Nov 7,8 Giants Castle, Drakensberg
We continued on the N2, now a divided toll road, through Durban onto the N3, another divided highway that runs all the way to Johannesburg. We were going about 1/3 the way and then we would be heading into the Drakensberg mountains for some hiking. We did not have reservations and did not know whether we would be camping or staying in a lodge. Of the 5 or 6 places you can go into the Drakensberg we chose GiantsCastle because this is where the highest mountains are. We had about 60 km of narrow side roads to drive, always climbing higher as we got closer to the mountains. The last 20 km was very pot-holed. At last we arrived at the resort, one of about 30 run by the province in KwaZulu Natal. There was no camping so we are in our most expensive place of the trip for two nights. Still it is good value for where we are and what we are getting. We did a couple of hours in the afternoon to get the lay of the land. We bought a good contour map showing the hiking trails to decide what are options were.
In the morning after a great breakfast and a packed lunch we headed off to LangalibelePass, of if we didn’t get there just a nice walk. The morning was bright and clear and we went pretty well, climbing steadily. There were lots of visas and flowers to take pictures of, but no birds or wildlife. The rolling hills heading up to the cliffs and above that the mountains that form the border with Lesotho. Somewhere up there is the highest mountain in SA. Rich was going well, and I struggled to keep up while stopping periodically to take pictures.
The trail was good and pretty easy to follow. Our route up to the pass was pretty obvious. We hit the junction of where a trail contoured across the mountain front to other trails and one of our options, but we were still doing well and so kept going. Soon we dropped into the ravine that cut through the cliffs and up to the pass that we were heading for. Now the steep trail got steeper, but still not technical and about four hours after starting we were at the grassy pass and could look into Lesotho. We didn’t stay long, as the clouds were building and we picked out way down to where we left the ravine and had our lunch there. My knees were pretty wonky; thank goodness my hip was fine. At any rate from here on, it was still steep, but not so slow going and the weather looked good so we didn’t need to hurry. Our hike was about 20 km and we gained and lost 1100 m in the process. By far our best hike and we felt good because of that.
Nov 9,10 Royal Natal Pk
It took about 4 hours to drive out of the mountains, pick up some groceries and then northwards back into Royal Natal Pk, still in the Drakensberg. We booked into the Park for two nights, this time we are camping. We went for a short walk after setting up our tent and then headed back out of the park to a hotel about 5 km away. It was Saturday and we were hoping to find a place to watch South Africa play Wales in Rugby. We arrived a bit before 4:30, the time we had been told. The hotel is definitely upper end and we were a bit out of place as we asked the bar tender to find the rugby game, while we ordered our first beer. Finally a game came on, but it was England vs Argentina. We were disappointed but stayed to watch most of it. During the game a young man staying at the hotel with his family told us that the SA game was not until 7:30. We considered leaving and then coming back but a sign had indicated the park gates were closed at 7:00.
On our way into the park we told the guy manning the gate how disappointed we were, and he told us that the closing of the park was only for day visitors and that we could come and go at will. We quickly went on and shuttered up our tent, had a shower and were back before the game started. We had the hotel buffet dinner for 170 Rand ($20) and joined about 8 other fans for the game. SA won pretty handily, but it was a very tough game as both teams had injuries. All good fun.
The next day we did a good 5 hour hike into a deep gorge. Having had a very tough hike two days earlier we took it easy, but still had a good workout. I took lots of photos of flowers in addition to the colourful canyon and ramparts of the Drakensberg rising above us. We were still on the border with Lesotho. We are getting a bit tired of pasta, but still did one more.
Nov 11,12 Golden Gate Nat Pk
Again we had to drive out of the mountains and then more north heading to Golden Gate Nat Pk, still in the mountains, but not the Drakensberg anymore. The terrain, as we approached was all quite different. Much more eroded rock formations. Many table top areas with overhanging cap rocks and eroded sandstone cliff faces. We checked into our campsite early and did a two hour hike up through the cliffs to a table top view, then a drop down into another high end hotel where we had lunch. Later in the afternoon after a scenic drive we did another hike to a tight ravine. We saw a new ungulate, the Blesbok, and a few knew bird species.
As usual the best birding was at our campsite, as species after species took turns entertaining us.
In the morning, the sun was shining and I had a pot of coffee watching and snapping birds, before Rich got up. In a number of campsites there are kitchens with stoves and even better, boiling water on demand. You can take your pot to the kitchen pore in the boiling water and you have pressed coffee. Sitting out early in the morning with the birds is one of my favourite things to do on this trip.
When Rich got up we drove 20 km into Clarens, an up-market town with lovely guesthouses, restaurants, galleries and gift shops. It is probably a destination in itself. We had a lovely breakfast, caught up on emails, bought some books and gifts and were back at our campsite to have lunch and watch more birds. We got caught in an early afternoon rain, and so our hike did not occur until late in the day. Following that we went to the fancy hotel for their buffet dinner, which is kind of our last high-end meal.
Nov 13 Harrismith
We packed up and headed back out of Golden Gate the way we came in. On the road, still in the park we saw lots of the animals we saw on the way in, but did not see where we were camping. We saw a different wildebeest than we are used to, lots of Zebra and many Blesbok, plus the odd other ungulate.
We were heading for a hike called the Sentinel Hike, which took us about two hours to get to. We drove to 2500 m, and then hiked for two hours gaining altitude the whole way. We were again in the Drakensberg and again up against Losotho. It was clear but very windy. The trail was good but had lots of exposure as the drop into the valley was considerable. Finally we reached two chain ladders that went up about 30 m, and disappeared over the ledge. This is not something that we like to do, and so that was the end of our hike. Another two hours got us back to the car. We didn’t get to the summit, but it was another great day in the Drakensberg. We have been here now for seven day, six nights and hiked every day. It has been a wonderful conclusion to our southern Africa trip.
We drove on up the road, towards Johannesburg, where tomorrow we will return our car, and the next day we will depart for Canada.
I have a trip summary that I will do, and I hope to post a few of my 4000 pictures, but that will wait until I am home.