Early Dutch settlers named the Drakensbergen, or “Mountains of Dragons” for the spiny basalt ridges that crest the eastern edge of the Great Escarpment, which bounds the Southern African Plateau. 180 million years ago this bulge literally gave rise to Southern Africa, creating boundaries between the early Atlantic and Indian oceans. Here limestone ridges above softer red clay layers create mesas overhanging grassy valleys and freestone streams… it’s a lovely, soothing place.
The Drakensburg escarpment can be approached from many directions; our destination is the Giants Castle, named for the ridge resembling the profile of a sleeping giant. By noon Tuesday we’d arrived at the park boundary and soon after we were on the trail for a quick exploration. Our first loop took us up valley towards the ancient caves, then back along the Bushman’s river where we scouted for trout and swimming holes.
The Drakensburgs are a world heritage site and its protected status shows – the trails are narrow but pristine and well maintained, with concrete pads radiating from trailheads and securing steep sections; frequent swales and drainage features mitigate erosion. Summer is the wet season so all is green – as if God has lain Ireland’s carpet out to dry on limestone table tops. Dropping from the traverse to the Bushman river we pass by “Rock 75,” named for a British troop that encamped here during their campaign to blow up local passes and contain native migrations. As we pass beneath our mountainside lodge Sue and Karen split off to return and I continue along the river to extend my hike and quest for trout. Downstream the trail bridges the river… there’s not a human in sight so I swim in my birthday suit before drying, clothing and climbing back to the comfort of our Chalets.
And comfortable they are, about 1,000 sq ft each with cathedral thatched roofs overhanging generous patios outside and a full kitchen, bath fireplace and bedroom studio in. We can even catch up on the Cricket game, which South Africa is dominating… all is well in Naftaly’s world. The afternoon rains have rolled in now and under the cover of our thatched patios we listen as the limestone ridges roll and rumble roaring thunder back and forth. The boys and I make a game of counting their duration… 20 seconds!
My evening challenge is to get the charcoals fired in the rain… I nestle the open-faced charcoal grill just inside the patio roof’s drip line, then use two chairs and a sarong to create a wind shelter. Building a dried wood platform base, I cheat by soaking it in citronella oil before layering in torn paper and building a charcoal pyramid on top. Viola… in spite of rain and wind it’s a one-match fire, and 30 minutes later we have steak and boerewors on the braai– yum!