The Drakensburg Mountains

13 November 2017  Drakensburg Mountains, South Africa
We had another 07:00 start, heading back to the Royal Natal National Park.  This time we wanted to do a walk up to the Cannibal Cave, via Sunday Falls and Surprise Ridge.  The signs for the walk yesterday were excellent, so I didn’t pay much attention to our small trail map and followed a sign out of the Mahai Car Park that said “All Walking Trails”.

After fifteen minutes, there was a sign that pointed to the Cascades, Tiger Falls and Lookout Rock, but no mention of Sunday Falls.  Out came the map and I found that we were going in the wrong direction – bummer!  We walked back towards the car park and found a park ranger on the road, who directed us through the Mahai Campsite and up a very small trail. Thankfully, after ten more minutes, we joined the main trail, which leads up from the road just before the Mahai Car Park.

Nice view, but blisteringly hot

The trail went around the side of a rounded ridge, very slowly gaining height with great views of the Amphitheatre behind us.  Unfortunately, there was no shade and it was blisteringly hot.  We came across a river, which we crossed and found that the only path led down to Sunday Falls – we’d missed another path!

After a bit of searching, we found the correct path about 500 metres back – there was a big stone sign next to the faint trail, but it was covered by ferns. By this time, we were a little despondent by our two, thirty minute delays and the blistering heat, but we carried on along the trail which climbed up and went around the edge of another ridge to a third valley.

At this point, we could see Secret Ridge another couple of kilometres away.  We knew that the Cannibal Cave was another 1½ kilometres after that, so with the blistering heat, we decided to cut our losses; found a nice rock, ate our sandwiches and headed back down.  Later, we found out that the temperature had topped out at 35 degrees Celsius.

The walk back down was better than coming up because there are great views of the Drakensburgs.  Huge thunder storms were building over the mountains with huge flashes of lightning and rolls of thunder, but we were still in sunshine.  At one point, we had blue skies to the east of us, but black skies to the west – very bizarre. 

Back at the apartment, we had an afternoon nap and Baccalau for dinner – Glenys found some salt cod when we were in Reunion, which we haven’t seen for a couple of years.

14 November 2017  Drakensburg Mountains, South Africa
Glenys discovered that the B&B offered horse rides, so she booked us onto an early morning ride. We’re doing a two hour ride at a proper horse farm tomorrow, but we haven’t ridden for over a year, so Glenys thought that a short one hour ride would ease us back into riding. Glenys is a good, experienced rider and I tag along.

Riding in the Drakensburg

The Basuto Ponies used to work herding cattle, but they aren’t ridden very much nowadays, so they had lots of energy.  Our guide was a local Zulu, who looked like he had ridden all his life, so he was keen to take out a couple of “experienced” riders.  It was okay for the first ten minutes while we walked, but we soon came to a long stretch uphill and the horses were ready for it.  

The guide took off up the hill and it took some effort to stop my horse racing after him.  I only held the horse back for 10 seconds, but I could feel the pent up energy. A slight lessening of the pressure on the reins and we were off – standstill to gallop in 0.1 seconds.  Yikes.  The saddles were very scanty English saddles with nothing much to hold onto, so it was traumatic, but I managed to hang on.

The guide was grinning from ear to ear, Glenys was looking tense and I was scared.  The rest of the ride was the same pattern – walk for five minutes and then a mad canter/gallop for 200 metres. We were absolutely knackered when we finished the short ride and I could feel muscles cramping as I limped back to the room.

After a hot shower, we loaded the car and drove to Spioenkop Nature Reserve.  It’s a small national park situated around a big lake.  We arrived at midday, which is the worst time to see animals, but the park was on our way to our next accommodation, so it was worth a couple of hours to look around - the entrance fee was only 50 rand (£2.50) each.  As expected, most of the wildlife was hiding, but we saw Giraffe, Blue Wildebeest, Kudu, Zebra and a few Blesbok which we haven’t seen before.

By 14:00, we were on our way to Glengarry where we checked into a small self-catering cottage owned by Berg Trails, a horse riding farm.  It’s in a lovely setting on the side of a hill in the Central Drakensburg Mountains. We settled in and had a couple of problems with the water supply, so after the owner Rick had sorted us out, we offered him a cold beer and he told us a few tales about the area.

Totally wet through

He bought the farm 35 years ago and has built it up to a profitable horse breeding and forestry farm. They grow mostly pine trees, which they then cut into planks in their own sawmill.  The farm is very close to the Lesotho border and he tells us that bands of Lesotho men come down the gullies of the Drakensberg Mountains, bringing in Marihuana and then stealing cattle, which they attempt to drive back up the steep gullies. 

15 November 2017  Drakensburg Mountains, South Africa
The weather changed overnight and we woke to overcast skies with light intermittent rain.  We’d arranged to go on a two hour horse ride and were concerned about the grotty weather, but after a bit of prevarication, we decided to go for it and donned our cagoules.  The horses were Appaloosa (colourful spotted coat pattern) and much more placid that the beasts we rode yesterday.  They were trained in American neck reining and had comfortable trail saddles, which suited us.

It was a “quality” ride – within ten minutes of leaving the farm house, we had torrential rain, bolts of lightning and huge rolls of thunder which unsettled the horses.  There was only Glenys, me and the lady guide, who were mad enough to go out in this weather and we were soon soaked through to the skin.  Despite the rain, it was a very nice ride up through pine forest with a few controlled canters, although the rain soon turned the trails into slippery mud, so we spent the second hour walking.

After a long, hot shower, we stayed in the apartment, dressed in very warm clothes until our core temperatures had been raised to acceptable levels.  Glenys rustled up Egg & Bacon for lunch to further help our energy levels.  The rain continued to hammer down all afternoon with the rolls of thunder rattling the windows.  It was also very cold, so we wore long trousers, socks and our down gilets.  

Finally at five o’clock, I decided that it wasn’t going to get any warmer and lit the log fire.  Luxury – we soon had a good fug up and a cold beer in hand.