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Berg and Beach Tour

A Combination of Drakensberg Hikes and Wild Coast hikes in South Africa

Golden Gate, Drakensberg, South Africa

Join us for a journey through the majestic Drakensberg Mountains, the most visual of which extend from The Sentinel to the north and ranging far southwards to Bushman's Neck. This range forms a natural, soaring boundary between Kwazulu Natal and the mountain Kingdom of Lesotho.

During this journey you will experience the magnificent, rugged beauty of the "Dragon Mountains" and learn the fascinating history and folklore of the area.

Ukhahlamba, which means "The Barrier of Spears" in Zulu, is home to a number of endemic flora and flora as well as reminders of the past in Bushman paintings and relics of warring tribes of the past.

Our venture continues to another of Africa's gems, through the green rolling hills to the splendour and unsurpassed natural beauty of The Wild Coast, which is the home of the friendly Xhosa nation.

This coast is famous for its rugged topography, unspoiled beaches and the unpredictability of the regions weather, hence its name.

Here the blue Indian Ocean crashes against stark rocky shores and headlands that tower out of the sea like cathedrals.

Rivers born in the Drakensberg flow to this coast through dramatic gorges and valleys with forested waterfalls, two of which fall meters off cliffs directly into the sea.

The Northern Berg

What to expect: Our adventure starts at Golden Gate Highlands Park, nestled in the Maluti Mountains. Dramatic sandstone cliffs, a diverse range of plants and wildlife make this a visually stunning part of the North-Eastern Free State.

Northern Drakensberg hiking

An early start gets us to the starting point at the Sentinel above Witsieshoek where a challenging 14km hike begins; we summit the Amphitheatre via the famous chain ladders or the optional Kloof Gully.

The panoramic view from the plateau towards the Natal lowlands is stunning and the beginnings of the mighty Tugela River plummeting 948m into the gorge below is an indelible sight.

From the plateau you can see Beacon Buttress to the north and Devils Tooth and Eastern Buttress to the south.

After the days exhilarating walk we return to Golden Gate Park to overnight. We start on a morning hike in the Tugela Gorge which is an easy 13 km walk up the valley towards the vastly impressive wall of the Amphitheatre.

The path follows the Tugela River through grasslands and woodlands until the Tugela Gorge proper is reached, here the steep rock walls and sandstone cliffs tower above you before you reach the picnic spot. Further ahead the Tugela River flows from a narrow topped, tunnel-like gorge, which when water levels are normal can be entered.

Highlights: Tugela Falls (948m), stunning vistas, view of Amphitheatre face, chain ladder.

Hiking time:
Amphitheatre plateau - 8 hours.
Tugela Gorge - 7 hours.

The Central Berg

What to expect: The Cathedral Peak area is a world of high mountains, massive rock buttresses, towering crags and pinnacles, deep clefts and valleys. From the sundial at Cathedral Peak Hotel we start an easy 5km hike to Mushroom Rock. You can go through the hole in the mushroom and it is a place to pose for a rare photo.

The Rainbow Gorge hike has been described as quite exceptional in its entirety. It is a 15km adventure through forest, grasslands, water and a stunning gorge which narrows towards the end and supports the renowned "chock-stone," jammed between the high walls of the gorge.

Hiking the Drakensberg in winter

We conclude the exploration of this area with an easy 7km walk to Ribbon Falls that has sections requiring a scramble over rocks, and a ladder, they say that was designed for a giant.

Highlights: High, souring peaks (Inner Horn, Outer Horn, the Bell and Cathedral Peak), Ribbon waterfall and amazing rock formations.

Hiking time:
Mushroom Rock - 3 hours.
Rainbow Gorge - 6 hours.

Southern Berg

What to expect: Bushman's Nek is the southernmost outpost of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park and there is plenty of scope for easy walking trails around the area, there are a number of caves with Bushman paintings that can be viewed.

The Hidden Valley hike is a fascinating, go-where-you-like sort of walk, which winds around grassy ridges and through a conglomeration of boulders along the Giants Cup trail into the Hidden Valley. The conventional there and back route is easy to follow but adventurous hikers can create their own trail variations. The main trail joins the Mzimude stream which you will need to re-cross several times at spots of your choosing along the trail.

Highlights:

Bushman paintings, bird watching, Optional trip up Sani Pass.

Hiking time: 5 hours.

