Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Drakenbergs, South Africa

The next day we drove to the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. It was quite a warm day so we stopped for a short 2 hour hike and had lunch in the park watched by a sole baboon from a distance. Saw a few duiker but like all the other parks there was a lot of blackened burnt grass and maybe the animals had moved on. Saw a few zebra on our way out. Echo ravine

Drove on to Inkosana Lodge in the Champagne Valley inland from Winterton and the central part of the Ukhahlamba World Heritage park. The lodge is a beautiful B & B/backpacker's place that Vera Ann recommended. We were lucky to get the last double in the place and stayed in a rondavel with an ensuite. There was a shared kitchen nearby and in a separate part of the complex were dorm rooms with another shared kitchen. The common area was a huge room with a fire and lots of seating and views of the hills. The owner Ed was a great host and managed to change some of his bookings around so we would not have to camp as it was really cold at night. We saw Ed's staff putting thick blankets on the tall flowering aloes to protect them from the frost. The second night we spent in a Zulu style rondavel and it was very comfortable and warm.

While cooking one day in the shared kitchen we met Connie and Rupert. Their children were at boarding school and all three had been selected to sing with the Natal Childrens' Choir- not surprising as Connie is a music teacher. The children had a concert nearby so they were able to see them and listen to them. Rupert told us about his cane farm in New Hanover and invited us to visit him and check out life as a cane farmer.

Ed had some maps of the trails in the national park and gave everyone advice on the trails. We drove to the Monk's Cowl entrance to the Drackenburgs, which was not far up the valley. On the way we passed a beautiful golf course which had time share holiday places all around the entrance and it looked full being a long weekend.

We decided to do the 11 km hike to Blind Man's Corner and return via the Keartland Pass. we climbed 600metres above the car park to 2100m with some good views of Champagne Castle, Monk's Cowl Peak and Cathkin Peak.

On the way we chatted with an accountant from Johannesburg. He had had too much wine at Easter time and agreed to climb Mt Kilimanjaro with his son so he was getting himself fit. He looked older than us and didn't want to walk on a part of the track that had small stones in case he slipped so we began to wonder how he would do on the mountain.
We arrived at Breakfast Creek to find a couple and a scout patrol who invited us to join them for lunch. We chatted away and discovered that Claire and Greg knew our South African friends Stuart in NZ, Evan, Fiona, Derek, Colleen and Gill in Calgary. They knew them through the Mountain Climbing Club at university. We couldn't believe it.

We passed several small groups of young people who were going to camp the long weekend in the hills near the streams so it is a popular place for this.

The walk up was enjoyable and were the only ones on the pass down. It was a steep step path and all the area was black from the grass burning and not so interesting to look at. Even though it was a warm day we had to pack warm clothes, raincoats, and a torch, and sign in and out at the park office. Part of the fee you pay to enter the park is used for rescue teams if needed. Like all high mountains the weather is changeable. Other than a few skinks we never saw any other wildlife.

We had to wash all our clothes again because of the ash from the burnt grass and luckily it dried in the Zulu rondavel we were in. The roof was woven like a giant basket and was held up a single central pole. The solid mud walls seemed to release the heat that it had stored during the day so we were really cosy.

We were able to get a pretty good internet signal so we were able to catch up with our daughter. She has had to find tenants for us and when she advertised she had 15 applications for the place at the beach and now has to sort through for the best one.