South Africa


We spend most of the next day driving up along the edge of the Drakensberg. We take the smaller roads, so the going is slow, but with the mountains always in view, the scenery is fantastic for the entire drive. Along the way we pick up a wandering, hebrew inspired, bhuddist, spiritual journeying hitchhiker named Ashier. He provides some interesting conversation along the way.
Eventually we arrive in Golden Gate national park which is set in the far northern part of the range. It has very characteristic golden/red, carved, sandstone cliffs. The day was very overcast, as we were setting up our tents the sun somehow broke through to light up the cliffs in the most amazing glowing, golden light. The photos really don’t do justice to the amazing glow of those cliffs for just a few minutes before the sun disappeared behind the hills.
In the morning we stopp for coffee at a lovely little town called Clarens. Apparently it is very popular with local artists. We don’t have time for more than a coffee though as we must push through to Joberg. The next day we find ourselves at the airport again, bording a flight to Harare.

We spend most of the next day driving up along the edge of the Drakensberg. We take the smaller roads, so the going is slow, but with the mountains always in view, the scenery is fantastic for the entire drive. Along the way we pick up a wandering, hebrew inspired, bhuddist, spiritual journeying hitchhiker named Ashier. He provides some interesting conversation along the way.

Eventually we arrive in Golden Gate national park which is set in the far northern part of the range. It has very characteristic golden/red, carved, sandstone cliffs. The day was very overcast, as we were setting up our tents the sun somehow broke through to light up the cliffs in the most amazing glowing, golden light. The photos really don’t do justice to the amazing glow of those cliffs for just a few minutes before the sun disappeared behind the hills.

In the morning we stopp for coffee at a lovely little town called Clarens. Apparently it is very popular with local artists. We don’t have time for more than a coffee though as we must push through to Joberg. The next day we find ourselves at the airport again, bording a flight to Harare.

The next day we were off again, and as the weather seemed to be clearing we decided to have another visit to The ‘Berg. This time we went to the southern end, to a place which is apparently one of “the things to do” if you live in Kwazulu-Natal, the Sani Pass. The Berg is really amazing in that it has two very clear “levels” to it. From the ground it rises up to a set of cliffs, and is fairly flat on top of that. This is known as the little berg. From there, it rises up again to an even bigger set of cliffs, towering above the rolling hills below. Behind the highest cliffs is an amazingly flat plateau, on which sits the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. Without actually seeing it, it’s hard to believe that a flat rolling grassland sits on top of such jagged and imposing cliffs. This is what we set of to see.
The Sani Pass is the only more or less accessible pass into Lesotho from the mountainous side of the country. It is a 30km stretch of very rocky, steep and winding dirt/rock road. On top we are told is a pub and chalets.
As we drive along there are big signs saying that only 4×4 vehices are allowed through the pass. We are driving a very tough looking Toyota Raider, but it is not actually a 4×4, just a 2×4 with differential lock. But we proceed through the SA border post and no-one asks any questions, how bad could the road be after all? Its been fine so far.
So we roll slowly up the road. I find it very hard to keep my eyes on the road with ever more spectacular views appearing with each corner we go round. My wondering eyes make Sophie extremely nervous, with the treacherous drops on the edges of the narrow road, so we stop often to take in the view. Apart from being very rocky in places, its not to bad. We roll slowly up in 1st gear a lot of the way.
Then we start getting nearer the top and the road winds vigourously to try and squeeze its way up between the towering cliffs on either side. About two km from the top we come to a particularly tricky bend. It is rocky, steep and wet and there is a ridge of rock running diagonally across the road. I can get the front wheels over, but the back wheels are spinning. The car starts to drift sideways towards the steep pile of rocks that is holding up the road. I stop, reverse, and try again. Sophie is having kittens in the passenger seat. After some grinding, slipping and sliding we accept defeat. I am sure it would be possible with a couple more tries, but I don’t want to risking damaging the vehicle that my auntie has very kindly entrusted me with. And Sophie is worried about us dying.
So we manage to turn it around and drive to a safe spot by the road, we lock the car, apply african handbrakes (big rocks infront of each wheel), and carry our bags up the last couple of kilometers.
Wide eyed we walk up the last few steps to the walls of The Mountain Kingdom. They consist of a waist high barbed wire fence. Many of the fence posts are leaning or have fallen over completely. Behind it we can see a small white building with “Customs and Immigration” hand painted on the wall in wobbly lettering. There is a scattering of stone walled thatched huts and various tin shacks as well. We go straight to the white building, as we’ve been warned that several tourists have walked straight to the pub, only to find themselves arrested as illegal immigrants. Its an easy mistake to make as it wouldn’t be hard to walk there without even noticing the decrepit border fence. Another stamp in the passport and we are in Lesotho!
It is like another world. It is fairly flat, with small grassy hils. Basotho men wearing blankets herd sheep and goats. The Sani Top Chalet sits right on the edge of the cliffs. Inside it is warm and cosy, a fire burns in the corner and there are a couple of groups of tourists chatting excitedly over beers and Mulled wine. I can just imagine what it would be like with snow falling outside. The guys running the place are friendly and welcoming and we have a delicious vegie soup with a lump of homemade bread. We are told that just the previous weekend there had been knee deep snow. It is a really awesome little place. Sophie contributes an Aussie $2 coin to the world currency collection. It dots the “i” on Africa.
On of the guys convinces us we should stay the night. It doesn’t take much convincing. It is nearly border closing time and it looks like a big storm is brewing below. Plus the view is absolutely stunning. So we nip down to the car to fetch our overnight gear. As we walk back up we listened to cracks of thunder echoing between the cliffs. It rumbles for several seconds. We get back just in time to see an amazing late afternoon thunderstorm. The sky is black and we can see huge bolts of lightning falling to the ground far below.
The sun was going down as the storm was clearing, giving the most amazing light, I run around desperately trying to set up my camera.
One of the Sani Top guys very kindly offers us an unfinished chalet to sleep the night in so we don’t have to sleep in our tent. It is very comfy. We wake at 2am and walk outside to see the most spectacular clear star filled sky.
I get up in the morning at 4.30am and walk along the edge of the cliffs to try and take some photos. It’s the first clear sunrise I’ve seen so far so I’m very excited. It is amazing.
In the morning we went and sat at the very edge of the cliffs and cooked ourselves some porridge for brekkie. Soph has got this down to a fine art at this stage and it is delicous. Later on we very reluctantly said cheers to the guys and headed down the hill. I could easily have spent a few more days here. We add “Travel through Lesotho” to our list of things to do one day.

