Date: Sunday, 24 March 2013 to Saturday, 6 April 2013.
Place: uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa.
Distance: 242 km from Sentinel Car Park to Bushman's Nek Border Post.
Well, not really...five of us met at Nottingham Road SPAR at 8am, on Saturday 15 January 2011 for a hike to Mckenzie’s Cave for the weekend. We took the road to Loteni and 35 minutes later we arrived at Mkhomazi Parks Board office. The park rangers very kindly allowed us to leave the vehicles in a lock up garage. It was a short hike to the cave, but boy was it steep! Farouk Omarjee was leading and he was the only one in our party who was fit – the rest of us were a little out of shape to say the least! The start altitude was 1585meters, and we reached the highest point at 2290 meters. Thankfully, we had great weather - sunny but overcast with a welcoming cool breeze. We struggled up the long 5 kilometre ascent which took us a good five hours. But I have to add that we stopped regularly along the way – at the first stream for a quick break and at 12h30 we stopped at a beautiful waterfall for lunch. With the recent rains, there was plenty of water everywhere, all the streams were flowing fast.
The last kilometre to the cave was all downhill; it was great to finally get there at 2pm! We spent the afternoon exploring the area and taking in all the breathtaking views from the top of the hill. Mckenzie’s is a great cave with a field in front of it, quite different to other caves that would normally have a dramatic drop close to the mouth. The field also serves as a catchment area where all the runoff water collects into a strong flowing stream with a great pool to wash in; about 100 meters from the cave.
After a refreshing bath in the pool, it was time for a Whiskey and a chat with our fellow hikers in the cave. Dinner was served at about 7pm and by 8pm everyone was fast asleep! During the night I woke up to see a very bright moon shining directly into the cave like a huge spotlight! A few hours later, the moon was replaced by a starry sky....where else in the world would we rather be – absolutely nowhere! What freedom we have to sleep under the stars like this!! What a beautiful country.
The next morning someone started stirring and by 5h30 we were all up and about – the sun was already high in the sky, another beautiful day. Breakfast was soon over and then the packing up started. Since the party was so small, we were all set to go at 7h15! We took a different route back and it was beautiful to see the mini Agapanthus with their lilac flowers in bloom all over the fields of grass. We groped our way down a short bit of gulley and then joined the path that we followed up the previous day. It was very hot, so we stopped to swim in the stream just before reaching the car park. Almost exactly 24 hours after we started our hike, we were back at the Parks Board office! What a magnificent hike – so glad we were able to test our fitness before the next planned hike! Thanks to Farouk for leading a great hike!
Minerva day Hike : 14 Feb 2010
Imagine standing in a cave where 12 natives were apprehended in 1906 by the British Police then tried and executed shortly thereafter?? This is part of the history behind the scenic Minerva day hike, led by David Tighe on Valentine’s Day 2010! We were a group of 7 enthusiastic hikers, meeting just outside Richmond to go on this great day hike. The previous couple of days had been the normal blistering hot Durban February summer days but on the evening before the hike, the heavens opened and broke the spell with much rain. Sunday morning arrived and the weather was much, much cooler and the Richmond area was almost totally covered in mist! I was thankful I had packed my rain gear for this hike even though it was midsummer and we were not in the Drakensberg! We first drove our vehicles up a long dirt track to the top of a hill and parked at a farm house where the altitude was 1400m. Sadly, we were unable to see any of the normally spectacular views visible on a sunny day. The hike started at 9am along the same dirt track and we reached the tallest point at an MTN mast, at 1500m. http://i47.tinypic.com/1626sm0.jpg Just before we got to the mast, a large herd of Blesbuck ran through the grasslands in front of us. http://tinypic.com/r/slgymh/6 Dave is extremely knowledgeable on the history of the area and gave us full details on the farm owners down in the valley below us and also gave us a lot of history on the Byrne and Baynesfield areas. He is an absolute fountain of information, and makes story telling an art! The hike took us along Nyamakazi Ridge and then down into the Pine Forest below. http://tinypic.com/r/2r5g2zn/6 Along the way, we could clearly see many ox wagon tracks on the other side of the hill from centuries ago! This area is indeed steeped in history. The bird’s song drifting through the forest was just beautiful. We had a water break at Porcupine dam where Dave had previously come to watch the Porcupine who frequents this particular area at night. We moved on to Picnic Rock which has a most magnificent view over the entire valley below.
