Drakensberg is the highest mountain range in South Africa, situated in KwaZulu-Natal province. It is a wilderness area known for its trekking trails and Adventure activity. It is about 4 hours drive from Johannesburg that could take you away from the hustle-bustle of the city to the country side, tranquil and picturesque. I got to drive about 150 Kms on way to Drakensberg, one of my firsts on International roads. I found the Highway infrastructure here to be like that of the National highways (our new NHs) in India, rather should I say India’s NHs are as good as the South Africans only that our sign boards could be improved. It is not the infrastructure that gives you a great driving experience it is the lane discipline that everyone follows here which makes driving simple, speedy and safe! In India we got to trust ourselves as a driver, here we need to trust the others on road; one wrong move by anyone could send your vehicle go tossing up! You could speed at 120-140 Km/hr near blind spots, on roads that have no divider between the onwards and upcoming traffic, overtake trucks at curves and be assured that no one will ever come in your way.
Drakensberg is a world heritage center and a National park which has entrances from many sides. The region is divided into Southern, Central and Northern; one can imagine the vastness of this region! We had booked our accommodation in Ikahaya Lodge, near Bell Park dam in central Drakensberg, which means we could do/see things only in this area, as traveling to northern or southern region would take about another 1-2 hours of driving.
Many adventure camps operate out of Drakensberg, one gets to go Quad biking, Zip-lining, Abseiling, water kayaking /tubing (in the summer/after the rains), canopy tours and few more. I did zip-lining; it was fun, not a very long distance, neither was it very high but definitely worth your first experience!
After a day of adventure activities, we retired at our home stay – a beautiful farm tucked away in a serene milieu. As the sun went down and the darkness set in; leaving us at the mercy of the stars to lighten up our trail – one look upwards towards the sky; took our breath away! It was the most beautiful night sky I have ever seen in my life. I have always wanted to sleep under a glittering night sky and there I stood exasperated - Gorgeous! In the bitter cold, it was hard to lose yourself staring at her; we made fire and spent some time engulfed by her radiance!
We were up early for a trek into the National Park; we were at the Monk cowl’s end of the entrance into the Drakensberg heritage center. Trek trails are conspicuously marked, with a map outlining the difficulty of each trail. It is made so easy that no one would need a guide and there are no guides. We did one of the easiest trails to Sterkspruit waterfall and a pool nearby. The water was piercing cold; sat there chit-chatted a bit and headed out. The trek was quite easy, with a small kid in our group of six it was our best bet. The place is quite inviting and we did want to trek further into wilderness, but that would need at least one full day. Some of our friends were waiting for us at the home stay for our next activity - the horse trail, so we had to wind up though we promised ourselves an overnight camp the next time!
Nine horses were saddled up for us to take the trail up the mountain and down the streams. As we mounted the horses and got ourselves into reining the horses, instructions were given out on how we should ride them, take control and maneuver them around – didn't sound easy! We had two guides; one would lead the way and another to look over us, which meant we had to take care of our horses.
The name of my horse was Chief! He was busy grazing all the time before the start; I had a question – what if he wants to graze when we are on the run – the lady told me , “you are on the run, you are in command – hold him back, don’t let him graze”. Fact File: Horses graze 16 hours a day!
Here we go – initially it was fun getting used to the movement of the animal and gaining control of the reins. We were in a line as the horses followed each other in a particular order (we later came to know some horses are not compatible with others and females don’t like to be closely followed by males!) I involved myself in a conversation with Chief – He was listening to my instructions and riding me with grace. Few sections of the trail was exciting – riding up hill, crossing a very small stream and trotting! In South Africa, people can own their own game reserve; the place adjoining our farm was a game area. Interesting isn’t it? You could buy lions, probably cheetahs too and have your own reserve!
We were almost close to completion when Spa – the lead horse wanted to go for a run and went away for a real horse ride! As we stood waiting for our lead, Chief started grazing (He tried grazing on our trail too – I held him back all the while), initially I tried to hold him back and then I saw other horses graze too and let him graze. The grass was too low and he had to bend a bit and in the course I let the reins slip out of my hands!! Uh-Ah, the reins were gone, I tried to catch the attention of our guide who was busy capturing us on camera. As I kept saying “I left my reins, I left my reins” Chief decided to run – Ouch!! There was rush of adrenaline; he shook me up quite literally that I could feel my stomach muscles twitch. My mind said,” I am going to fall any moment” as my lips were saying “I left my reins”! As chief ran forward, his head moved backwards and the reins came up and I held on it – the defining moment. I held him back and said “Hold on Baby! – Stop”. He did and I sighed a breath of relief. It would have lasted only about 10-20 seconds but enough to wobble you up. I regained my composure and we happily trotted back to the stay.
We were towards the end of another exciting, engrossing and entertaining trip. On our way back, I noticed something quirky – all the electrical poles in the countryside were of wood [Picture inserted] isn’t that an economical way? We could save on the metal cost; should propose that back home.
Drakensberg is a Trekker’s delight. Like I said, there are many trails from several entry points to the National Park, Hence one could go there again and again until one explores it all.
It is ideal for people who enjoy Nature, Serenity (who doesn’t?), Trekking, Hiking and Adventure activities.
I would recommend Ikahaya Lodge for stay – Pleasant. There are many places to stay around.
We missed to see the much acclaimed Bushman cave paintings of Drakensberg due to the fact that none was close by. It is in the norther region.
Best Season to visit – Summer (when after the rains it is all green!), Winter (to see snow clad peaks)
Weather gets unpredictable when trekking to higher regions.
Drakensberg can provide you an absolute experience with nature and wilderness!