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Waterval Onder

It makes sense, Waterval Onder is below the Elands waterfall and Waterval Boven (now called Emgwenya) is above the falls. It's a small place that has lost importance over the years. In the old days it was an important station, it was here from where the trains had to be pulled up the steep incline using a cog wheel engine. A bit more about this later on. The geo position is 25.6467°S, 30.3846°E and 1212m altitude.


The village came into existence with the building of the Eastern Railway line, connecting Delgoa Bay to Pretoria.

Railway station and line

Waterval Onder the NZASM tunnelWaterval Onder the NZASM tunnelThe station, which doesn't exist anymore, was the place where a cog wheel engine had to be added to the trains to get it safely up the steep incline to the tunnel and up to Waterval Boven. The tunnel I am referring to is the NZASM (Nederlandsche Zuid-Afrikaansche Spoorweg-Maatschappij) tunnel, it was build near the top station. There are some interesting facts about the tunnel, I will not repeat them here, but refer the reader to the 'Artefacts' website. And note it has been declared a national monument.Waterval rail rackThe rail carried a rack between the rails which fitted the cog wheel of the engine for positive contact with the rails. The picture on the right shows a piece of such a rail, it used to be on display at the entrance to the tunnel but has been moved out and it looks like the scrap collectors had their share of it.Waterval rail rack old pic Also the picture above from Ref 3 shows the rack rail in between the tracks. The picture looks like it was taken during the Boer war because the figures standing at the tunnel look like soldiers and above the tunnel one can see an intact block house. And the picture on the left is from Ref 4 showing the start of the rack from the bottom.
The tunnel was later by-passed and a new track laid, that was 1908. The new rail crosses the Elands river above the tunnel just outside Waterval Boven and makes its way down the mountain with lots of curves and two tunnels to eliminate the steep slopes of the old line, thus eliminating the use of the cog wheel engines. Instead of a climb of 208m over 7.5km it is now 14km for the same climb. The routing of the new rail certainly looks amazing, an impressive feat of design, engineering and construction.
Waterval Onder old rail bedInteresting to follow the rail bed of the original line. I have pieced the old track together from ground observation and from Google Earth, see the map. On its way down is another national monument, the Five Arches bridge, it is a bridge over the Dwaalheuvel Spruit, see picture.
Waterval Onder 5 arches bridgeThe NZASM tunnel was later, in the 1920th, converted to a road tunnel and the old rail bed used as a road. It fell into disuse again in 1936 when the road over the mountain, the Elands Pass, was opened. A new road tunnel was dug in the 1970th running parallel to the NZASM tunnel and a new road constructed through the Elands Valley.
Waterval Onder station buildingThe station building is still there, but so overgrown that it is impossible to take a good picture. From what we can see it doesn't look that old.

Kruger House

Waterval Kruger housePaul Kruger, the state president of the Zuidafrikaanse Republik, stayed here from the 30 June to the 26 August 1900. This came about because the British had taken Johannesburg and were threatening Pretoria, with a spearhead moving toward the east of Pretoria with the intention to cut off the rail link to the coast. A special train was assembled to take the president and his government out of Pretoria. The first stop and temporary seat of government was Machadodorp where they stayed for about a month.
Machadodorp because of its altitude was very cold causing the president suffering health problems. It was decided to move him down into the Elandsvalley where the climate is much more pleasant in winter. He took up residence in an annex of the hotel and was there for nearly two month. This is the place that is now a museum and called Kruger House.
Waterval Onder Krugers rail coachThe government stayed behind in Machadodorp and there was a daily train between there and Waterval Onder to take government officials for a daily conference with the president. It was also here that President Steyn of the Free State came to see him to discuss the war. Krugers railway coach was parked in the meanwhile at he station. This coach is now in the Kruger museum in Pretoria.
With the deteriorating war situation for the Republic it was necessary for the government to withdraw to further east. At Nelspruit it was decided that the president will have to leave the country and go to Europe to drum up support for the Boers. He stayed in Delgoa Bay for a few weeks and was than picked up by a dutch war ship, the Gelderland.


Waterval Kruger houseThe small grave yard of the village contains a section of British war graves from the Anglo Boer war. Something from the civilian part of the yard is the number of graves of English and Scottish names. And that from before the Boer war. Possibly something to do with the gold fields at Kaapse Hoop down the valley from here.

Ref 1: The Memoirs of Paul Kruger, George H Morang & Company Ltd, 1902
Ref 2.: Joseph Kürschner, Die Buren und der Südafrikanische Krieg' Deutscher Kunstverlag, 1902
Ref 3.: L.V.Praagh (Editor), The Transvaal and its Mines (The Encyclopedic History of the Transvaal), Praagh&Lloyd, 1906
Ref 4.: Pretoria-Lourenco Marques Gedenkboek, uitgegeven ter gelegenheid der feestelyke opening van den Delagoabaai Spoorweg, 1895

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