forest below.
This forest is surprisingly quiet. No deafening polyphonic insect chorus threatens to bar our entrance here. Instead, the forest is blanketed in an almost anticipatory stillness. And then we find out why? We have been blissfully oblivious to the weather.
Big fat raindrops plop down on us as we walk across the parking lot. We dash back to the shelter of our car, reaching it as Mother Nature finishes opening the tap. We wait, hoping the storm will blow over. But it doesn’t.
And reluctantly, we admit defeat. This is one of the Sabie waterfalls that we won’t get to explore.
So Little Time for all the Sabie Waterfalls
When we started our Sabie waterfalls adventure in the morning, we expected to spend an hour at each waterfall, so by early afternoon, we would return to taking it easy on our Misty Mountain in the Long Tom Pass with a long leisurely lunch on the hotel’s pool deck.
But for us, this is the beauty of slow travel.
We take our time and immerse ourselves in our surroundings in a spirit of discovery, joy and sometimes, an occasional adventure.
We take pleasure in the sounds and scents around us. Enjoy an awareness of the physical sensations beneath our feet or against our skin. And soak up the beauty of the natural world around us.
And if we don’t get to do everything we planned to do, does it really matter?
Sabie Waterfalls Good to Know
Where is Sabie?
You’ll find the pretty forestry town of Sabie nestled in a valley of the Northern Drakensberg escarpment in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province.
For us, Sabie was a perfect base for a couple of days. From here, we explored the spectacular Panorama Route, the Sabie waterfalls and went on one or two short hikes in the mountains.
Sabie and the surrounding area offers a range of accommodation to suit every budget and a variety of restaurants, including a craft beer brewery.
When is the Best Time to Visit Sabie?
The best time to visit is probably autumn to late spring between March and October but do avoid visiting over long weekends and school holidays because Sabie is a most popular getaway destination.
We visited Sabie in early January during the height of the rainy season and did have to change our plans according to the vagaries of the weather. Although, not everyone’s cup of tea, we were delighted by the wonderland of everchanging light and shadow that the valley mists and summer rain clouds created over the landscape.
These Three Sabie Waterfalls Aren’t Free.
All of the Sabie Waterfalls charge visitors a nominal entry fee on arrival. In return, though, there is access to clean ablutions, well-kept picnic sites and pathways and a security guard on site. This means you can enjoy your visit without having your experience marred by litter or other irritating things.
For 2023 the entrance fees are as follows:
- Lone Creek Falls R30.00 per person.
- Bridal Veil Falls R 15.00 per person.
- Horseshoe Falls R 10.00 per person. There are no picnic facilities here.
There are no card facilities so remember to take cash.
Tips for Photographing the Sabie Waterfalls.
The mornings until around midday offers the best lighting conditions to capture the beauty of these three waterfalls.
And don’t forget to take your lightweight tripod for those beautiful long exposure shots that give the water a silky feel. It’s worth it. And the walks to the falls aren’t too far or difficult.
DISCLOSURE: I have no commercial relationship with any of the Sabie Waterfalls management authorities or their affiliates. All photographs, experiences and opinions expressed in this blog post are my own.