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March 12th 2014
Published: April 18th 2014
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Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Glen Reenen Rest Camp to Howick (266 km or 165 miles), Wednesday, March 12th.

This clear blue morning we started out driving the Blesbok Loop where we encountered many long tailed Widowbirds and watched them fly around and then into the long grass. It is hard to see how they can possibly fly with so long a tail--almost twice the length of the bird. We saw two different kinds this day: the Long-tailed Widowbird and the Red-collared Widowbird.

At the first junction, we turned towards the Langtoon Dam, but very shortly the water was crossing the road and we couldn’t tell how deep it was, so we backed up and continued up the hill to the Zuluhoak Lookout. Very pretty view of the red/cream mountains across the way. Finished driving the loop seeing just a few animals–mostly wildebeests here and there and small herds of antelope.

Crossed the main road after coming down a very steep grade and started up the Oribi Loop. At the entrance to this loop, water was again flowing across the road, but this time, we could watch cars cross and decided we wouldn’t get stuck. We saw very few animals on this loop, but great scenery. We had hoped to see some vultures that are touted here in this park along the cliffs, but no such luck.

At what looked to be a lookout point off the paved road, we pulled the RV slowly onto a mud track. In hindsight, it was not a wise decision to chance it, but the scenery was fantastic. Parked the RV on a solid rock shelf and looked out at the Drakensburg Mountain Range in the distance. Quite a spectacular view. Valerie then carefully maneuvered the RV around and back through the deep/thick mud and pot holes to the road. Whew!!

Down the mountains we went and onto a plain with many herds of antelope of various kinds. None seemed to be a new variety to us. Instead of turning right on R-74 toward Bergville, we were advised that the road was under repair two years ago and the contractor didn’t get paid, so he abandoned the project. Now the road was completely impassable. So, we took R-74 straight to Harrismith and there we got back on the N-5.

Shortly, we crossed the congested, with many trucks, Van Reenen Pass, which statistically is the most dangerous pass in South Africa. The fairly long pass was scenic, but besides the HEAVY truck and other traffic, it had the usual goats along it to add additional danger. We hit the N-3 toll road, which with the section over the pass, is the main route between the ports of Durban and the large city of Johannesburg.

The Drakensburg (Dragon in Afrikaans) is in reality part of the South African escarpment that seen from below, looks like a range of mountains. It was formed 180 million years ago by the bulging of the continental crust. This escarpment is set back from the ocean, but roughly follows the coastal outline of South Africa with the highest peaks on the eastern side with some as high as 9,842 feet.

The San people or bushmen roamed these slopes and left paintings depicting their daily life on the rock faces and in caves. In December 2000, the park received international recognition and was declared a World Heritage Site as it has the largest collection of such work in the world. Some 20,000 individual rock paintings have been recorded at 500 different caves.

We set out to visit this site and see these works of art. We left the toll-way at the Mooi River exit and pulled into a Service Center for some lunch and to ask directions from this point. Off we then went down a narrow two lane road that curved through farmland, planted forests of pine trees, and several villages. Met one of our group coming toward us along this road and talked for a minute. We told them to let people know we would be coming in late, most likely about 7:00, as that is when it was getting dark.

Drove into an African village with round huts made of branches, rocks, mud, and thatch. Not a government housing settlement in sight. Just as we got to one of the biggest villages, we realized that school had just let out and the road was filled with students in their uniforms walking home. Judging by the different uniform colors, there must have been at least 4 different schools or grade levels letting out at the same time. This location was not on a level area at all and the kids had to walk a very long way up and down fairly steep hills. We had been driving really slowly because of the pot holes and generally rough road, and now Valerie crawled along, waving at the kids who all smiled and waved back at us. Hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of kids in the middle of the road, on both sides of the road, seeming to pay little attention to the fact that we are BIG and the road is narrow! (Sharon forgot to mention the animals—goats and cows) that were also part of the congestion.

We finally cleared the kids and continued up the poor, water rutted, pot holed, road following a river now up to the Giant’s Castle National Park. Cleared the entrance gate and parked the RV near the cabins for rent. Valerie went to the reception to find out what was what. There she found that the trail to the caves was 1km long and that the caves closed at 4:00 and by now it was 3:45. We were not happy and the staff here were particularly unhelpful.

While I waited for Valerie, I read the pamphlets we had gotten at the gate. The warning booklet warns of thefts while hiking and especially camping out as the trail and some of the places along the escarpment are in the Kingdom of Lesotho. They advise you to set up your camp site and have an early supper. Then after dark, move your camp with no lights on (so you can stumble right into the waiting bad guys?), sleep close to each other with your clothes on, fasten all valuables to your jacket, set a night watch, and each person should have a whistle tied to a buttonhole to use as a warning signal (who is to hear this warning?)—all this, after warning against the 3 poisonous snakes in the park, one of which spits poison. I think I will sleep in the locked RV, inside a guarded campground, thank you very much!

We turned around and started back the way we came and spotted a couple of things while still in the park–first was a bunch/troop/family of baboons in a field and the other was a sign warning people about parking under the trees at a picnic area, as crows will pick at the rubber of the car’s windshield wipers.

Pretty drive, but now it was getting late with ominous looking rain clouds coming at us. Not much we could do to go faster, as the road was still in terrible condition and instead of contending with school kids through the long sprawled out village(s??), we now had boys bringing in their goats from the field where they had been tethered all day by letting them loose in the road to go home, and boys and girls carrying cans of water from the central water faucet on their heads, and a great number of taxi/vans stopping in front of us to let folks in and out. Cleared the communities and ran smack dab into a thick fog/low cloud bank. Thankfully, we could still see the road and it soon broke up when we got down to the lower elevations.

Found our way back to the toll way and headed for the town of Howick where we were to camp on the Midmar dam site for the night. With the rainy cloud cover it was dark by now. We followed the directions in our tour book and found the dam, but could not see the Midmar Nature Reserve that was supposed to be along the water. We pulled into something that looked like it might be it, but it looked closed, so we drove on. We figured we had gone too far as we drove away from the water, but we couldn’t turn around anywhere. Finally, at the site where Nelson Mandela was captured, we turned around at the memorial.

Back tracking, using the tour book as a guide backwards, noting each landmark given, we were back to where we thought the place originally was. We pulled further into the drive and saw that a faint light was in the guardhouse. We also noticed a sign that said the gate closed at 7:00 and it was 5 minutes to 7:00. No one had warned us of a closing time. I guess someone was watching out for us otherwise we would have dry camped right in the driveway. Pulled down the rutted park road for several km to find the group at a washed out area called the Morgenson campsite. Parked, plugged in, and called it a night. All’s well that ends well, I guess, but had some very anxious minutes this day.

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