The next day we were off again, and as the weather seemed to be clearing we decided to have another visit to The ‘Berg. This time we went to the southern end, to a place which is apparently one of “the things to do” if you live in Kwazulu-Natal, the Sani Pass. The Berg is really amazing in that it has two very clear “levels” to it. From the ground it rises up to a set of cliffs, and is fairly flat on top of that. This is known as the little berg. From there, it rises up again to an even bigger set of cliffs, towering above the rolling hills below. Behind the highest cliffs is an amazingly flat plateau, on which sits the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. Without actually seeing it, it’s hard to believe that a flat rolling grassland sits on top of such jagged and imposing cliffs. This is what we set of to see.

The Sani Pass is the only more or less accessible pass into Lesotho from the mountainous side of the country. It is a 30km stretch of very rocky, steep and winding dirt/rock road. On top we are told is a pub and chalets.

As we drive along there are big signs saying that only 4×4 vehices are allowed through the pass. We are driving a very tough looking Toyota Raider, but it is not actually a 4×4, just a 2×4 with differential lock. But we proceed through the SA border post and no-one asks any questions, how bad could the road be after all? Its been fine so far.

So we roll slowly up the road. I find it very hard to keep my eyes on the road with ever more spectacular views appearing with each corner we go round. My wondering eyes make Sophie extremely nervous, with the treacherous drops on the edges of the narrow road, so we stop often to take in the view. Apart from being very rocky in places, its not to bad. We roll slowly up in 1st gear a lot of the way.

Then we start getting nearer the top and the road winds vigourously to try and squeeze its way up between the towering cliffs on either side. About two km from the top we come to a particularly tricky bend. It is rocky, steep and wet and there is a ridge of rock running diagonally across the road. I can get the front wheels over, but the back wheels are spinning. The car starts to drift sideways towards the steep pile of rocks that is holding up the road. I stop, reverse, and try again. Sophie is having kittens in the passenger seat. After some grinding, slipping and sliding we accept defeat. I am sure it would be possible with a couple more tries, but I don’t want to risking damaging the vehicle that my auntie has very kindly entrusted me with. And Sophie is worried about us dying.

So we manage to turn it around and drive to a safe spot by the road, we lock the car, apply african handbrake  (big rocks infront of each wheel), and carry our bags up the last couple of kilometers.

