Retreat to the Drakensberg mountains to experience adventure activities

uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park – World Heritage Site - unesco

South Africa

Drakensberg in summer

Drakensberg in summer

Drakensberg in summer

Exceptional natural beauty in its soaring basaltic buttresses, incisive dramatic cutbacks, and golden sandstone ramparts
— UNESCO

Although we were in the Drakensberg six months ago during winter, we decided to return to it about two weeks ago for some unfinished business and to see it in summer. We had another milestone birthday to celebrate, just like the previous time. This time hubby was turning 60.

Naturally we needed a surge of adrenaline to remind us to enjoy life while we still can, before we become too old. The previous year it rained and therefore we couldn’t do the canopy tour. We hoped the weather would play along because even though it is summer the weather can still be unpredictable.

 

View of Monks Cowl from Cathkin Park Drakensberg KwaZuluNatal

View of Monks Cowl from Cathkin Park Drakensberg KwaZuluNatal

 

Paul’s sister, Karen had arrived from overseas to visit and we wanted to show her some of our favourite places and beautiful scenery. We first took her to Matamba in the Limpopo for a few days for a safari, then moved on to the Drakensberg. This trip was shorter than our previous one and our plan was to stay at two of the hotels we’d stayed at before. Both have stunning views and of course we wanted to impress Karen.

 

Sunset at Monks Cowl from The Nest Hotel, Drakensberg

Sunset at Monks Cowl from The Nest Hotel, Drakensberg

Nestled in the Drakensberg

We spent a few nights at The Nest, because it was reasonable and close to where we wanted to be. We especially booked a room with a fantastic view over Monk’s Cowl. What do you know, the weather didn’t play along and the mountain was covered in cloud most of the time. The humidity was high, making it very hazy. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and had enough time for a short walk.


Scenic area near Cathkin Park, Central Drakensberg

Scenic area near Cathkin Park, Central Drakensberg

On Monday, all geared up for some adrenaline adventures, we set out to do two of them. Our plan was to do the Canopy Tour first and then the Scootour. To our disappointment we found out that both places were closed as were many other places after the weekend’s visitors.

 

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We browsed around at a few shops then went to The Valley Bakery. Thank goodness we didn’t need to cater for ourselves or I would have gone overboard, buying all the delicious baked goodies. As it was we spoilt ourselves with a delicious cappuccino and some pecan tart. We also bought a couple of packets of biscuits and a few bottles of mango chutney – great as gifts for people. After that we decided to visit friends of ours that were camping nearby – about an hour’s drive away.

 

Injisuthi

Maloti-Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site

I’d like to keep Injisuthi a state secret, because I would hate it to become commercialized and spoil all the natural beauty but it’s already known as a World Heritage Site. Maybe the last few kilometres would put most people off going there as the roads were quite rough with a good few potholes along the way. Besides, although there are a few chalets and a dormitory for a group as well as rustic erected tents and campsites, there is no power which does not appeal to everyone.

 
Driving through rural settings towards Injisuthi

Driving through rural settings towards Injisuthi

Driving towards Injisuthi

Driving towards Injisuthi

Traffic jam of cattle

Traffic jam of cattle

Drakensberg in summer is beautiful

Drakensberg in summer is beautiful

Entrance gate at Injisuthi - rough road on the outside and tar with a few potholes on the inside

Entrance gate at Injisuthi - rough road on the outside and tar with a few potholes on the inside

Maloti-Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site

Maloti-Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site

Sun breaking through the clouds at Injisuthi

Sun breaking through the clouds at Injisuthi

Beautiful vista at Injisuthi

Beautiful vista at Injisuthi

It was a place that we’ve always wanted to see and a great opportunity to see our friends, Alan and Sue. Although we only had a couple of hours there we knew we’d happily go back.

When we returned to The Nest, Monk’s Cowl gave us a spectacular backdrop for a sunset amongst the clouds.

