Road trippin' South Africa: The Dragon Mountain


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Africa » South Africa » Free State » Drakensberg
July 29th 2013
Published: August 8th 2013
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I took a detour driving from the coast to coast route to get to the Drakensberg or "Dragon Mountain" (Drakensberg). It took about 3 1/2 hours to drive from Ballito (a small beach town near Durban) and arrive in the northern part of the Drakensberg, where I went to check out a place to stay and of which I had heard very good comments (Amphiteater Backpackers).



It turned out to be good decision after good decision. I loved the area and the lodge was one of the best places I've stayed so far in SA.



Here's a link to the lodge: http://www.amphibackpackers.co.za/. The lodge itself is pretty isolated, so without a car it's difficult to do tours on your own or buy food if you want to cook your know stuff.

Those things apart, the property where the lodge is situated is vast and well taken care of. Amazing sunsets, a river to go fishing in, paths to walk, excellent and well kept facilities, etc. The food served there I found to be quite good and for a fair price. Besides that it has braai areas, a couple of self catering kitchens (big ones), a swimming pool, sauna, jacuzzi, bar, a couple of lounges, etc. It's rated as a 5 star backpacker place and I think it certainly is. The only (minor) downside was the woman at the reception. I won't go into details, but it's pretty much the same opinion that several people have written in their reviews about the place in the "Tripadvisor" website. Besides that, the place was the perfect place to stay for 5 nights.



I slept in the dorms, which are converted silos with several en-suite, 6 person dorms. Very unique and so far, one of the best beds I've had so far.



I arrived in the afternoon and arranged a couple of tours with them for the next two days. Someone who had been here previously recommended me these tours; especially because of Adrian, the permanent guide that works in the lodge. I could've done both tours on my own (which aren't cheap for backpacker standards). For both tours it was necessary to drive about 1 1/2 hours back and forth and that also contributed to my decision.

In the end I didn't regret my decision. And I have to agree with the recommendation: Adrian is one of the best guides I've seen in any of the tours I've taken so far this year in the different countries I've been in.



During those days there was a high rotation of customers, so I did meet a lot of people and always had at least a few people to have dinner or have a drink with.



The first tour I did was to the Amphitheater (a rock formation after which the lodge is named). The amphitheater is a 5km long, more than 1000m high cliff face. It goes between two distinctive rock formations; the Eastern and the Western buttresses (Amphitheatre (Drakensberg)).

We arrived at park called "Sentinel Peak" (Sentinel Peak is right there and is one of the highest points of the Drakensberg). The group was small that day: 2 French couples, Elsa (American), Jahn (German), Adrian the guide and myself.

The whole trip took about 6 hours, 4 of walking and 2 hours in between rests, lunch breaks, etc.

We started walking up a zigzagging trail that goes up the mountain. The most challenging part of the hike (although nothing out of the ordinary) is "The Gulley". It's a steep rock trail that goes for 250m. The landscapes are amazing and you have the amphitheater on top of you as you walk up the mountain. Going up the mountain we saw a few of the birds of prey that inhabit that area: the Cape Vulture (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cape_Vulture) and the Verreaux (Black) Eagle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verreaux%!s(MISSING)_Eagle).



After reaching the summit of the Gulley we were at about 3000m. The top is flat and you have the cliffs that drop more than 1000m right there. We had lunch in that place and it was spectacular. Right there, there are always white necked ravens that hang around waiting to be fed. If you take some food and throw it over the cliff, the ravens will dive down and catch it in mid air, flying back up again and standing on the edge of the cliff for more (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White-necked_Raven). Very impressive.



After that we walked along the cliffs to get to the Tugela Falls, one of the highest falls in the world. The river from where the falls form was nearly dry, so the falls themselves were just a trickle. Still a very impressive sight (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tugela_Falls).

And then we continued going on the flat top of the amphitheater, where we saw several baboons lying around both sides of the trail. Then we got to some metal ladders that we had to use to climb down. Just before we got on the ladders we heard Adrian scream something and then he pointed very excitedly to a large bird flying close to us. He told us it was a Bearded Vulture (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bearded_Vulture) which is in fact a very rare sighting in that area. He had actually mentioned several times how much he was hoping to see one of those that day.

This was a hike, like I said before, easily done on your own. But Adrian's stories and general knowledge of the place made it all the more entertaining and interesting. Besides being fully energetic and enthusiastic he managed to talk a lot about the place and keep everyone interested.



The second tour I did was a day trip to Lesotho, but I wrote about it separately (link to post) .



The third day I did "nothing". I woke up late, ate and spent most of the day reading lying on the grass. I had met a Belgian couple (shame on me I can't remember their names now) in the hostel and they asked me if I wanted to join them for a braai that evening. How could I say no to that. We went to buy things at a supermarket and had an excellent dinner.

Wine, a lot of meat, excellent salads and coffee and dessert. After that we headed to the hostel's bar to have a few "night caps". There were several other people I had been seeing the previous days, so it was a fun night.



The last day I spent there I drove up to a Park called "Royal Natal". It was only about a 30 minutes drive to get there.

In the park there are several walks that can be done, all of them quite easy. I did two that day: "Tiger Falls" and "The Gorge". The first one was alright (I lost my way for a bit there). The Tiger Falls were almost completely dry, but the landscapes were nice. Also, the walk was a circuit and not a "one way, back and forth" walk. I did that one at a fast pace and when I got back to the car I still had plenty of time left to do another one.

I chose "The Gorge", which was supposed to be a day hike. It was already noon, so I picked up the pace. I liked the trail in this one more than the previous one. But the Gorge totally exceeded my expectations. The rock formations are awesome. I got to a place were you have a narrow pass with high rock walls on both sides. That's where I stopped to have lunch. It was one of my favorite places in the Drakensberg.



That evening I had dinner with more or less the same people I had been with the past few days, a few after dinner drinks and off to bed.



The next day was a 31/2 hour drive to Durban, where I stayed for 3 nights.


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