Wide eyed we walk up the last few steps to the walls of The Mountain Kingdom. They consist of a waist high barbed wire fence. Many of the fence posts are leaning or have fallen over completely. Behind it we can see a small white building with “Customs and Immigration” hand painted on the wall in wobbly lettering. There is a scattering of stone walled thatched huts and various tin shacks as well. We go straight to the white building, as we’ve been warned that several tourists have walked straight to the pub, only to find themselves arrested as illegal immigrants. Its an easy mistake to make as it wouldn’t be hard to walk there without even noticing the decrepit border fence. Another stamp in the passport and we are in Lesotho!

It is like another world. It is fairly flat, with small grassy hils. Basotho men wearing blankets herd sheep and goats. The Sani Top Chalet sits right on the edge of the cliffs. Inside it is warm and cosy, a fire burns in the corner and there are a couple of groups of tourists chatting excitedly over beers and Mulled wine. I can just imagine what it would be like with snow falling outside. The guys running the place are friendly and welcoming and we have a delicious vegie soup with a lump of homemade bread. We are told that just the previous weekend there had been knee deep snow. It is a really awesome little place. Sophie contributes an Aussie $2 coin to the world currency collection. It dots the “i” on Africa.

On of the guys convinces us we should stay the night. It doesn’t take much convincing. It is nearly border closing time and it looks like a big storm is brewing below. Plus the view is absolutely stunning. So we nip down to the car to fetch our overnight gear. As we walk back up we listened to cracks of thunder echoing between the cliffs. It rumbles for several seconds. We get back just in time to see an amazing late afternoon thunderstorm. The sky is black and we can see huge bolts of lightning falling to the ground far below.

The sun was going down as the storm was clearing, giving the most amazing light, I run around desperately trying to set up my camera.

One of the Sani Top guys very kindly offers us an unfinished chalet to sleep the night in so we don’t have to sleep in our tent. It is very comfy. We wake at 2am and walk outside to see the most spectacular clear star filled sky.

I get up in the morning at 4.30am and walk along the edge of the cliffs to try and take some photos. It’s the first clear sunrise I’ve seen so far so I’m very excited. It is amazing.

In the morning we went and sat at the very edge of the cliffs and cooked ourselves some porridge for brekkie. Soph has got this down to a fine art at this stage and it is delicous. Later on we very reluctantly said cheers to the guys and headed down the hill. I could easily have spent a few more days here. We add “Travel through Lesotho” to our list of things to do one day.

Our first stop in Durbs is with my aunt and uncle in Gillitts, a small town on the edge of Durban. It is a wonderfull break after spending five days in the mountains. It is wonderful to see them again. Their beautiful house is a santuary for sick and abused tortoises, the garden being divided up into numerous tortoise pens by calf-high fences. The local african Sangomas (witchdoctors) use tortoise shell for their remedies. As a result many tortoises are brought in (alive!) with their shells smashed open. It is very sad, especially as they actually have nerves in their shells so this would be very painful for them. The other major problem is people taking them as pets, as they have very particular food and habitat requirements and will get sick and die if removed from them.
We then move on to stay a couple nights with my Grandmother who lives in the heart of Durban city. Going into Durban is a bit worrying, even for me, having been there many times in my childhood. The crime is very bad there. Just leafing through the local paper most of the articles involve muggings, stabbings, people getting shot in the face etc etc. Outside her apartment seems to be a major taxi thoroughfare and there is constant hooting and shouting as they aggressively peddle their ware. My grandmother tells us of once seeing a lady actually being manhandled into a taxi. She managed to kick off the over-enthusiastic conductor and sat down again at the bus stop as if nothing had happened.
After some safety tips from my Gran, who doesn’t go outside the building without a carrying very large opened safety pin in her bus-ticket hand, we managed to spend a morning exploring the city without incident. We saw some of the ocal attractions, Sea world, the beach and some of the city. I have to say we were fairly tense and very wary the whole time. Its quite a grim city, we passed several completely derelict buildings in the middle of Durban and right on the beach.

Our first stop in Durbs is with my aunt and uncle in Gillitts, a small town on the edge of Durban. It is a wonderful break after spending five days in the mountains. It is wonderful to see them again. Their beautiful house is a santuary for sick and abused tortoises, the garden being divided up into numerous tortoise pens by calf-high fences. The local african Sangomas (witchdoctors) use tortoise shell for their remedies. As a result many tortoises are brought in (alive!) with their shells smashed open. It is very sad, especially as they actually have nerves in their shells so this would be very painful for them. The other major problem is people taking them as pets, as they have very particular food and habitat requirements and will get sick and die if removed from them.

