Report courtesy of Alison Chadwick, photos courtesy Keith Ashton
[CLICK ON PHOTOS TO VIEW FULLSIZE - or view pics in accompanying SIMPLEVIEWER Presentation]
Day 1 – Sunday 30 December 2018
I left Durban at 4h15am to pick up Este in Kloof, we had a smooth drive all the way to the KZN Wildlife Office at Bushman’s Nek where we were to meet the remainder of the group at 8am. On arrival Keith did the necessary with the ranger on duty and handed in our booking forms and we all signed the mountain register and then made our way to the Bushman’s Nek Hut loaded up like working mules, luckily we only had roughly 1.4kms to walk. After getting rid of our heavy packs we quickly got ready for our 1st hike which Keith said was to Halfway Cave (being halfway to Bushman’s Nek Cave).
There were 11 of us in our group which was great as we were able to spread ourselves out comfortably in the 5 rooms at BNH using the lower bunk to sleep and the top bunk to lay out our clothes, food etc. We were all aware that at any stage we could have company as the hut does sleep 30 people but luckily we had the place to ourselves for the duration of our stay.
On our way to Halfway Cave we crossed the Bushman’s River several times, a few times most of the party chose to take off their boots and wade across in sandals, luckily some of the river crossings were quite easy to manage without removing boots. Along the route we admired the beautiful flowers and beautiful scenery. After reaching Halfway Cave we decided to push on a bit further to some lovely pools so everyone could take a dip. We took a break and ate our lunch at the pools. My Garmin recorded our hike to Halfway Cave and back to BNH at 11.5kms with a 263m elevation, something gentle to ease us into the weekend. Most of us had an early dinner as we’d been up since the crack of sparrows and we were in bed at about 7pm – it was still light outside!!!
DAY 1 - SUNDAY 30 DEC 2018 - TO HALFWAY CAVE and BEYOND
1. On our way to Bushmans Nek Hut
2. After arrival at the hut and ready for our first hike to Slab Cave etc
3. Hiking down to our first river crossing
4. Crossing Bushmans river
5. Rose - not dead but taking a photo of a flower
6. Looking back towards the hut
7. Overhang Cave with lovely long pool
8. Halfway Cave, also known as Slab Cave
9. Steep awkward descent to waterfall pool beyond Halfway Cave
10. Libby, Lynda and Eric in the beautiful pool
11. Close-up of Libby and Lynda cooling off in the pool
12. Eric getting a massage under the waterfall
13. Crossing the river on our return to the hut
14. Final river crossing (day 1) on way back to the hut
Day 2 – Monday 31 December 2018
We planned on setting off at 8am but since we were all up and about so early it was a unanimous decision to set off at 7am due to the heat. Today our hike was to Painter’s Cave and Langalibalele Cave which is on the Giants Cup Trail. Our group split into two groups with those wanting to do the longer hike to the two caves and those who preferred a more gentle hike led by Margaret Ashton.
Again we saw beautiful flowers, lots of proteas and these huge white mushrooms which were growing in only one spot along the route. We stopped at an interesting Tarn and only when you actually stop and look do you notice all the living “bodies” in the water. Eric took some photos of what we think are the endemic Maloti Minnow and Maluti Redfin (shrimp looking fish). We stopped at Twin Rocks for some photos and continued on the narrow-ish stretch to reach Painter’s Cave. A spectacular huge rock overhang with the most pristine Bushman paintings I have ever seen - to me it could be depicting a battle scene. We all enjoyed our break in the shade and had our lunch, we filled up our water bottles in the stream which Keith confirms runs 365 days of the year. Nothing better than drinking from crystal streams in the Drakensberg.
