Drakenberg Mountains, Amphitheater

Zimba and escarpment

Zimba and Drakenberg escarpment

The Drakenberg mountains lie on the high plateau of north eastern South Africa. A massive mountain range towering high, which are the natural border to Lesotho.
I heard much about this UNESCO World Heritage site and fortunately,it’s only about 300 km’s from Dirk and Dina’s farm in Memel. The hiking and camping is well known throughout Africa. A perfect opportunity for me and Zimba to have some fun on our first camping trip.

I arrived fairly early at Malai campground, the starting point to the ‘Amphitheater’ and its surrounding waterfalls, gorges and peaks. Being a long weekend, a lot of families and groups took the opportunity to enjoy nature, the campground was rather busy. The first day was a wash out. It didn’t rain hard, but constant. The mountains were covered in mist and apart from a few kids making the most of the mud, there wasn’t much happening.
The forecast was better for the next few days, but one never knows in the mountains.

Misty morning

Misty morning

I slept well in my roof top tent, very comfy indeed. A chilly morning and mist was still clinging around the peaks. It could have started raining at any time but the sun eventually broke through the clouds for the rest of the day. I passed the cascades and went further up, where I chilled at an unnamed little waterfall, watching masses of hikers of all ages passing by. A bit too busy for me.

Waterfalls along the way

Waterfalls along the way

Looking at maps.me, there were hikes up to the rim, passing Malai falls via the crack. Cool, my kinda track, going up the crack. The higher I got, the quieter it was. The view towards my direction, the high towering ‘Dome’ in the distance, was intriguing. Looking back was very impressive too.

Rim of the escarpment

Rim of the Drakenberg escarpment

 

I arrived the at the alpine area, which offered magnificent views. There was absolutely no wind, a rare occasion up here. It was eerie quiet up here, the sun was shining, almost heaven.

Baboons in alpine meadows

Baboons in alpine meadows

A herd of Baboons obviously thought the same, scavenging the plains for food.

Iny tiny spiny frog

Iny tiny spiny frog

Lucky I saw the tiny frog on his prickly home before they did. I realised, that I wouldn’t make it through the crack, as I only had a few more hours of daylight. Bummer, but never the less, I was very happy where I was. Early start tomorrow I thought, and made my way back. I arrived with slightly tender legs and cooked dinner. Most other campers had their fires going, it smelled like good South African braai, under clear African skies, gotta be happy with that.

Massive escarpment

Massive Drakenberg escarpment

The alarm went of at 5 am. I was hoping for a sunny day and an early hiking start, as I wanted to get up to the rim, just on a different route. Hearing thunder rolling in and raindrops on my tent, getting up wasn’t an option. The storm eventually cleared, it was time to get going.

My aim was Tugela falls, via Tiger falls and Tugela gorge. From there was a track up the rim and I could have another crack at the crack. Keeping an eye on the ever changing weather, of course.
This was a massive hike but if the tracks are as well maintained as yesterday’s, it should be do-able. Tiger falls were more like kitten drips, a pit stop at Tendele luxury resort, admittedly with a great view to the mountains. I passed a large group of Dutch with the words “Totsiens”.

Shady wet pocket

Shady wet pocket

Walking along side the wall of this and other gorges, the climate changes in different pockets of the area. Being mainly exposed to the sun and winds, there was always a mossy forest area, with little sunshine and wind during the day. It feels a few degrees colder passing thru, a nice change.

Tugela creek towards the escarpment

Tugela creek towards the escarpment

The track eventually merged with the slow running Tugela creek with some massive boulders.
A perfect stop for lunch, and some fresh mountain water.
Some more impressive views in all directions, opted for a number of photos. From here, the track turned fun and challenging. Iron steps planted in boulders, whilst lifting and shifting body weight in true rock climbing fashion, clinging on to roots and rocks. That’s what I like.

Tugela creek, as far as I hiked

Tugela creek, as far as I hiked

The track then turned in to the creek bed, finding the easiest way along large boulders, and slippery smooth creek walls. I wonder how one manages this track when the creek is in full flow.

Cut a long story short, I didn’t quite make it to the waterfalls and to the rim again. But I was happy with how far I come. I was running out of time again and distant thunderstorms were rolling in. Not the place to be for that kinda weather, on an already slippery slope. Some of the brown wet roots looked like snakes from a distance, but it would have been too cold for them.

I made it back to the resorts car park after sunset and walked alone along the dark street back to the campground. Numerous lighting storms had come and gone. My legs and body were quite exhausted, this was a long day hiking. I was happy to see Zimba, back at base, I was too tired and wet for a cook up.

A sandwich and a long hot bath were my priorities. Yes, a bath tub in the shower block of a campground, fantastic. I almost fell asleep in warm waters and crawled in to my warm sleeping bag later. We had immense strong winds overnight, the ones you feel the whole car/tent moving. But the roof top tent stood firm and kept me warm and dry.

Camping on the foothills of the Drakenberg Mountains

Camping on the foothills of the Drakenberg Mountains

A clear sunny day greeted me of course, the day you’re leaving. Early morning light gave the area some extra depth in colours, and it looked magnificent.
I had some entertainment whilst sipping on my coffee in the sun. The South African Guinea Fowl, an over-sized speckled chicken, scavenges in flocks around the campground, just like the brush turkey in Australia. These like chasing each other as well, they can run fast and long. The funny part is that when they eventually stop and catch their breath, the odds change. The chaser becomes the chased, and off they go again. I noticed that on numerous occasions. A few kids were playing that in the campground as well, definitely not as speedy. The sun dried out my wet tent, and it was time to go back to the farm.
These mountains sure are challenging, and I am looking forward to my next challenge in a different area of the Drakenberg mountains, some time soon.

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