We then move on to stay a couple nights with my Grandmother who lives in the heart of Durban city. Going into Durban is a bit worrying, even for me, having been there many times in my childhood. The crime is very bad there. Just leafing through the local paper most of the articles involve muggings, stabbings, people getting shot in the face etc etc. Outside her apartment seems to be a major taxi thoroughfare and there is constant hooting and shouting as they aggressively peddle their ware. My grandmother tells us of once seeing a lady actually being manhandled into a taxi. She managed to kick off the over-enthusiastic conductor and sat down again at the bus stop as if nothing had happened.

After some safety tips from my Gran, who doesn’t go outside the building without a carrying very large opened safety pin in her bus-ticket hand, we managed to spend a morning exploring the city without incident. We saw some of the ocal attractions, Sea world, the beach and some of the city. I have to say we were fairly tense and very wary the whole time. Its quite a grim city, we passed several completely derelict buildings in the middle of Durban and right on the beach.

That morning we leave Royal Natal and head south. The moutains go for hundreds of kilometers and there are numerous Parks and camping spots along the range. Looking at the maps we end up heading, more or less randomly, towards Monks Cowl. As we drive there is a bone chilling wind blowing across the grasslands. We arrive at about two o clock. I tell the Parks officer that we intend to camp up in the mountains. She clearly doesn’t think its a very good idea with the current weather and with only a few hours left in the day, but this time I’m not having a bar of it. Rain or shine I’m determined to sleep amoungst the peaks. Sophie is also keen. She says so, but looks a bit worried.
The weather is grim as we pack our bags and trudge off down the trail. It is a fairly steep climb. As we get higher up the sky starts to clear. At one point we round a corner to see the valley spread out before us just as the sun has broken through the clouds. It is beautiful. At this point I am snapping away with my camera and am very excited.
The path winds a bit further up and from the steep, rocky path, we suddenly find ourselves on top of the lower hills and walking along grassy, rolling plains. It’s very flat and lovely to walk on, but behind us are the most amazing views, and before us Cathkin peak looms above the plains, purple, and with its head disappearing into the clouds. Amongst the grass are all kinds of different wild flowers. Although there is a cold wind whipping across the plain, I am far too excited to notice the cold.
We walk to “Blindman’s corner”, and as its starting to get dark, we look for a place to set up camp. There is a sign for a camping spot pointing along a path, but we don’t know how far it is and end up setting up on a more or less flat area of grass. Our tent is alone on miles of grassy plains high on the berg.
It rains all night and the wind keeps blowing, but we are snug and dry in our tent. We have to weave ourselves in between the lumps from the tufts of grass underneath. The next day it is cloudy and wet, but we set off with day packs towards a spot on the map called Hlathikulu Nek. The water on the grass soaks our socks, and by the time we stop for a snack my trousers are soaked up to my thighs. We wring out the water from our socks, and put them back on. The view when we get there is totally worth it. Like scenery form Lord of the Rings. We end up looking down a valley towards a peak called “Dragon’s Back”. It is a huge ridge of jagged rock and pinnacles and the cloud seems to be burning off it like smoke. Nearer to us was a tall mountain capped by rock, but with a huge hole through the rock, like an eye. The grass on either side of the river is different shades of green, something we later found was caused by burning, the greener grass being more recently burnt.
During the afternoon the clouds had cleared, but as we walk back to our tent, I could see the clouds hitting the edge of the hills and forming big plumes and coming gradually towards us until we were engulfed. Time to retire to the tent.
In the morning it is quite clear on the plains, but below them is all in cloud. We very reluctantly put our cold wet clothes back on and pack up. As we walk towards the edge, the clouds come up to meet us and we are surrounded by mist, the steep slope next to the path descends into whiteness. We get back to the car soaking wet. It is so good to have a hot shower and put on some dry clothes! Then we are off again, next stop, Durban.

That morning we leave Royal Natal and head south. The moutains go for hundreds of kilometers and there are numerous Parks and camping spots along the range. Looking at the maps we end up heading, more or less randomly, towards Monks Cowl. As we drive there is a bone chilling wind blowing across the grasslands. We arrive at about two o clock. I tell the Parks officer that we intend to camp up in the mountains. She clearly doesn’t think its a very good idea with the current weather and with only a few hours left in the day, but this time I’m not having a bar of it. Rain or shine I’m determined to sleep amoungst the peaks. Sophie is also keen. She says so, but looks a bit worried.

