Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Lovely Drakensberg

I had a lovely weekend away in the Drakensberg with AR and orienteering friends, Alex, Sarah, Nico, Salome and Tony. From the moment we drove out of Jo'burg, we hit nasty traffic on the N3 South - crawling. We expected traffic but couldn't believe it could be so bad. Being adventurous types, we navigated off the N3, past Suikerbosrand and on to the R59, heading South past Vereeniging and then detouring through a handful of small towns (Petrus Steyn, Reitz, Kestell) - places I've never been. It turned into a long, but interesting road trip through to the Monk's Cowl area of the central Drakensberg.

Alex and Tony looking at route options to keep us off the N3.

Lots of potholes and stop-go interruptions past Harrismith
We stayed at the Dragon's Peak campsite, which is about 5km from the Monk's Cowl trailhead parking lot. It's a huge place that caters for campers, caravans and it has chalets. It is quite a family-orientated place with jungle gyms and trampolines and horse riding activities. We had a good sized campsite, which Nico and Salome has established the day before. We were lucky to be in a good position near the showers and with neighbours only to our left and right. And although there were loads of people around, we didn't feel boxed in at all.

This venue, like others, hike their rates over Easter weekend - from their usual R90pppn to R175pppn - for camping! Personally, I think it is greedy to hike rates, just like South African hotels, airlines and others did during the World Cup. But, when you want to go away and they're the only place still with space... To their credit, we had hot water in the showers and the bathrooms were kept spotless by the cleaning staff.

On Saturday we took the morning at a leisurely pace before heading up the Blind Man's Corner trail, below Cathkin. The morning started out with a blue sky dotted with white clouds but by the time we were on top of the Lower Berg clouds descended to obscure views of the nearby peaks.

My play buddies. (L-R) - Tony, Sarah, Alex, Nico and Salome.

10-second self-timer... 3rd time lucky. Posing with the new edition of Outer Edge, an awesome Australian magazine.
The mag did the rounds this weekend, passing from one to the next. Clouds obscuring Cathkin Peak behind us.

Instead of taking a big, wide trail along the contour path and back to the parking lot, we decided to scale the hill at the junction (no trail) to eat our sandwiches and enjoy the view. This was a real treat.

'Lunch Hill', at about 2100m. Clouds rolling around.
Sarah and Salome almost at the top of 'Lunch Hill'. Previous photo taken from where the blue arrow is pointing.
It was pretty windy and chilly on 'Lunch Hill'. Snap! Alex and I are both wearing our First Ascent rain jackets. When my old GoLite jacket needed replacing at the end of last year, I bought this one.

Sibling pairs on 'Lunch Hill'
We took the Kearnsey (name?) trail back down, stopped to see two waterfalls and walked back to the parking lot to meet up with Nico and Salome - they did the waterfalls the day before. We spent the late afternoon drinking tea and trying some acroyoga before the rain arrived.

Sterkspruit Falls
We extended our patio by rigging a shelter from groundsheets and we played 30 Seconds in sibling teams. Alex and Sarah are siblings; Nico and Salome are siblings; being an only child, Tony was my adopted sibling for the weekend. We won ;)

The day dawned clear on Sunday morning. Alex and Sarah made a breakfast cookup and then we headed through to the Drakensberg Sun parking to do the walk to The Grotto and Barry's Grave. All nice and leisurely.

We got back mid-afternoon and lazed around on our camp chairs drinking tea and munching rusks. Alex and Tony cycled through to Mountain Splendour, to try the 10km mountain bike route there. They met the Don-Wachopes (Iain and Sue) and came back muddy. While they were away the girls took a nap, Nico went walking around the camp and I did a good yoga session. I'm really chuffed with my headstand (25 breaths) and L-shaped headstand. Awesomeness!

Nico and I got to making a fire for our dinner braai and had roaring flames by the time the guys returned from washing their bikes. We had a little help from a neighbour, who contributed some dry wood to our pile of not-so-dry, recently-purchased logs.

A real fairy forest leading to The Grotto.
Lunch at The Grotto
And so, another night passed and we woke up in no hurry on Monday morning. I love 10 to 11 hour sleeps while camping. By 10h20 we had packed up and were on the road. The N3 back was busy, but swiftly flowing.

And that was that, a weekend zapped. Super to go away and play with friends in the mountains. Thanks friends ;)

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