From Lesotho we begun our journey back into South Africa and headed for the Drakensberg, my very first time in the region. Our route took us through the Golden Gate Highlands National Park which is found in Free State, just 20km east of Clarens. It’s an incredible area of undulating rocks and winding roads, the perfect introduction to the next stage of our road trip.
During our time in the Northern Drakensberg, we were fortunate enough to stay at Montusi Mountain Lodge, a perfect mid point between Golden Gate and the Amphitheatre. Montusi is best described as a cluster of lodges situated alone amongst hectares and hectares of open land. In fact, from our patio where we sat drinking our morning coffee, there wasn’t another building in sight. I woke early the following day and took a hike up the hill behind Montusi to watch the sun rise over the Drakensberg. It truly is one of the most vast and humbling landscapes I’ve witnessed.
Highlights of the Northern Drakensberg:
- Highland Coffee Roastery, Clarens
As you guys know, I will travel far and wide for coffee and so I was pleasantly surprised to find a small town in Free State providing some pretty decent coffee! They even have their own small in-store roastery where they had just begun roasting as we left. It’s a charming, local café and I’d definitely recommend stopping by and getting an areopress if you can.
- Golden Gate National Park
Golden Gate was actually a pure accident. We just happened to be driving through from Lesotho but we ended up watching the sunset over the valley here. There’s a small entrance fee but it’s well worth it. The views are spectacular. Watch out for baboons and deer when driving at night.
The Amphitheatre is just as impressive and overwhelming as we expected. If we had more time in the Drakensberg, I would have definitely conquered one of the long hikes as I think you can really only appreciate the sheer size of the mountain when you’re climbing it. That said, you get a pretty amazing view from the Gorge. Be sure to check what time the park closes if you are going for sunset – it changes throughout the year but I believe it’s around 6pm now (May 2017). The Amphitheatre is located within the Royal Natal National Park and has a number of amazing hikes available, including hikes to Tugela Falls as well as the Mont-aux-Sources summit which is said to take at least 5 hours. I’d love to come back to the area and do some of these day hikes but this time we settled for a pour-over at the base.
- Fly Fishing at Montusi
As well as horse-riding, hiking and running trails, Montusi lodge offers two dams where you can go fly-fishing. I can’t say I’m an avid fisher but we had the best morning down by the lake. It’s super peaceful and was such a perfect way to spend the morning. Next time, I’m determined to actually catch something though.
- Winterton Town
On the banks of Tugela River you can find Winterton, a small town in KwaZulu-Natal but in fact the largest town we found since leaving Clarens. It’s such a beautiful little village and although I wouldn’t drive hours out of your way to visit, if you are passing through I would definitely recommend stopping off and exploring. Winterton is not only the entry point for well known hikes such as Cathedral Peak, it’s home to a number of quaint antique shops and little places to eat.
After a short early morning run through the valley, we left the Drakensberg for Maritzburg and then onto our last stop of the trip, Durban. I feel like there is still so much left to see here, which gives me the perfect excuse to return again soon.