Hiking the Dragon Mountains
Jan 19, 2009
|Although we had planned on spending a few more days exploring the Wild Coast, Rebecca’s bodyboarding misadventure had us searching for alternate destinations. Instead of ocean and beaches, we chose altitude and mountains, and thus headed off north towards the Drakensberg mountains.
The drive up from Coffee Bay was long and tiring. We were a little hung over from a big night out. We then discovered that someone had stolen all our breakfast food. We said goodbye to the London girls, paid our tab, and set out on the 80 km drive back to the N2. It was very slow going. It was a Sunday market day, and there seemed to be a lot of people, cows, goats and other obstacles out on the road. The potholes were massive. Small boys filled some of the potholes with grass and dirt and asked for rands along the side of the road. We threw some of our small change out the window as we drove by and heard them cheer and call out their thanks.
After reaching the N2 we turned towards the city of Mthatha. We stopped at a Gas Station stop just outside of Mthatha for a Steers Burger lunch, before continuing north to the mountains. We left the N2 and drove up the R612 to Kokstad where we stopped to load up on groceries and fill the gas tank. We planned on making all our own meals over the next week or so, so we were overloaded with food.
After getting our supplies we headed towards Underberg & Himeville. The road was good but it began to rain and a dense mist closed in. We drove through Underberg, which seemed like a very nice holiday community with a country club, a polo team, a golf course, and some holiday resorts. Himeville is 5 minutes down the road. It is also nice but has a bit more of a ‘country village’ feel to it. Just outside of Himeville we turned onto a dirt road known as the Sani Pass Road. This road eventually leads up to the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. This mist was very thick by this point, to the point where we couldn’t really see or appreciate our mountain surroundings.
Our hostel, the Sani Lodge Backpackers, is located about 10km up the Sani Pass road. We pulled into the parking lot around 6:30 pm and it was already getting dark. We immediately felt a warm welcome from the place. It was cool and blustery outside but the lodge was warm, cozy and comfortable. It felt like an old school ski lodge. There was a nice wood fire burning and the manager was welcoming. Since it was raining, cool and quite miserable, we elected not to camp and treated ourselves to double room with shared bathroom and shower. Even though the mist and darkness prevented us from appreciating the beautiful Drakensberg landscapes, we knew that we would probably end up staying here longer than planned.
The word Drakenberg means dragon mountains in Afrikaans because the jagged peaks reminded early settlers of the spines on a dragon’s back. The Zulu called the mountains “The Battlement of Spears” because the Sotho people used the mountains to their advantage to defend the area against Zulu invasion. This area is a hiker’s paradise and our hostel had numerous routes mapped out for us to choose from.
We set off at 9:30am the next morning for a 5 hour hike up the hills and peaks behind the hostel. Everything else was still covered in mist, so there was no point climbing the bigger mountains. We rented a map and paid our national park day fee and struck out on a path leading up from behind the hostel. We walked along the ridge in the mist, through fields of long grass. The grass had collected the water from the mist and the recent rains and soon we were soaked from the waist down. Our shoes, our pants, and our socks – our whole lower half was dripping wet after about half an hour.
I was still bothered by an upset stomach caused by the Xhosa beer, so the hike was a little tough on me. We followed the trail across a high plateau, then followed a ridge across a small chain of mountains. We followed a small stream down, and found a large cave area after a couple hours of walking. We had trouble finding the path out of the cave, and almost turned back, but we were finally able to follow the stream down to the valley and river below. We reached the river we crossed a small wooden bridge and ate lunch at a rock pool that forms a very nice swimming hole.
The creek water comes straight from a mountain spring and is clear, cool and safe to drink. In fact, it was delicious and refreshing – much better than the bottled water we brought with us. We walked back along the river, having to cross over it 4 more times, wading across it because the river was too high to use the rock paths. We accidentally strayed from the path a few times and had to backtrack to find it. At time we had to scamper up rocks, and once we walked precariously along the side of a steep cliff, being careful with the slippery conditions. The walk ended at a eucalyptus plantation. We also walked through blackberries, strawberries and raspberries fields. We then walked the 2.5 km along the dirt road back to the lodge.
We spent the rest of the day lounging around, relaxing and working on our journal. We signed up for the Sani Pass tour, and tomorrow we will be driving up to the mountain Kingdom of Lesotho.