The Wild Coast

Pondoland and Mkambati Nature Reserve

What to expect: We leave the southern Drakensberg and meander through the space-less expanses of Nomansland and rolling hills of the Eastern Cape to the Wild Coast and our base at an Eco friendly lodge located above the Msikaba River in Pondoland, bordering the Mkambati Nature Reserve.

Hike to Wild Coast waterfalls Wild Coast watrefall flowing directly into the ocean

This area is magically spellbinding in its profound diversity of soaring pinnacle-like rock structures, densely forested valleys, gorges and cliffs, with waterfalls that fall mistily into the sea.

The locality is home to a breeding colony of the threatened Cape Vulture and the endemic Pondo Coconut (Mkambati palm) occurs on the rocky cliffs of the Msikaba River.

From this base we explore the waterfall route which begins at Magwa Falls that plummets 146m into a narrow gorge, we visit Frasers Falls, Visitors, Little Falls and Picnic Falls which are all reached with hikes along the Goso Fault which runs east towards the coastline.

The Mkambati Nature reserve consists mainly of open coastal grasslands mixed with wetlands and is flanked on either side by the densely bushed Msikaba and Mtentu Rivers. This reserve is home to herds of herbivores such as eland, blue wildebeest, zebra and blesbok and carnivores like lynxes, jackals and elusive leopards have been sighted.

A number of waterfalls occur within the reserve, the most popular and scenic being the Mkambati Falls, Strandloper Falls, Horseshoe Falls, Misty Falls and Swallow Tail Falls.

A visit to a natural amphitheatre called The Super Bowl is fascinating as the dense forest within is an ideal habitat for shy forest animals.

Highlights: Cape Vulture breeding colony, Waterfall Bluff, Cathedral Rock.

Hiking time: Several day walks the longest being 16 km.

Port St John's and Mpande

What to expect: From Pondoland we travel over the mighty Umzimvubu River (the only remaining wild river in southern Africa, as it has no dam wall restricting its flow) to the magical little town of Port St John's.

This picturesque settlement is settled at the mouth of the Umzimvubu River and is reached by travelling through "The Gates", which are formed by dramatic cliffs between Mts Thesiger and Sullivan.

Cathedral rock, Wild Coast, South Africa

The densely forested areas around Port St John's are a day hikers paradise with routes leading to stunning elevated points which allow views for kilometres around, enchanting forest hikes and many shoreline paths to explore. The Bololo Falls is an hour's hike from the idyllic Second Beach, The Gap and Blowhole.

It has been said that the view from Mt Thesiger of the Umzimvubu River mouth is unsurpassed on a good day.

After absorbing the charm of Port St John's we travel south through the round topped hills common to this region, and past rural communities to Twseleni and the coastal village of Mpande. Located between the Mpande and Sinangwana Rivers this sleepy hamlet offers an unsurpassed view of the unspoiled coastline and beaches of this stunning stretch of Wild Coast.

A 5km walk takes you to forested Mpande Waterfall and the return trip along the river is a birdwatcher and naturalists paradise.

Mpande is a place of pristine natural beauty and traditional Xhosa life, it is a place to mingle with the locals, experience traditional meals or visit a Sangoma (traditional healer). The shoreline offers superb snorkelling in protected pools and lagoons and the scope for photography is limitless.

Highlights: Eagles Nest, The Gates, Second Beach, The Gap, The Blowhole, view from Mt Thesiger and a multicultural town experience. Traditional, rural village life, traditional healer, amazing seascapes.

Hiking time:
Various short scenic hikes of about 3-4 hours.

Duration of berg and beach tour: 9 days to 14 days. We can custom tailor the tour to fit your needs.

Know Before You Go

What to pack: Hiking boots with ankle support, a decent daypack, a hat, spare socks, a warm top and waterproof windbreaker (or poncho), sunscreen and camera.

A small first aid kit containing plasters, bandages, gauze, Savlon, painkillers, Deep Heat, eye-drops, mercurochrome and gentian violet.

Your accommodation: Secluded rustic log cabins and Eco-friendly cottages offering safe comfortable accommodation in peaceful scenic surroundings. Guests can enjoy excellent facilities, and warming fireplaces to ensure a memorable and perfect break.

Meals: English breakfast, packed lunch and three course evening meal. Seafood platters, crayfish and barbecue evenings.

When to go: All year round, every season has its own special charm and beauty.

Field Guides Association of Southern Africa
© 2009 - 2011 Drakensberg Ventures

Nico Els is a FGASA Certified Guide with many years experience guiding in the Drakensberg and Wild Coast.

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