After we had eaten Dave invited us to go and look at some caves. Naively, we all followed him and suddenly realised there were chain ladders!! Not for the feint hearted....or so we thought, but Dave had done an outstanding job of securing these ladders in place and it was perfectly safe to go down into the wet, mossy forest in search of the caves. http://tinypic.com/r/2v2xn48/6 These were the caves that Dave had searched for and found (man alone, mind you!) for many months, just so that he could bring day visitors like ourselves and tell us the story of the uprising between the natives and the British which ultimately resulted in their execution! It was quite a privilege to be invited to such a historic site! http://tinypic.com/r/30rtu9t/6 We all made it back to the top quite safely, just covered in mud from the very damp forest. After lunch we took a walk to the Woodcutters Trail and Dave took us along the trail for a couple of meters, just to show us how lovely the trail would be once it was cleaned up, but unfortunately it had become overgrown and needed quite a bit of clearing before anyone could successfully complete the route. We back-tracked to the main path and walked steadily back to the farm which we reached at 2.30pm.
We were then treated to a visit to the Minerva museum...... what a place, it is filled with machinery, engines, tools, and numerous other items from way back. A jet engine, circular aeroplane motors, a motor from a Sherman tank, old cameras, an air lung, old tractors, and..... and....and....
I started this hike thinking this is just another walk in the hills, but it turned out to be an awesome experience! definitely to be recommended. Thanks David. http://tinypic.com/r/9u27aa/6
Marie von Bargen
MALIBA LODGE, LESOTHO
10 September 2009
The Mountain Backpackers Club (www.mountainbackpers.co.za) was approached to find members willing to “map” all the trails on a private lodge situated in the T’sehlanyane National Park, in exchange for free board & lodging, so my husband, Eddie and I happily volunteered. The place looked awesome on the website, but pictures could not do it justice once we actually set foot here! We left our home in Northdene at around 2pm, and had a comfortable 5 hour drive to the lodge. We stopped at Fouriesberg for an hour to re-fuel and grab a bite to eat at one of the tea rooms. The road through to the border post was all on tar and from the town of Buthe Buthe, we turned onto a gravel road and 40 mins later we arrived at Maliba mountain Lodge(www.maliba-lodge.com) We could not see any of the scenery because it was dark and were looking forward to waking up in the morning to see the views and the surroundings. We were warmly greeted by Hyke when we arrived at 8.30pm and given a welcome drink in the gorgeous reception area – nothing at all like our experience in Malawi!! This place is simply wow....!!! we climbed into a warm electric blanket bed with the fire still roaring in the fireplace at 10pm...
Friday, 11 September 2009
The alarm woke us at 6am and just as well, because the bed was way too comfy to wake up on our own! The view from our room was breathtaking – right in the heart of the mountains! The sun had already come up so we missed the sunrise...will try again tomorrow. After a lovely shower we took a slow walk up to the dining room and were warmly welcomed by the staff and gorgeous classical music accompanied the wonderful spread of food! The dining room was as tastefully decorated as the rest of the lodge – five star indeed! Daniel the barman offered us coffee, capachino, espresso or latte...we chose capachino...did we want it weak, medium or strong...choices, choices! The hospitality here at Maliba Lodge is incredible! Hyke gave us a run down of the trails in the area and prepared a stunning picnic basket for lunch. We set off at 8.30am, clear day not a cloud in the sky and absolutely no wind. We took the route to the “Upper Trail” and found it to be well marked, and an easy walk. After we had crossed the river some time later we stopped for a break to enjoy our Liqui Fruit & Bar One and continued climbing up quite a steep hill. Soon we reached the 3 tier waterfall which was sadly very dry but breathtaking nonetheless. The entire scenery that surrounded us was incredible! We walked right up to the very top of a hill, following the boundary fence and had lunch at an altitude of 2700m. The lunch that Hyke packed for us was a treat indeed....fresh fruit, greek salad, cold meat and salad rolls and butternut soup! This made quite a change to our normal crackers & cheese hikers lunch! Eddie took a walk up another 100meters to summit the peak while i waited below, i was feeling too tired from the long trek up. A short while later, we took to the long descent towards the lodge, some 7kms away. The walk down was very difficult with loose stones and soft gravel, but very enjoyable all the same. We finally reached our lovely hut at 4.30, having completed 17kms of trail hiking over 7.5 hours....a very successful day indeed! It was pure heaven to laze around on the recliners on our verandah and watch the days’ shadows lengthen....a hot shower later and off to dinner at 7pm where we were treated to crumbed calamari, trout and nougat parfait...the end of a perfect day!
