Monthly Archives: November 2012

XII: Northern Drakensberg & Royal Natal National Park

Northern Drakensberg & Royal Natal National Park from Jordan Bierma on Vimeo.

June 15th:

We left the Southern Berg and made our way up to the Northern Berg & Royal Natal National Park.  The Northern Berg is home to much more dramatic scenery, as the low veld of South Africa smashes up against the high veld of Lesotho to create steep vertical cliffs that shoot up into the sky.  The day was spent driving but we were rewarded by the 5 star backpackers that we camped at.  After dinner we relaxed in the hot tub while watching the Euro Cup matches on a large projector before crawling into my tent for a cool 75R ($9.37).

Campsite #7, our home just outside Royal Natal NP

Campsite #7, our home just outside Royal Natal NP

Spoiled at the campground kitchen

Spoiled at the campground kitchen

June 16th:

After a night of staying up late, watching soccer, and soaking, we were slow to get moving.  We made it out to the trailhead by 10:45 a.m.  The Royal Natal National Park is home to the Amphitheatre, a huge sheer cliff that seems to swallow most of the park.  It is home to some of the taller peaks in the Drakensberg, some reaching over the 3000m(9,842ft) mark.  We opted to take the Thukela Gorge trail which took us winding through the valleys and eventually to the gorge at the bottom of the 850m(2788ft) Thukela Falls which falls from Lesotho into South Africa.  It was by far one of the best hikes thus far on the trip.  The first few kilometers weren’t anything to write home about, but it soon opened up into huge winding tunnels of rock, carved away by water over thousands of years.  Every turn seemed to be filled with pools that would make the perfect summer swimming hole.  The gorges are also home to sets of chain ladders which take you up on top of the gorge and eventually to the bottom of the falls.  The short winter days took their toll and we had to turn around after spending our time exploring the rock tunnels.  This wasn’t a huge disappointment since the falls would have been barely running because it was the middle of the dry season.

Thukela Gorge Trail

Thukela Gorge Trail

Curves of Thukela Gorge

Curves of Thukela Gorge

Enjoying the cool pools of Thukela Gorge

Enjoying the cool pools of Thukela Gorge

June 17th:

Our second day at Royal Natal NP started off with a short hike with a mandatory guide up to the bushman rock paintings.  Our guide, Matiba, from the nearby village of Amanzizi was extremely nice, and was actually very knowledgeable about the areas trails, plants, and animals, unlike many other park rangers I had encountered.  The village Matiba hailed from, Amanzizi, literally translates to “Cannibals”.  The village was named so because during the time of Shaka many of the people lived in caves in the area to hide from the mighty armies of Shaka, and during extremely difficult times had to resort to cannibalism to survive.  After about 1km we got to the site of the rock art.  Many portions had been damaged to the point of being almost unrecognizable from vandalism before the site came under protection from the national park.  This is the reason for the mandatory guide.  The drawings higher up on the wall remained in good condition, showing historical scenes of the lives of the Bushmen.  There were drawings of leopards, elands, hartebeests, as well as many human figures.  One of the sections depict the Bushmen being pushed out by the Zulu, and the Zulu being pushed out by the white settlers.  The oldest drawings dated back about 800 years and were created by mixing ochre with either animal urine or animal blood.  On the hike we were lucky to encounter Elands, and a reed buck before we got back to the car.

Bushmen Rock Art of an Eland

Bushmen Rock Art of an Eland

Looking back over Amanzizi

Looking back over Amanzizi

Sarah and our excellent guide Matiba

Sarah and our excellent guide Matiba

We then made the short drive to the trailhead that would take us up to an area called the cascades.  We arrived at the parking lot to a troop of about 30 baboons, most of whom were young and rambunctious.  The kept to themselves with games of tag, but there was one older male who seemed in a destructive mood.  We pulled up as he proceeded to pee on the hood of a SUV a few cars down and then hopped to the next car, and with apparent ease folded back the rear windshield wiper to make a perch to sit on.  He continued to further chew and pull off bits of the car.  This included tearing and chewing a metal license plate, and pulling the bumper partially off the car.  Assuming the standard insurance for the rental car wouldn’t cover baboon damage we decided to park elsewhere and walk the extra distance to the trail in a roundabout fashion.  We knew little about the trail before we set out but were pleasantly surprised.  It lived up to its name of cascades as the river ran its course down a series of worn and rounded shelves creating a string of small waterfalls, which had perfect pools.  I could not resist even though the water was all ice and snow melt and froze every bit of me.  I took a nice refreshing dip and dried out in the sun.