The weather is grim as we pack our bags and trudge off down the trail. It is a fairly steep climb. As we get higher up the sky starts to clear. At one point we round a corner to see the valley spread out before us just as the sun has broken through the clouds. It is beautiful. At this point I am snapping away with my camera and am very excited.

The path winds a bit further up and from the steep, rocky path, we suddenly find ourselves on top of the lower hills and walking along grassy, rolling plains. It’s very flat and lovely to walk on, but behind us are the most amazing views, and before us Cathkin peak looms above the plains, purple, and with its head disappearing into the clouds. Amongst the grass are all kinds of different wild flowers. Although there is a cold wind whipping across the plain, I am far too excited to notice the cold.

We walk to “Blindman’s corner”, and as its starting to get dark, we look for a place to set up camp. There is a sign for a camping spot pointing along a path, but we don’t know how far it is and end up setting up on a more or less flat area of grass. Our tent is alone on miles of grassy plains high on the berg.

It rains all night and the wind keeps blowing, but we are snug and dry in our tent. We have to weave ourselves in between the lumps from the tufts of grass underneath. The next day it is cloudy and wet, but we set off with day packs towards a spot on the map called Hlathikulu Nek. The water on the grass soaks our socks, and by the time we stop for a snack my trousers are soaked up to my thighs. We wring out the water from our socks, and put them back on. The view when we get there is totally worth it. Like scenery form Lord of the Rings. We end up looking down a valley towards a peak called “Dragon’s Back”. It is a huge ridge of jagged rock and pinnacles and the cloud seems to be burning off it like smoke. Nearer to us was a tall mountain capped by rock, but with a huge hole through the rock, like an eye. The grass on either side of the river is different shades of green, something we later found was caused by burning, the greener grass being more recently burnt.

During the afternoon the clouds had cleared, but as we walk back to our tent, I could see the clouds hitting the edge of the hills and forming big plumes and coming gradually towards us until we were engulfed. Time to retire to the tent.

In the morning it is quite clear on the plains, but below them is all in cloud. We very reluctantly put our cold wet clothes back on and pack up. As we walk towards the edge, the clouds come up to meet us and we are surrounded by mist, the steep slope next to the path descends into whiteness. We get back to the car soaking wet. It is so good to have a hot shower and put on some dry clothes! Then we are off again, next stop, Durban.

The flight over goes without a hitch.  It’s a huge relief for me as the last three out of four times that I’ve done the trip there has been some issue and I’ve ended up having to stay overnight. It’s good to be back in Africa! We spend a couple of days with my aunt and uncle who live on a beautiful little farm on the outskirts of Joberg. It is a little oasis in the busy, dirty sprawl of Joberg.

We then set off for Durban via the Drakensberg. It is rather scary trying to find our way out of Joberg. The city covers a huge area and the only means of transport is via big highways. They are busy, badly signposted, and many of then are recently renamed. Public transport is by “Taxis”, small busses or vans, which are notoriously reckless as well as often being very unroadworthy. We are relieved when we find ourselves outside city limits and heading in the right direction.

After a couple hours drive we start to see glimpses of the mountains on the horizon. The Drakensberg (Dragon mountains) range, or the ‘Berg as it is know locally is a huge range running over 200km down the length of the eastern Lesotho border. In zulu it is called uKahlamba, “The barrier of spears”. The rolling foothills rise up sharply to a vertical wall of jagged rocks. The weather is overcast and as we drive towards it, it looks particularly ominous with the peaks shrouded in a dense layer of cloud. I have never hiked in such a huge range. The area they cover is huge, and the peaks rise up to over 3000m, high enough to cause altitude sickness. The higher areas get snow in winter, but I am told that cold fronts can cause it to snow at any time of the year. Its mid summer now, but there is a cold front coming coming through. I have my fingers crossed.

Eventually we arrive at our first stop, The Royal Natal National Park. The scenery is spectacular, we camp the night. I am really keen to get up amongst the mountains, but as the area is under a cold front, its recommended that we just do a day walk up the Tugela river gorge. Although it is overcast, the views are amazing. We are surrounded by seemingly high hills, but every once in a while there is a break in the clouds revealing the highest peaks and the wall of the Amphitheatre. We look up in awe at them as they absolutely tower over us and the hills we are walking along. Towards the end of the trail we end up in the river bed itself. There is an amazing variety of colours and patterns in the rocks and pebbles that make up the riverbed.

The next day I take a short walk into the hills above the campsite to “Lookout Point”. This is about halfway up into the lower hills (called the Little ‘Berg). The views are amazing, but I am just dying to get up onto the hills!