Saturday, 12 September 2009
Another gorgeous day greeted us as we enjoyed breakfast out on the deck, overlooking the valley and river below. We were keen to map a few more hiking trails and set off at 8.30am to do the lower trail then the trail to the campsite and the trail up to the waterfall. The lower trail proved to be very flat, lots of birds were about and there was one very steep section to the trail which needed some attention. The walk to the campsite was also easy, we crossed a large “pool” on the river which looked incredibly inviting in the midday heat! The first 3kms towards the waterfall was reasonably marked but all too soon the path disappeared completely and we found ourselves doing Tarzan stunts cutting through very thick bushes, shredding our legs to bits! Not pleasant at all, on the positive side it gave purpose to our trip – being able to identify the routes that needed some serious work done before promoting them to the visitors. It was midday, extremely hot with no breeze at all and we battled to find out way to the waterfall. We decided to go further up alongside the mountain and at a point where I no longer felt safe to continue, Eddie continued on his own while I stayed behind on a ledge and waited for him. It took Eddie another 40 mins to find the waterfall only to discover that the river was so low there was almost no water flowing over the edge anyway. We made our way back to the lodge and had a late lunch at 3pm out on the deck, terribly sunburnt tired and bleeding all over from the scratches & cuts that we sustained on the hike to the waterfall. Sam, the assistant manager, proudly showed off all the photographs of the construction of the lodge while we were eating – it was fascinating to see how it all started and how the locals enthusiastically took part in the venture! At 4pm, Eddie set off with Daniel the barman, to go and map the trail to a nearby cave, apparently 5kms from the lodge. I was too tired and indulged in a soaking bubble bath back in the serviced rondavel, with the housekeeper arriving shortly after 5pm to light the fire in the cosy fireplace. I waited patiently for their return and by nightfall I became very concerned. Eventually I heard the car pull up at 7.40pm! The hike turned out to be rather challenging, and on top of the steep ascent, they had to navigate their way back by torchlight! The trip was well worth it and is highly recommended to the more adventurous tourists! We settled down with another excellent dinner and collapsed in bed after hiking a total of 24kms for the day!
Sunday, 13th September 2009
The only trails left to do were exploration type trips which were in excess of 20kms, so we decided to tackle those on a future trip. It was our day off, so after a late lazy morning we left the lodge with Sam, the Assistant Manager, and were taken on a tour of one of the cultural villages. It was very interesting to see the construction of the huts, the interior, and to meet the friendly local people. It was an absolute treat to meet and experience the readings given by a true Sangoma, in her hut! This session took about half an hour and was filled with rituals, prayers, and interpretation of animated dialogue by Sam. Her readings were amazingly accurate to particular events in our lives – we were truly amazed! On the way back, we stopped and met Kevin, a member of the American Peace Corps who was out here in sub Saharan Africa on a 2 year contract. Kevin was hosted by Maliba Lodge and was set up comfortably in a thatched mud hut. His work included doing HIV/AIDS testing and counselling as well as teaching the local people basic bookkeeping skills in the running of their businesses in the area. He told us there were 85 volunteers from the USA, based in Lesotho doing this type of work. Kevin has mini solar panels to charge his cell phone and runs up to the highest point to receive calls from his home in Chicago on a regular basis! He relies on water from the nearby river for his household chores and cooks on a gas stove, all supplied by Maliba Lodge. We then hit the road back to the lodge and realised all too soon that our wonderful time in the mountains was drawing to a close! After a scrumptious lunch, we insisted on meeting the chef – Andrew – and said our fond farewells to the staff at Maliba Lodge, until a future date!
