Fairly early into my journey I’d first encountered the Drakensberg near its northernmost reaches in Limpopo. Next I explored the peaks of Mariepskop in the Mpumalanga Drakensberg. In eSwatini, I touched the easternmost reaches of the mountains before I descended to the coastal plains of northern KwaZulu-Natal. Now, leaving the small village of Nottingham Road, I was once again going to be meeting up with this thousand-kilometre long mountain. This time I was getting close to its heart where the Drakensberg is at its most dramatic. When people say they’re “going to the ‘Berg”, this is where they’re going. This area is also one of South Africa’s ten proclaimed World Heritage Sites
Here, roughly divided into northern, central and southern Drakensberg, sheer cliffs and sharp pinnacles form an almost impenetrable wall giving rise to its Zulu name, uKhahlamba, meaning “barrier of spears”. The origin of the Afrikaans name, Drakensberg, (Dragon’s Mountain) is unclear but anyone who’s ever experienced a fierce Drakensberg thunderstorm could easily imagine the angriest of dragons breathing smoke and fire down on them.
Luckily for me there was no thunder and lighting today and the weather was perfect as I drove out of Nottingham Road on the P27-3. Known as the Lower Lotheni Road, this is undoubtedly one of the area’s most scenic drives as it makes its way twisting and turning over increasingly rugged hills and valleys with ever the sheer cliffs of the Drakensberg escarpment as a blue backdrop to the west.
Farmlands gradually become fewer as the road makes its way along the eastern edge of the Maloti Drakensberg Park, a vast pristine area of grassland, hills, streams and waterfalls reaching all the way to the top of the steep escarpment and the border with Lesotho.
Lotheni Nature Reserve
My destination for the day was the Lotheni Nature Reserve where I planned to spend the night. On previous visits to the Drakensberg accommodation had always been in luxury resorts and hotels with groups of friends. This was to be my first camping experience in the ‘Berg and also the first time that I’d be here alone. The disadvantage of being alone soon became clear.
The only way to fully experience the splendour of the Drakensburg is either on foot or on horseback. Even if there was a horse in sight, I’m no cowboy, so a hike would have been perfect. BUT one of the first rules of hiking is to never walk alone and here at Lotheni I was as truly alone as I could probably be anywhere in South Africa. Blue skies and distant hills were begging me to come and explore, but alas, I was restricted to strolling around safely within sight of the camp.
Nevertheless, in spite of not being able to go on a long hike, I still enjoyed Lotheni. As night fell, the wind died down and the absolute silence that ensued was a rare experience. Without electricity the only light came from the stars. I soon forgot about not being able to go on a hike as I soaked up the solitude till it was time to snuggle into my sleeping bag.
There’s no electricity at Lotheni campsite but the clean bathrooms have gas-heated showers.
The sites are well grassed and equipped with braai’s and a table. There aren’t too many trees around the campsites. The best shade was at Blesbok site.
Bookings can be made through KZN WIldlife.
The first puncture of the trip
Refreshed from a good night’s sleep in the fresh mountain air, my next goal was to head into Lesotho via the nearby Sani Pass but first I had to attend to a wheel that had developed a slow puncture. It wasn’t a major leak, but I wouldn’t be anywhere near a tyre shop for quite some time so I headed into Underberg. As an extra precaution, I also re-filled the tank with diesel – just in case.
It wasn’t long before the tyre had been repaired by the friendly folk in Underberg. I’d topped up with fuel, bought something to eat at the local takeaway and now headed towards the next chapter of the journey.
Leaving KwaZulu-Natal and, for the time being South Africa, I was now five months into the trip. The magical Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho was next on my list.