After our break it was time to head to Langalibalele Cave, we had a bit of bundu bashing on the way down which made for interesting conversation from some of our hikers. Sometimes it is nice to take the path less travelled. It was great to bump into quite a few folk who were doing the Giant’s Cup Trail – I still say this trail is the best kept secret in KZN. On reaching Langalibalele Cave Eric bumped into his Pastor from his church who was doing the GCT with his daughter aged 8, the Pastor was wearing Croc shoes which he worn on the entire GCT! I love seeing youngsters out on hikes rather than glued to some mobile device. After some exploring of the cave we went to look at the breathtaking waterfalls on a tributary of the Mzimude River not too far from Langalibalele Cave. We then followed the white footprints of the GCT back to BNH – sadly my Garmin died before we reached the hut but at a guess our hike was about 15kms with a 717m elevation gain, our max elevation for the day was 2,359m.
It was definitely time to hit the cold showers, the weather forecast we all saw during the week couldn’t have been more wrong, it was a sweltering hot day. The sunset on the last day of 2018 did not disappoint, what a beautiful sky. After our dinner we hung on until 7h30pm to link arms and sing Auld Lang Syne, we wished one another happy new year and the hardcore folk managed to stay up until 8h30pm.
DAY 2 - MONDAY 31 DEC 2018 - NEW YEARS EVE - T0 PAINTERS CAVE and LANGALIBALELE CAVE
15. Day 2 - On our way to Painters Cave - Devil's Knuckles in background
16. Striding out off the beaten track
17. Cloud forming on top of the Devil's Knuckles
18. Libby and Eric on the climb
19. Este foreground of our group having a short rest
20. Still Climbing
21. More climbing in spectacular scenery
22. Our group reflecting on the climb so far
23. Sehlabathebe water lillie - Aponogeton Ranuculiflorus in the tarn
24. Twin Rocks, getting closer to Painters Cave
25. Alison in between Twin Rocks with Este in foreground
26. Massive edible mushrooms en-route to Painters Cave
27. A beautiful dierama, one of many flowers seen on our hikes
28. Returning past the tarn with containing the Sehlabathebe Lillies
29. Now off the beaten track again en-route to Langalibalele Cave
30. Some of our group taking strain before reaching Langalibalele Cave
31. Now for a rest and snacks in the shade of Langalebalele Cave
32. Treating blisters can be part of hiking all day
33. Eric exploring the high section of the cave after some climbing
34. Julia taking a photo of the lovely cascading waterfalls beyond Langalibalele Cave
35. On our descent back to the hut
36. We spot a reedbuck not far from the hut
37. Arrival back at the hut
38. Relaxing in the boma after the hike
39. Our basic but comfortable room (Keith and Margaret)
40. Alison setting up her camera for a group photo
41. Libby, Rose and Lynda entertaining us with line-dancing
42. New Years Eve celebrations in the boma
43. Celebrations continue before we sing AULD LANG SYNE
Day 3 – 1 January 2019
I hopped out of bed at 4h30am and looked out of the window to see the sky was a faint shade of orange, most of us woke up and made our way up the path behind the hut to watch the sunrise on the first day of 2019 (my wish had come true). The sky was a magnificent mass of different shades of orange. Today I opted to just have a chilled day on my own, when I signed up for the hike Rose had told me about the rock pools and I was so keen to just spend a day dipping in and out of the rock pools, lying on my mattress and reading my book. The rest of the party headed to Mystery Cave, I have to admit I did have “FOMO” (fear of missing out) when they returned at 2pm. Everyone was quite shattered from the sun (again the weather forecast was wrong) – we lazed about, played dice and had another early night.
DAY 3 - TUESDAY 1 JAN 2019 - PHOTOS: See Keith Ashton's writeup of the hike to Mystery Cave
Day 4 – 2 January 2019
It rained on and off during the night and every weather forecast mentioned 90% of rain and big downpours so the decision was to pack up early and head home. A good time was had by all, new friendships made, lots of laughs, lots of snoring, and most importantly lots of walking and hiking in the most beautiful Drakensberg which truly is food for the soul. After some arithmetic we calculated the average age of our group of 11 to be 69 – what an inspiration to anyone wanting to get into hiking. Hiking is the answer. Who cares what the question is!!!
Thank you to Keith and Margaret for a wonderful few days and for sharing your knowledge of the Drakensberg with us.
4th day - Rose, Jenny, Este, Julia (has her pack carried) and Eric loaded up for back to base