What a feast for the eyes! This fine trail is situated on a farm in the Rooi and Witteberg Mountains just 5 km outside Clarens and a pleasant 4 hour drive (including a 30 minute break) from Durban via Oliviershoek Pass and Golden Gate.
Previsouly known as the St. Fort Trail, the route has been cha…
Day 1: Saturday 4 April 2009
Our VW Caravelle - with trailer in tow - overheats on the final rough section leading up to Sentinel Car Park and we decide to walk the last kilometre. After climbing the chain ladders we find a row of 4x4s parked near the top on the Tugela River! So there are easier wa…
“A Field of Flowers!”
6-10 November 2008
60 km… 5 days… 11 people… youngest 20 yrs, oldest 72 yrs…
The hike up to Sehlabathebe Lodge in Lesotho has always been a popular hike with the club members and no wonder! It is a magnificent hike that everyone should do, and even if you have done it previously, it is certainly worth a re-visit! Initially there were over 22 people who booked for this hike but we could only accommodate 18 people and put the rest on a waiting list. We went onto the internet to find a contact person to make a booking for the lodge and were interested to find that there were several postings about the difficulty of booking for the lodge and that in most cases the reservations were ill administered resulting in double bookings. Little did we know that we would become another such statistic! Anyway, on the recommendation of an article that appeared on the Getaway website, we chose a tourist operator who specialised in Lesotho bookings. Everything was confirmed on email and we were promised that although the lodge only had 14 beds, they would provide us with 4 extra mattresses at a reduced rate per person. One final email from the tour operator was a request for a 15% commission on handling the booking, which we promptly paid before departing.
We set off from Durban at 5.30am on Saturday 29th January 2011, with Alice who needed a lift. It had been raining in Durban for the previous two weeks and although we encountered thick mist almost all the way to the midlands, it was clear, sunny skies when we arrived at the Bushmans Nek Parks Board Office. A couple of days before the hike started nine people had cancelled and some others booked making the final total a group of 11 who were to meet us at the Parks Board parking area. Surprisingly, when we arrived at the parking area, there was only one other car – Chris & Sheila Seddon who had travelled down from Centurion, Johannesburg just to join our hike for the weekend! We arrived there just before 8am and waited until 8.30am, but there was still no sign of the other six people. We tried calling them but got no answer and started to get really concerned that they may had encountered problems on the road so we waited another 15 minutes until 8.45am and then decided they were not going to come and we set off for the border post. Once we checked through the border post we started the hike and just a couple of meters in we crossed the first river and there were the rest of our party who we had been waiting for! They parked at the camp site instead of the Parks Board office and thought that we may be stuck somewhere, so they set off without us! A quick introduction followed and the party continued along the path, happy that everyone was together. The party consisted of Eddie (the leader of the hike), Alice who plays the French Horn for the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, Pam who has broken many long distance running records, completed 10 Comrades Marathons and is soon to compete in Washington in the Grand Masters, (whew!) her friend Claire; Barry who recently retired as CEO of Amafa – KZN provincial heritage conservation agency and was recovering from Chemotherapy; his wife Maggie who is also an adrenaline junkie (at age 60 something!) and daughter Cheryl who does skydiving, deep sea diving and is a tourist operator – they travelled down from Eshowe and picked up their friend, Vicky, who is a Microbiologist, the couple from Johannesburg and me! (my claim to fame is that I have given FOUR donations of Platelets to the SA National Blood Service for people who have cancer!) A very interesting group indeed!
