Wide open, towering, peaceful and menacing at the same time. The Southern Drakensberg is a landscape few artists could imagine. Only mother nature could come up with something as spectacular as this little patch of the earth.
The Southern Drakensberg lingers on the eastern side of Lesotho and while the town of Underberg is nothing to write home about, its surrounds are awe inspiring. Access to the legendary Sani Pass, Pony Trekking and all manner of hikes from one hour to two days make it an outdoor paradise.
My plan initially was to stay at the Sani Lodge Backpackers, but a lack of atmosphere and the fact that it was empty made me think I might try Khotso, a working farm that doubles as a backpackers and horse riding mecca. It was a good decision. Staffed by volunteers from all round the world, a friendly welcome, a cold beer and a great view made it a no brainer.
After a day or two of just taking in the landscape, which fills every view no matter where you turn, I decided to try a couple of the hikes on the farm. A short 15 minute walk up to Blues Pool, not strenuous at all, gives you top down view of the farm and a chance to do a 5 metre jump into one of the local rivers. Refreshing chilly water balances the rush.
The second walk is the slightly longer walk up Eland Peak and I was accompanied by Karoo, one of the sheep dogs. Again the walk was not massively strenuous but the reward is a panoramic view of the snow capped mountains and surrounding farmlands. A chance to stare at the monsters that are made for walking.
The next day I headed up towards Rhino Peak. The plan was just to snap a few shots of the mountains and move on, but the more I walked the more I wanted to see and I kept going … up. It isn’t super tough hiking but regular breaks to take in the mountains and surrounds make it seem like a breeze.
I made my way towards Pillar Cave, one of numerous caves in the area. A large cavern with a solitary pillar seemingly holding up the entire mountain, spectacular vistas and welcome shade makes this relatively easy hike worthwhile. The walk carries on further upwards Rhino Peak. A seven hour monster which I had no ambition to do after seemingly endless lazy days chilling at Khotso.
I um’d and ah’d about going up to the Sani Pass the following day, mainly because its pretty pricey unless you have a 4×4. I drove as far as the South African border post before the signs suggested I wasn’t going further even if I tried. After being mesmerized by the mountain ranges I headed back down to organize a lift up.
I had no choice and the tour itself was well run, the company in the car was swell but I cannot help but feel a sensation of canned tourism, the controlled experience. The drive was entertaining and the views spectacular, if I had managed to get there by myself the experience would have been a lot more satisfying.
Doing it with a tour group makes it an unashamedly touristy exercise, something I am coming to despise, designated stopping points for photos, a pretty average lunch at the highest pub in Africa and a shallow look at Basotho Culture in the proverbial rondavel. It lacked … authenticity.
That said you make do with what’s available and I am stoked I went up as it’s well worth the experience.
After a week I was beginning to feel way too at home and knew it was time to roll on. If you are in the hood, drop by and visit the farm, hang out and appreciate the Southern Drakensberg – it’s truly a beautiful place. Abounds with good people, great photo opportunities and lots of Khotso.