When traveling on the N4 from Pretoria or Johannesburg, you will pass a sign saying Waterval Boven.  Next time you are travelling to Nelspruit and go past this sign, make it part of your getaway and take a trip into this long forgotten town.

Waterval Boven was established in 1898 as an NZA SM (Netherlands-South African Railway Company) railway settlement.  The name “Waterval Boven” is Dutch and it means “Above Waterfall”.   It was named after the waterfall on the Elands River.  Some of the NZA SM structures are still scattered about the town.  At the heart of the town, you can see the NZA SM administrative building.

The building that housed single staff employees has been turned into a library.  Married quarters were made up of semi-detached homes and these typical sandstone buildings are still standing today.  Different from all other NZASM Buildings was the resident doctor’s house.  Built in 1899, it was constructed with brick and had a characteristic stepped gable.   Sadly the name of the architect was not recorded, only the name of the contractor, Guiseppi Dreosti. It is likely that he was commissioned privately.

The most significant building is the tunnel at Waterval Boven.  It has been declared the most famous and best known of all the NZASM structures.  This site has been declared a Provincial Heritage Site as well as a major tourist attraction.

It took a lot of planning but in October 1892 work started.  It took two teams, working from opposite sides of the mountain, and lots of drilling and blasting through the rock to eventually join in the middle in September 1893.  Once through, the inside walls were lined with stone masonry for extra strength.  Railway tracks were laid down and in 1894, with much celebration throughout the country, the Eastern Railway was opened.

A Popular Tourist Attraction

This remarkable bit of historical engineering is open to tourists today.  The tunnel is 211 meters and you can walk from one end to the other.  As you enter the tunnel you will be amazed by the stone masonry on the inside walls.

The further you go into the tunnel, the darker it becomes until the sunlight at the entrance is just a speck of light.  As you approach the middle, the tunnel curves slightly, leaving you in complete darkness for a brief section before you then again see a small spark of sunlight from the other end. There is a hushed silence from everyone walking through the tunnel as you can almost sense the old steam trains moving through the tunnel, black smoke streaming out behind them.

On the western side of the mountain, you can see where they blasted away a piece of the rock in order to shorten the length of the tunnel.  After your walk through the tunnel, you can stand on the viewing deck and be in awe not only of the majestic Elands Falls but also of those brave men who built this tunnel.

When on your way to stay at our Nelspruit accommodation, be sure to add this attraction to your trip.

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