 

Monks Cowl, Giants Castle

Monks Cowl, Giants Castle

Look carefully and you might spot the zipline going over the gorge

Look carefully and you might spot the zipline going over the gorge

Drakensberg Canopy Tour

Drakensberg Canopy Tour

Tuesday was a cloudy day and we wouldn’t be able to see the raptors fly as we’d hoped at the Falcons Ridge Bird of Prey Centre. At least we could do the zip line eco-adventure. I thought I might be too cold without a warm top but in fact the cloud cover was a blessing, especially when we walked back up the hill. The canopy tour at Magoebaskloof a few years ago was a blast and we were looking forward to experiencing the Drakensberg zip line too.

Unzip adventure at Drakensberg Canopy Tour

Unzip adventure at Drakensberg Canopy Tour


Magoebaskloof Canopy Tour

Hanging on by the seat of your pants on the zipline

They lead you down the garden path through indigenous vegetation, and you’re supposed to relax and take in the tranquil surroundings. However, you’re more worried about tumbling downhill with the extra thousand kilos that have just been added to your weight. 

The first slide is supposed to lure you into a false sense of security. You hold on for dear life, tuck your legs in as you pass a rock pool in case a gaping mouth of a crocodile is ready to snap at you. Don’t be stupid, you say. There aren’t any crocodiles. I defy you to dive into that water to disprove me.

Was it that bad? Find out by clicking the button below.


7 Canopy Tours zip lines in South Africa

7 Canopy Tours zip lines in South Africa

It was time to gird up our loins and cover our hair with a cap that reminded me of those underpants you’re given when you go into theatre for an operation. Bad omen?

 
Canopy tour caution: In the pursuit of an adrenalin adventure you might also find breath-taking serenity, unparalleled peace, and previously unexplored exhilaration. This is your warning.
— Drakensberg Canopy Tour

Is that right? Let’s see:

  • Adrenaline – check

  • Adventure – check

  • Breath taking views – check

  • Serenity – not while zipping down but certainly during moments of waiting for the rest of your group to join you, reflecting on the magnificent surroundings.

  • Peace – that depends. Would you like to be stranded on your own while balancing on one of the platforms or would you be clinging to a tree for dear life? I think I’d happily perch on the platform for a while, at peace with my surroundings 

 

What to do and what not to do…

What to do and what not to do…

Back to experiencing our adventure activities.

We placed our safety helmets over that ‘flattering’ cap. This reminds me, here’s some useful information.

 

What to wear when you’re ziplining

  • Comfortable closed shoes like sneakers that don’t fall off easily. You will be walking to and from the zip line for a short distance.

  • Clothing suitable to be active in. Don’t wear your newest white t-shirt and matching pants, they could get covered in grease. I would suggest wearing long pants or at least shorts that reach the knees so the body harness does not chafe against your skin.

  • Warm clothing if it is cold or at least light layers.

  • A camera or cell phone that can be fastened or strapped in securely while you’re zip lining. You’re advised to remove anything loose from your pockets as they could fall out.



Walking down to the first platform

Walking down to the first platform

What to know before you zip line

  • Listen to the instructions given by your group leader and safety officer. Your safety is their concern and of paramount importance.

  • Sometimes the stops are abrupt and I would recommend you bend your elbows so your joints don’t get jolted too severely. (or maybe that is just for a Silver Flying Fox like me).

  • Try to avoid hitting the steps on the platforms after abrupt stops with your shins, like I did. The steps are there for you to climb onto so they can unclip you.

  • The walks to and from the zip lines are do-able, but the Drakensberg one is quite a steep climb. They certainly give your leg muscles a full workout.

  • Some of the slides are steep and it will be impossible for you to slow down on your own. Your safety officer will make sure you stop in time, by deploying a brake of sorts, with your assistance, so keep an eye on him. This is when you will be jolted quite severely.

 

Ready to go on the zip line

Ready to go on the zip line

Ziplining Drakensberg Canopy Tours

Ziplining Drakensberg Canopy Tours

Ziplining from the platform - an eco-adventure

Ziplining from the platform - an eco-adventure

What we experienced zip lining at the Drakensberg Canopy Tour

After kitting up and a quick briefing we left in a huge vehicle that bumped its way up one of the steep hills above the Blue Grotto Forest. We were dropped off at Dick Barry’s grave, a mountaineer who fell to his death. Another bad omen?

