Northern Drakensberg, SA

DSC_6372Back in January, I saw some photographs of the Drakensberg mountain range and decided that I needed to go see it in person. Luckily, Claire also thought it looked nice and was keen for a few hikes (we were yet to trek up Devil’s Peak!) So, having decided upon some dates with Richie who very kindly agreed to take us, we booked our flights back to Johannesburg for the end of February.

We arrived back in JoBurg feeling less like vulnerable tourists and more like locals as we sped through OR Tambo airport up to street level where our Uber driver was waiting to take us to Nicky’s. Richie thought the weather would be best for hiking in the Berg the following weekend which left us with five or six days to explore the city a bit more. We divided our time between catching up on our blog, sightseeing and digitising some of Claire’s family slides. Probably the best thing we did was taking the City Sightseeing bus tour through downtown JoBurg and to the excellent and super modern Apartheid museum. If you want to see some photos, please see our updated JoBurg photo album here.

DSC_6156Then finally the much awaited weekend came around and we hopped in Richie’s car early Saturday morning for a five hour drive to the Berg. Being something of an outdoors expert (or at least officially) from my time at North Face, I took it upon myself to pack all of our equipment for the trip. Given the widespread drought in SA, I left our expensive waterproof jackets in Cape Town not wanting them to weigh us down (I did however pack completely useless items such as a head torch and microfibre towels). So naturally, when we arrived at the bottom of Sentinel Peak, the heavens opened and we were treated to an hour long deluge complete with thunder and lightning. Not wanting to be defeated, Richie and I decided to soldier on at the first break in the weather and Claire reluctantly followed suit.

DSC_6213The hike up the Sentinel Peak isn’t too difficult an ordeal but because it starts at 2600 metres above sea level before peaking at around 3100, you are treated to spectacular views over the gorge below. The rain had turned the path leading up into a bit of a river by the time we started walking but luckily the sun also appeared and increased the temperature from about 12 degrees to 18. Richie set a good pace and we reached the pair of chain ladders which lead to the top after about 2 hours. Not wanting to put her off the hike entirely, we hadn’t told Claire too much about the ladders before we got there and she took one look at the two ten metre rickety metal rungs before shaking her head and saying, “nope”. I, on the other hand, saw nothing but glory due to the added difficulty of the wind picking up coupled with a slight drizzle of rain. So I quickly grabbed the GoPro and started my ascent, followed closely by Richie.

IMG_3976At the summit we were greeted by the roar of a powerful waterfall across the gorge which is obscured from view at any other point on the walk. Not wanting to waste time considering Claire was left alone, sitting on a rock 20 metres below us in the rain, Richie and I quickly jogged to the highest point we could see and looked across the open table top that is Amphitheatre. We then rejoined Claire who was at this point half frozen and started our descent. As we got closer to the parking lot, the sun began to peak out from behind the clouds and Claire thawed both physically and emotionally as the temperature started to rise. To top it all off, we turned a corner to see the full arc of a rainbow nestled in the clouds which covered the valley below us. Unfortunately the videos and photos don’t quite do it justice, but it was probably the most beautiful natural sight I have ever witnessed. We then retired to a nearby B&B, had a red-hot shower and banished our hunger with soup and chicken schnitzel.

DSC_6208The next morning we arose and were greeted at the door by four horses grazing on the lawn before strolling down the hill for breakfast. We packed up our stuff and drove about an hour or so to the start of the Gorge Walk which takes you about eight or nine kilometres through some forests to the bottom of Amphitheatre. The hike started in stark contrast to the previous days’ as we lathered on sun cream in the 30 degree heat. However, by the time we reached the end of the gorge where it turns into a river bed fed by a waterfall, the temperature had begun to drop. Claire was once again left stranded, not being able to cross a pretty hectic river, despite my best efforts to build a makeshift bridge with stones (it is now to be referred to as Sam’s Way). Richie and I once again went for a bit of a jog in order to reach the true end of the walk and catch a glimpse of another nice waterfall. Luckily, as it was much warmer and less wet, this time when we got back Claire was bored but not in need of medical attention.

DSC_6283As we left the river bed, the clouds began to converge above the mountains and the unmistakable grumbles of thunder could be heard in the distance. We knew that we needed to get back to the car quickly. Claire, a little bit annoyed at missing out on yet another waterfall and not keen to get soaking wet again, set a good pace and we were within a kilometre or so of the car when the rain started. Unfortunately however, the rain quickly turned into a storm of biblical proportions as we began to be pelted on the head by hail stones (yes… hail in South Africa… in summer). By the time we reached the small shelter in the parking lot we were absolutely drenched (not to mention bruised and freezing cold) and all of our camera equipment was sitting in a pool of water in the bag, hence why we have no video evidence. Luckily, as the clouds cleared and the sun warmed us up, the cameras were unharmed and we had a great story to tell.

From there, we drove to another (short) hike in order for Claire to see a couple of waterfalls and then headed back to JoBurg at about 6pm. We stopped off at Nando’s for a takeaway (Nando’s is actually South African believe it or not… and it tastes better here too). All in all it was an amazing weekend and one we will never forget. We really can’t thank Richie enough for taking the time to show us one of South Africa’s best kept secrets!

– Sam

See more photos here!

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