drakensberg

 

 

 

 

 


Drakensberg Mountains


 
 

 

My 1992 Trip
 
Routes: 1. Johannesburg - Ermelo - Lake Chrissie - Mbabane - Manzini
             2. Manzini - Mkaya Wildlife Sanctuary - Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary
             3. Manzini - Nhlangano
             4. Manzini - Big Bend
             5. Manzini - Big Bend - Gollela (border) - Durban - Amamzimtoti
             6. Amamzimtoti - Pietermaritzburg - Mooi River - Drakensberg -
                 Giant's Castle Game Reserve - Champagane Castle - Bergville -
                 Mont aux Source - Harrismith - Newcastle - Volksrust - Piet Retief -
                 Nhlangano (border)


 
 


 
The Drakensberg mountain range reaches right up to the Transvaal, but the area that borders Natal and the Kingdom of Lesotho is known as the true Drakensberg because it is in this area that the mountain range is the highest.

 


 

The Zulu call the edge of the basalt mass uKhahlamba which means 'barrier' and they say it resembles a row of spears. The summit they know as uluNdi or oNdini which means 'the heights', and theSotho people who live on these heights call the eastern edge Dilomo tsa Natala which means 'the cliffs of Natal'.
 
The Europeans called the mountain range the Drakensberg which means 'dragon mountain' because it seemed to be the natural home for these creatures.
 
In former years several reports were made of sightings of dragons in the heights, and of mysterious tracks discovered in isolated places.
 
And around the deep pools and dark caves, it can easily be imagined that they could be the abode of spirits, or haunts of monsters long forgotten by time and evolution.
 
The first of the highest peaks in the range is Giant's Castle standing at 3,314 metres high. The Zulu call this peak iNtabayikonjwa which means 'the mountain at which one must not point'. The name originates from a legend that if one points at it or even mentions it in conversation the mountain will respond by bringing bad weather. In winter the peak is covered in snow, and in summer there are heavy thunderstorms around it.

 


 


 
The Bushmans River rises in this part of  the Drakensberg, and the area is teaming with wildlife, including leopards, black-backed jackals, and baboons. In 1903 a game reserve was set up in the foothills which covers 30,000 hectares.
 

 
The closest I got to the Drakensberg mountains in the Natal area with my parents were the towns of Mooi River and Estcourt. Although you see the mountains in the distance, their size and magnitude is not appreciated. Its only when you drive through the range that you realise their outstanding beauty. In 1992 I took as many photos as I could but the camera did not do the scenery justice.

 


 

 

At one point I seemed to be completely surrounded by the mountain range, so I stopped the car and took a 270 degree series of photos. When stuck all together, the resulting picture is so large that I had difficulty finding a frame to hold it. It hung on my wall until the kids broke the glass and sadly I could not get it replaced.
 
Leaving the town of Mooi River, the drive to the Drakensberg is on gravel roads, it is only when you get to the Game Reserve itself that you are treated once more to the tarred roads.
 
On the way we passed several traditional Zulu villages and the little children ran out to wave to us.
 
You really have problems keeping your eyes on the road as the mountain range is so astounding. Fortunately we didn't meet any traffic on the road. The only wildlife that we saw was one solitary baboon.

 

 


 
Reserve Entrance


That night we stayed at the game reserve in a chalet. There was no electricity and our light was a paraffin lantern. It was so peaceful there I wish I could have stayed longer.

 


 

The next day we drove back down into the valley and skirted the mountain, again driving on gravel roads until the road joins the main Estcourt to Loskop road, and on to Champagne Castle where we stopped for refreshments and petrol before going on to the next peak, Mont aux Source.


 

 

Champagne Castle is 3,348 metres high. The peak was named by David Gray in the 1860s when he escorted a British army surveyor, Captain Grantham, on a climb. In their haversack there was a bottle of champagne to drink when they reached the summit. When they took the bottle out however, it was only half full, and as neither would admit to sneaking a drink, they blamed it on the mountain.


 

 

The next highest peak in the range is Monks Cowl which is 3,234 metres which is the most difficult and most dangerous to climb.
 
Cathkin Peak is 3,148 metres high and is a dominant looking mountain. The Zulu name for it is Mdedelele which means 'make room for him', the name they give to a bully.
 
Other peaks in the Cathedral Peak area are: Dragon's Back, a ridge of pinnacles which ends in a strange looking peak called Ntunja by the Zulu which means 'the eye' an this part of the mountain looks like a petrified one-eyed giant. Indumeni which means 'place of thunder'. Ndedema which means 'place of reverberations'. Qolo la maSoja which means 'bridge of the soldiers'. And others.


 
In 1954 a Durban journalist, Ronnie Tungay, bought a farm in the area called Dragons Peaks. And in 1967 his son John opened a school for boys with musical talent. They formed the famous Drakensberg Boys' Choir.


 


 
Mont aux Sourcesis 3,048 metres high and was named by two French Protestant missionaries in 1830 who were exploring the mountains in Lesotho. After a difficult journey they found themselves on the mountainous plateau known to the Sotho as Phofung which means 'place of the eland'.
 
They renamed it Mont aux Sources as they found the sources of many different rivers and streams.

 


 
It is here that the Tugela River rises dropping down a fall of 2,000 metres, the highest waterfall in South Africa; and the Elands River which cascades in a series of falls for 1,200 metres. Also rising from the Mont aux Sources is the Khubelu which is a tributary of the Orange River.
 
  
 
We had lunch at the hotel at Mont aux Sources. In the grounds was a stone chess set. The kids thought this was fascinating. The pieces were taller than them!

             
 

We then drove on to Newcastle to see my friend Jane, arriving at her house about 6pm. We stayed for two nights with Jane. She took us on a tour of Newcastle and we had a barbeque with her friends in the evening. What I found both amusing and strange about Jane and her friend was that she spoke in English to them and they spoke in Afrikaans to her. It was weird listening to a conversation in two languages!


 

 

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