We have experienced some of the most sublime deserts, coasts, grasslands and wetlands during our trip around Southern Africa but one thing has been missing: mountains. One of our highlights of our time in South America was how often we were able to head into the Andes and hike. We’ve have done very little walking in Africa (understandably so, in many places we would have been in danger of being eaten if we had headed out on foot) but we have missed it. We have more than made up for the lack of this during this last week in the Drakensburg.
To do this beautiful mountain range justice we skipped between 3 different national parks. As the crow flies they are not very far apart but driving between them was far longer as we had to drive out of the hills before heading up again.
Our first stop was Cathedral Peak park, where golden grasses covered the rolling high hills. The upward slog became far more interesting for the girls once they found a couple of porcupine quills on the trail, hoping to find more they surged onwards. As the hot sun came out, the path took us through a lovely shady gorge where we picnicked beside a steam. As we returned to the camp after our walk, the peaks that had been shrouded in clouds came out to be admired.
The Royal Natal Park has the most awe inspiring 8km long wall of cliffs called the amphitheatre. On our first afternoon we took a hike up away from the amphitheatre views, which gave us great views of the other surrounding mountains. The following day we woke to blinding sunshine and abandoned our usual plan of doing two hours of school before our day’s activity. It looked like it was going to be a scorcher, so we drove down to the start of the trail by 8am. We were right, it was very hot hiking through the grasslands. Thankfully there were patches of forest with some very welcome shade. The views were glorious though as the azure blue sky shone behind the wall of mountain in front of us. The last kilometre took us along a dry riverbed along a deep gorge. We returned back hot, sweaty and tired after 17 kms in the hot sun. The girls were amazing, with hardly a complaint between them. As regular readers of this blog will know they both like to walk and talk or should I say “TALK and walk”. They didn’t stop the patter the whole way for 6 hours. Brilliant, whatever works for them is good for us.
The scenery changed as we made our way northwest to Golden Gate National Park, the cliffs and mountains turned to sandstone. We hiked up to a overhanging cliff near the camp to admire the sandstone glowing yellow and peach in the evening sunset.
The following day we drove 60km to just a few kilometres from where we had camped just 2 nights before. The difference was that we were now at the top of the chain of mountains that included the amphitheatre, rather than at the bottom. We were going to attempt the Sentinel Hike one of the “most beautiful walks in South Africa” or as much of it as we could. Thankfully the truck did much of the hard work getting us up as high as the road went. Although, supposedly not in a park, it had its own Rangers, car park and entrance fee. Looking over one side of the spine of the mountains we were way above the cloud level, it looked like a white fluffy blanket spread out below us. To the other side the views were crystal clear with the huge Sentinel peak ahead of us. The path zigzagged upwards, at the foot of the massive Sentinel cliff face we skirted round the back to hike at the bottom of another massive cliff face. Eventually we reached a narrow crack in the wall where the path on our level ended. The only way was on a 30m high chain ladder up a sheer cliff to a narrow ledge then another ladder of about the same length to a flat top. Lucy was keen but it wasn’t something we felt comfortable taking the girls up or down, so Steve stayed at the bottom with them while I climbed up to check out the views. Returning along the same path we stopped for lunch at the foot of a steep gully, which also had a longer path to the top but without the scary ladders. While the girls and I lounged eating our sandwiches, Steve took the 25 minute incredibly steep rocky path up to admire the views. The hike surely lived up to its reputation and was a wonderful end to our fantastic week hiking in the Drakensburg.