The river needed crossing a few more times as we made our way along the hike. At Cedric’s Pool we stopped for a small break before ascending up the steep mountain to get onto the Lesotho escarpment. The pool was named after Cedric Biggs who was a leader for the Mountain Backpackers club many years ago became known for jumping through the ice in the frozen pool below the waterfall. All too soon it was time to pack up and head for the steep ascent to an altitude of roughly 2400m above sea level – our start altitude was 1600m. It was a very long climb up and we took it slowly stopping regularly to take in the breathtaking views all the way up. The mountains are so majestic! Once up on the escarpment, we could still look down and see the camp site and the border post where the hike started, now seven kms away! A short while further we could see Sehlabathebe Lodge way in the distance but the walk from there on was completely flat – our party of 11 had done very well! My pedometer measured a total of 20,588 steps for the day and recorded 21 grams of fat burned! As we got to the gate to the lodge at 3.30pm, we saw a vehicle parked in front of the lodge and we immediately knew that the place had been double booked and another group/family had arrived there before us! Fortunately, it was only one couple so there was enough room for us but not even an hour we had arrived another vehicle drove in from the North with a group of young people. Luckily they had brought their tent and set up camp beside the gorgeous dam near the lodge.
The afternoon was spent just catching our breath while everyone got cleaned up and lazed around on the veranda of the lodge right in front of the Devil’s Knuckles. What a fantastic view of the Southern Drakensberg! The other couple who were also staying at the lodge were very keen botanists and were able to show us no less than 27 different types of orchids that grew amongst the grasses right around the lodge! The lodge has 14 beds, two bathrooms, a well equipped kitchen (with gas stove), dining room table for eight and a large lounge with a fire place in the middle. The large windows of the lounge look straight onto the mountain. In the winter months it gets bitterly cold when the temps drop to well below freezing and it becomes very difficult to find running water! For the price of R150pp per night, it was absolutely worth the walk up the mountain! Whether it was the fresh mountain air or just the 12km slog, we were all in bed by 8.30pm and once the lights were out, it was so dark you could not see your hand in front of your face! Something that we could not identify with in the city with its street lights and city noises that continue 24/7!
In the early hours of the morning I woke to hear a chorus of jackal calling outside – it was brilliant! A little while later there was some light coming through the curtains, so I sat up to look outside and it took my breath away when I saw the mountains tainted orange with the early sunrise! I woke my husband and we went to sit outside on the veranda to take some photos. Two of the ladies, Alice and Pam already had their boots on and at 5am they took a walk towards the Devil’s Knuckles, they wanted to take an early advantage of the beauty we found ourselves surrounded by. The rest of the group slowly emerged from their cuddly duvets and we followed the ladies with binoculars as they took the path into the mountain. They were back three hours later and quickly had their breakfast and once we were all packed up we left the lodge at about 8.30am. Not far from the lodge we took a detour to have a look at the old shepherd’s huts that were made from hand cut stone. We wanted to take the group to see Irish Cave, but could not find it. We walked along to the famous “arch” through which you could see a perfect view of Devil’s Knuckles and put all our backpacks down to take some photos. The men were determined to find Irish Cave, so they scouted the area and called the rest of us a little while later when they had found it. It became very clear why we had missed it – the front of the cave with the path leading into it was completely under water! All the tarns in the area were completely full of water – there was so much water everywhere! Nevertheless, three of us ladies stripped down and took a swim right into the cave! The water was so refreshingly cool, it was a great swim! From there, we packed up and ascended up one last steep hill before starting the long way down. We stopped off to look at the magnificent views from Tarn Cave and then headed down into the valley. Earlier on when we left the lodge, it was bright and sunny and the temperature was already in the low thirties but soon it had become cloudy and about five kilometres from the end the heavens opened and we had some large raindrops coming down. All the way back to the border post, we were amazed at the volumes of water all over the place from the recent rainy season. Some areas we had to walk through were extremely muddy and there was no way of avoiding the thick slush that most often was ankle deep!
Everyone finally arrived safe and sound at the border post where we said our fond farewells – another great hike had been successfully completed!