Food conditioned baboons are dead baboons

Food conditioned baboons are dead baboons

Windshield wiper perch

Windshield wiper perch

Baboon at Royal Natal NP

Baboon at Royal Natal NP

Bushbuck at Royal Natal NP

Bushbuck at Royal Natal NP

Lower Cascades

Lower Cascades

Upper Cascades

Upper Cascades

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XI: The Southern Drakensberg

Southern Drakensberg from Jordan Bierma on Vimeo.

The Southern Drakensberg From Underberg Village

The Southern Drakensberg From Underberg Village

June 13th:

Another travel day.  We were leaving the cape for the last time, catching a domestic flight to Durban.  We flew for a pretty reasonable price with Mango Airlines, and got our new rental car, a little red Nissan Micra.  We didn’t spend anytime in Durban and hustled out onto the road towards the southern tip of the Drakensberg mountain range near the town of Underberg.

Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park

Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park

June 14th:

With revised plans we only decided to stay two nights in Underberg, as our plans to take horses up into Lesotho fell through.  We took full advantage of our time there and went hiking.  As the first light came over the hills we drove to the Bushman’s Nek border post, which is the entry point for those coming on foot or on horseback from Lesotho.  We would be hiking in Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park up to Thomatu Cave, an early San cave dwelling.  The trail is in the no man’s land between South Africa and Lesotho, so to begin the trail you have to walk through the South African border post.  The trail was about 14km round trip with huge rolling slopes and weathered boulder fields.  The early morning fog gave way to a strange haze from the controlled burns for fire mitigation in the surrounding areas.  The hike itself was quite spectacular with the caves being a pleasant addition.  The Thomatu cave, as well as the landscape was very reminiscent of the Ancestral Pueblo people of Mesa Verde in southwest Colorado.  Although the Thomatu cave lacked the craftsmanship found in Mesa Verde.  We headed back around 1:30pm and made good time until a large troop of baboons sidetracked me.  We continued down to the bottom of the trail that took us back to the border post.

Looking Towards the Lesotho

Looking Towards the Lesotho

Thomatu Cave

Thomatu Cave

The little that is left of the shelter (Photo by Sarah)

The little that is left of the shelter (Photo by Sarah)

To our surprise, and immediate shock the border gate was closed and locked.  We were now face to face with a seemingly endless border fence about 10 feet tall and covered with barbed wire, locked out of South Africa.  It was 4:15pm and the border post closed, as the extremely faded, and poorly placed sign on the fence stated, at 4pm.  The ranger that we spoke to previous to leaving for the hike had given us a map and told us the gates lock at 6pm.  Apparently everyone was not on the same page as far as gate times go.  The locked gate did not give me a very promising outlook for the evening that was approaching.  We decided to try and find another way across the border.  We opted to follow the fence south towards the river in hopes that the fence would be crossable in the river.  As we headed through the trees towards the river we noticed another door in the fence.  With not many option we decided to see if it was unlocked.

Looking toward South Africa (Photo by Sarah)

Looking toward South Africa (Photo by Sarah)

Sarah under the rock wave

Sarah under the rock wave

Patrolling Baboon

Patrolling Baboon

To our surprise and relief it was unlocked!  It felt a bit strange crossing back through this secret door in the woods.  We were not crossing into South Africa illegally since we never officially got stamped for exiting South Africa, and we never crossed into Lesotho.  Even though we could justify the legality of our crossing we were still nervous as we made our covert crossing of the fence.  We passed through another stand of trees, which opened up, into the backside of the border post and the housing for the border guards, which was seemingly abandoned now at the days end.  We walked as casually and confidently as we could between the empty buildings just waiting nervously for someone to appear and question our form of entry.  No one appeared and we made it back to our car with a big sigh of relief.  We were well worn out, and hungry, and after a quick dinner we slept like logs.

Long-Creasted Eagle

Long-Creasted Eagle

Southern Drakensbergs

Southern Drakensbergs

While staying at Khotso Trails just outside of Underberg we had the fortune of meeting a family staying in the room next door, who had been traveling the world in their 1928 Graham-Paige for the last 12 years.  It began with a road trip from Argentina to Alaska, and they just kept going, and going, having 4 kids along the way.  They have written a book called “Spark Your Dream”, a bestseller in Argentina, and currently in its 8th edition.  They had only just begun their African excursion, arriving in Durban from India, when we met them and they were an inspiration for continuing to travel in our life, and we wished them the best of luck on their adventures.

http://www.argentinaalaska.com

Spark Your Dream! 1928 Graham-Paige (Photo by Sarah)

Spark Your Dream! 1928 Graham-Paige (Photo by Sarah)

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Gianaclis Caldwell

Cheese, Cheesemaking, and Small Dairy

Around the world with Weston & Dana

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