Aasvöelskranz Cave
Highmoor Nature Reserve
Central Drakensberg
uKhahlamba World Heritage Site
16-17 March 2013

Report & photos courtesy of Dave Sclanders

Highmoor Nature Reserve in the Central Drakensberg offers a very different hiking experience, whether a day walk or a week end cave hike. Highmoor is on the top of the Lower Berg , with rolling valleys that belie the easy nature of the possible walk , and one looks down on great valleys, either into the lower farming areas, and then across the valleys to the high berg massive of the Drakensberg Escarpment, predominantly ranging from Giant’s Castle to Monk’s Cowl and Cathkin Peak.

Our hike was to the nearby Aasvöelskranz Cave , a large cave situated alongside a pleasant waterfall that fell into a large pool at the bottom of the cave. The weather forecast was for a wettish, overcast, cool weekend, however there were enough options to entice 7 of us to venture to the berg for the week end.

The final leg of the road leading up to the Highmoor office and car park climbs a steep valley with fascinating sandstone cliff faces and steep valleys. Once we had booked in , we left for the cave, but did a little detour to a little viewed , beautiful gorge and waterfall not far from the beaten path. The stream starts up in the marshy areas above the main path, and then plunges down a waterfall into the steep sided and deeply eroded gorge, before heading downward into the valley that we had just driven up.

Pic 3 - Rock and tree, close partners on the road upwards to the office
Pic 4 – Crossing the stream that courses the mini gorge
Pic 5 - Waterfall and pool
Pic 6 – Wonderful view point of the waterfall
Pic 7 - A great place to sit and look down into the gorge.

After checking the waterfall, we set off for the cave. This is an easy walk with good views of the high berg, fishing dams, and valleys that lead away from the Highmoor plateau.

Pic 8 – One of the trout dams , with the Giant’s Castle massive in the background.
Pic 9 – The Valley slopes are so steep here, even the stream runs on it’s side
Pic 10 – A burst of yellow flowers below the path
Pic 11 - The meandering stream with its rock stream bed, and ever steepening valley slopes

Before we dropped down the steep path to the cave in the valley floor, we took time to view the high berg to our West, and the farmlands far below to our south East.

Pic 12 Champagne Castle, Monk’s Cowl , Cathkin Peak , and Sterkhorn far away to the West
Pic 13 - Farm lands far below
Pic 14 – 15 - Steep drop into the cave
Pic 16 - In the cave

The waterfall, which can be very noisy when the stream is running strongly , seems to drop through the roof onto a rock shelf, the a second drop into the clear pool below. On a hot day, this pool offers a great way to cool off, and spend a very pleasant day relaxing on the surrounding hot rocks. However, with our present cool weather , it did not seem the place to be at this time.

Pic 17 – 18 The waterfall plunging down into the pool in 2 drops

Unpacking, and lunch was first priority before we headed of to explore for the afternoon. One of our couples had brought their new tent with, and despite being in a huge cave, were determined to sleep in it. With a few tries and re- alignment of poles etc, they got it sorted. Then, we packed our light packs with rain gear as the weather had started to build up , and headed out.

Pic 19 - Putting the tent up
Pic 20 – Looks good from a distance
Pic 21 - leaving the cave to cross by the pool
Pic 22 - Rock crossing of the stream
Pic 23 - The climb out of the valley did not look so steep from the cave

Once we had reached the top of the ridge, the thunder and lightning were growing in intensity, and rain could be seen coming in from the berg, so we decided not to head for Mt Lebanon as was out intention , but to have a quick look around, and head back down to the cave.

Pic 24 – On the Rocky ridge, not a good place in a lightning storm
Pic 25 – A rocky pool and sky reflection ,it only has water in during the rains
Pic 26 - Flowers seem to grow out of, and blend in with the rocks
Pic 27 - Tadpoles in the pool , where did they come from ?

After some more tea, the rain seemed to have eased off, we headed out along the rock band to see what was around the corner. These cliffs were once the home of the Bushmen , so who knows what lies around the corner, through the thick grass and undergrowth.

Pic 28 - Carefull where you walk , it’s a long way down.
Pic 29 - Very dusty rock art
Pic 30 - A very interesting trance figure

Back at the cave, a closer encounter with the water splashing onto the rocks before dropping into the pool below, and from the depths of pool , a “mountain water nymph” emerges below the waterfall. Meanwhile from high up in the rock band above the cave , a “grizzled – somewhat familiar face” stares down the valley

Pic 31 - Water feature
Pic 32 - “Mountain Water Nymph” emerges from the depths.
Pic 33 - Who’s face is eroded in the rocks above ????

The new morning broke clear and cool. Far down the valley, the farm dams glistened in the morning sun. After breakfast, the first order of the day was to climb back up to the top of the valley, and head off in a westerly direction to our next area to explore . Again , we dropped into another valley and followed overgrown paths , and in places , no paths

Pic 34 - Dams below that feed the farmlands
Pic 35 - THE Climb
Pic 36 – Giants Castle on its bed of clouds
Pic 37 - From here, it’s all the way down into the next valley
Pic 38 - 41 - amazing art from a long bygone era.

We climbed back up the valley wall, to where we had left our packs, had lunch while we watched a storm building again in the distance. We could see the dark veils of rain as the rain clouds seemed to sweep towards us. So, with backpacks on , a swift pace was set , and we pushed on to the cars. Looking back from time to time, kit seemed as if we were keeping pace with the rain clouds, just keeping ahead of them.

Back at the cars, all dry and sweaty, and still ahead of the rain, but by now the temperature had dropped considerably so we were happy that we would not be caught out by the inclimenting weather. A change of clothes, and soon we were homeward bound. Going down the road , a tall TOTEM POLE like, rock figure balanced out of the rock.

Pic 42 - Getting ready to race the storm home
Pic 43 - Safely back at the cars
Pic 44 - Rock Totem Pole figure

To my fellow hikers, thanks for the week end, great to hike with you. Special thanks to the new hikers, you guys did very well indeed, and I hope to hike with you again in the future