The short walk down to the first platform was steep but quite easy.

The Drakensberg Canopy Tour is situated below the towering Cathkin Peak and Champagne Castle. The platforms weave through an ancient indigenous forest and waterfalls. We could hear water, but the forest hid most of it from us. Nonetheless the beauty of the natural area will inspire you.

Our group leader was Sma who did an excellent job at securing us, clipping us onto the cable and telling us when to go. Kwazi was our safety officer who ensured that we didn’t make a huge splat against the rock or tree at the end of the slide. He would explain each slide as we reached them, clip himself in and call “See you on the other side!”

 

After the first few slides, we soon grasped the procedure and as much as you want to enjoy the scenery, the two hours or so pass by very quickly.

Did we have a surge of adrenaline and fun? Most certainly. Would I find peace and tranquillity there? I could easily spend some time on one of those platforms and gaze over the canopies, reflecting about life and nature’s beauty.

 

Kwazi waiting to assist me as I reach the platform

Kwazi waiting to assist me as I reach the platform

Our group leader, Sma and Safety office, Kwazi. Think they’re tired? We were!

Our group leader, Sma and Safety office, Kwazi. Think they’re tired? We were!

 

The difference between Magoebaskloof and Drakensberg

Magoebaskloof Canopy Tour situated over the Letaba River gorge has some stunning scenery with rock pools and mountain cliffs where most of the platforms are attached to. The slides seemed shorter because the cliff faces are closer, although there were a few long and steep ones over the canopy of the trees.

Drakensberg Canopy Tour has fantastic towering trees and some of the platforms are attached to them. On one occasion we could look through the gaps towards the base of the tree – except, it was impossible to see the bottom of the Blue Grotto Forest. Quite mind blowing.

Both have magnificent views and while we waited for the rest of our team to join us, we could admire the scenery. The sheer size of the gorge in the Drakensberg is quite astounding.

They both have suspension bridges as well, which adds a light touch to the excitement.

Which one would I recommend? That depends. Would you like to be tickled on the bum by leafy greens or grazed by a pumice stone? Only kidding! I’d go for both. 2 down, 5 to go…

 

As for other adventures in the Drakensberg, we never got to do the Scootour, so maybe that is for next time.

 

Flying Squirrel, enjoying his 60th birthday celebrations

A rather clumsy Flying…er… Roaming Fox!

 

Retreat to the Drakensberg Mountain

Our last night was spent at the Drakensberg Mountain Retreat and once again it didn’t disappoint. When we arrived, though, the spectacular panoramic view of the Drakensberg mountains were hidden by a humid haze. We took a short detour to show Karen the Kaalvoet Vroue Monument that we’d visited before. This time (maybe because it was summer) she didn’t have a blanket around her.

 
Proteas next to the path

Proteas next to the path

Proteas in the Drakensberg

Proteas in the Drakensberg

Valley below the escarpment at Drakensberg Mountain Retreat

Valley below the escarpment at Drakensberg Mountain Retreat

View from the edge of the escarpment Northern Drakensberg

View from the edge of the escarpment Northern Drakensberg

Valley below Drakensberg Mountain Retreat

Valley below Drakensberg Mountain Retreat

We had time for another short walk in the afternoon and even with the berg being hidden, we could still enjoy the breath-taking scenery.

Drakensberg in summer is so different to winter. The heat was oppressive and we were hoping for a thunder storm as that would have been quite a show to see from our vantage point. We managed to see a few strikes high in the sky, but it soon disappeared.

The following morning we had a brief glimpse of the mountains once again, before they hid themselves behind their veil. Just as well, because we had to head back home.

 

Magnificent panoramic view of a large portion of the Drakensberg

Apparently on a clear day you can see approximately 100 kilometres of the Drakensberg range from the Drakensberg Mountain Retreat

One of the horses roaming freely at Drakensberg Mountain Retreat wanting to join us for breakfast

One of the horses roaming freely at Drakensberg Mountain Retreat wanting to join us for breakfast

 

Is hiking your thing?

If you like hiking, here’s an article from South African Country life about 5 of the Best Drakensberg Hikes