Waterval Boven

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Information provided by Hans Bornman from his unpublished book, Lowveld Tour Guide:

Town, 14 km north-east of Machadodorp, 8 km west of Waterval Onder and 95 km west of Nelspruit, at 25 39S, 30 20E. It developed from a railway supply depot established on the farm Doornhoek in 1895 and was administered by the Railways until 1946 when the administration was transferred to a Health Committee. It became a municipality on 1 April 1980. The name, Dutch for ‘above the Waterfall’, refers to the situation of the town above the ZASM falls in the Elands River. The drive down the Elands River Valley to Waterval Onder, 8 km east of Waterval Boven, is extremely attractive and affords a view of the ZASM falls (90 m high), the old ZASM railway tunnel (212 m long) – where the only funicular railway in the Republic was in use at that time – and the five arched bridge, approximately one km east of the tunnel. They have all been proclaimed national monuments.

There is a rock monument on the Waterval Boven railway station platform which is a memorial to the people who succumbed to malaria during the construction of the Eastern Railway line.

An ever-popular pass-time, angling for trout, can be enjoyed in the Elands River, which flows past the town, in the fly-fishing dams and also on surrounding farms.

Train disaster

The site where a train derailed in 1949 is declared a heritage site dedicated to migrant labourers who lost their lives there.

Ever since the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886, workers were sourced in Mozambique to work on the mines. With the rail link between Lourenco Marques and Johannesburg in the 1890’s, train transported these workers, as the case still is today.

One of these trains transporting workers from the mines to Mozambique never reached its destination. On the morning of November 16, 1949, the steamtrain pulling the carriages ploughed into the embankment on the side of the bridge spanning the Elandspruit outside Waterval Boven.

The impact caused many of the wooden carriages to derail. Seven of these, which were on the bridge at the time, crashed into the river, dragging their sleeping inmates and their colourful luggage with them.

Heavy rains were reported all over the country at the time and the Elandspruit was in spate. Those involved in the accident, who did not succumb to their injuries, were washed away.

One carriage did not plummet into the river, but hung precariously over the edge of the gorge. A number of workers, flung out of their berths, crawled in the pitch darkness to the exit – the one hanging over the precipice, and fell to their deaths.

The community rallied itself, inhabitants of the town ran down to help and doctors and ambulances from as far afield as Bethal and Lydenburg rushed to the scene. The seriously injured were airlifted to Voortrekkerhoogte in Pretoria and a special blood donation service was established in Pretoria to assist with the increased demand.

Fifty three bodies were recovered from the wreck, with several patients succumbing to wounds en route to hospital. The remains of the victims who died on site were buried in the cemetery at Boven. Their unmarked mass grave still lies in the corner of the graveyard.

A song written in Xhosa about the disaster called “The Road Back Home”, was recently identified by Ms Graca Mandela as the winning entry at a national choir festival in South Africa.


A new addition to Waterval Boven is rock climbing. The climbing is generally on near perfect rock on crags up to 30 metres high, most of the vertical kind, but with some steeper routes, and although there are some classic traditional routes (climbs where you have to place your own protection), there are also close to 500 bolted sport climbs of all grades. Besides the immaculate climbing, what also makes this place special is the atmosphere of many of the crags. You can find yourself sitting atop one of the cliffs enjoying your lunch and taking in the breathtaking views acorss the rugged sweeping plains towards the Lowveld, or you can choose the climb on the Acra Wall which lies next to the famous waterfall which gives its name to the town.