Hiking the Drakensberg

One of the benefits of working for African Budget Safaris is that we are invited to join safaris to boost our knowledge and share in our clients' experiences.

Recently I was invited to join the Drakensberg section of our 14 Day South Africa Walking Safari.

African Budget SafarisOur nifty vehicle - African Budget Safaris

Our day began with a journey through KwaZulu Natal from Durban to the Royal Natal National Park, in the Drakensberg or Ukhahlamba "Barrier of Spears" Mountains.  Our two guides were very friendly and made me very welcome.

Our cleverly designed safari vehicle had separate compartments for the very well-equipped ‘kitchen’ and our luggage. There was also place for  tents and mattresses to be stored, but no camping for us, so they weren't required.

Vaiz HaHowick Falls - Vaiz Ha

After a mid-morning break to admire Howick Falls we arrived at our destination in time for a late lunch and a chance to marvel at the beautiful setting and views of The Amphitheatre, before going off to stretch our legs on a short acclimatising walk.

HarrietThe clouds roll in - Harriet

Unfortunately our walk was shorter than expected due to the very thick clouds and rapidly approaching sunset, which meant a torchlit  return to our cottages. 

Despite the wet weather our guides prepared a delicious braai for supper and we were able to sit outside under the thatch roof enjoying the meal and discussing the schedule for the following day.

Because this is a limited participation safari we all pitched in and assisted with washing and drying the dishes before returning to our chalets to try and sleep through a long and noisy thunder-storm.

HarrietBravely we set out - Harriet

The next morning we had a leisurely cooked breakfast and made our packed lunches. The rain was still heavy so gaiters and ponchos were put on by those who had them and for those who didn't, bin bags proved useful.

The hike started with a steep downhill path to the river and we followed the valley contours as the clouds broke up and fantastic rainbows appeared.

The route was graded as moderate and the round trip took us 6 hours including almost an hour break for lunch. Although there was a clearly defined, narrow path most of the way there were some rocky sections requiring rock hopping and some river crossings were necessary.

Pavel TcholakovEnticing but chilly - Pavel Tcholakov

The path ends at the lunch spot where there is a superb view of The Amphitheatre. A wet, winter's day didn't inspire any of us to swim in the rock pool but we did take off our boots and socks for a paddle in the river.

We returned to Thendele under clear skies ready to enjoy a cold drink and hot shower. Feeling refreshed  we were greeted with a delicious ‘potjie’ dinner, prepared by our guides over an open fire - a very welcome sight.

There was an earlier start the following morning and after a quick cereal breakfast and preparing our packed lunches, we left Thendele for a scenic drive. This took us up to about 2,220m above sea level and the start of the Sentinel Peak mountain walk.

HarrietThe Sentinel and Tugela Falls route - Harriet

Starting on a rough gravel road, this challenging walk takes 5 to 6 hours with a section of chain ladders up to a plateau and the top of the Tugela Falls (3,000m).

Julle VaccalluzzoSnow capped peaks - Julle Vaccalluzzo

The altitude slowed us down somewhat but the views of snow capped peaks were breath-taking. If you are deterred by the thought of scaling chain ladders, don't despair, there are shorter, less ardous routes to explore.

Rick McCharlesFalls, Ampitheatre - Rick McCharles

Once we were all safely back at the vehicle we were driven to Witsieshoek, the highest lodge in the northern Drakensberg, which was to be our home for the evening. The property has been designed to withstand the high winds that are a part of daily life so high in the mountains.

Neil StricklandBearded Vulture - Neil Strickland

On the final day, after a hearty breakfast, we went outside hoping to spot the endangered bearded vultures that are often sighted here. Sadly it was time to head for Johannesburg before any of us managed to catch a glimpse of these fascinating birds.

The vehicle's height offered a bird's eye view so even though we were travelling the motorway we spotted a jackal chasing guinea fowls and an assortment of interesting birds. We stopped on our journey to the airport to enjoy the tasty lunch of salad and cold meats our vehicle 'kitchen' provided. 

We arrived at the airport mid afternoon where we thanked our excellent guides for making our 4 day walking safari such fun. Then we said 'farewell' to new friends and continued our various onward journeys.

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