Leader Brian Henwood
Report and photos by Alistair Nixon
[CLICK ON PHOTOS TO VIEW FULLSIZE - or view pics in accompanying SIMPLEVIEWER Presentation]
The drive through Boston, Bulwer and Underberg is exhilarating with beautiful views across KZN. Underberg is an excellent stop to stock up on forgotten or last minute purchases. I recommend the Spar.
Just before Himeville is the turnoff to Cobham, a dirt road, but not too challenging. Cobham offers either camping or communal cottage facilities (Pholela Hut). The fee difference is minimal (camping R45, hut R80). The cottage comprises 4 rooms sleeping approximately 10 in each in bunk formation with mattresses. The cottage is currently undergoing renovation which limited the total ablution facilities to one toilet and two showers. There is also a kitchen.
Saturday’s walk (approximately 15km) began punctually at 8.30 with an introduction of all the hikers. As many of us know remembering names can be quite challenging but one of the most commonly asked questions on any walk is “Sorry, what is your name again?” It seems to break the ice.
The walk follows the path of the second day of the Giants Cup trail. Far in the distance is the main southern Drakensberg escarpment with the Giant’s Cup making its own statement. The bridge over the river is also being reconstructed. The path up to the first break of the morning is a gentle climb through vast open fields of winter-dry grass. Despite the harshness of the environment wild flowers such as everlastings and watsonias had sensed spring was around the corner and were adding their dash of colour to the walk. There is also the curiosity of the “Rock Garden” so regular in its arrangement that it looks almost landscaped. A small herd of Eland appeared in the distance. It was remarked by a fellow walker that not long ago the herds were as large as 300 in some cases.
Pic 2 - Start bridge
Pic 3 - Gentle climb
Pic 4 - Rock garden
Pic 5 - Eland
Pic 6 - Everlastings
Pic 7 - Everlastings
It was forecast that we were due to have rain. To be precise at 11am. It arrived 10 minutes early much to the amusement of everybody. We accumulatively counted about 100 drops before the sun shone again giving us a very pleasant window of sunshine to our lunch spot the iNgenwa pools on the Gxalingenwa river. The descent is challenging but carefully negotiated is rewarded with a crystal clear, very cold pool ideal to splash your toes. A few souls braved the water and swam. The writer declined a swim as someone had to be on lifeguard duty!
Pic 8 - Take the gap
Pic 9 - iNgenwa pools
Pic 10 - iNgenwa pools
Pic 11 - Climb out
From the higher vantage points one looks down onto Sani Pass Hotel and the road leading up to the pass.
Unfortunately as the weatherman had predicted the cold front was arriving. Although the mist was becoming thicker we were able to take an alternative return route via the Troutbeck valley. Even with the views being obscured the mist created its own beauty and atmosphere. The mist certainly emphasised how hikers have to be prepared for fast changing weather and temperature in the Berg. Both Brian and Dave have considerable experience in these situations so we were all able to relax and enjoy the new landscape.
After a very pleasant 6 hours we could see Cobham in the valley below and the prospect of a warm shower.
By the time we had arrived the mist had turned to a gentle drizzle. Fortunately Pholela hut has a small covered structure where we were able to have an evening braai. It was challenging as it was very cold (probably 1 or 20c) and the wind and rain made it even more difficult to find a sheltered spot.
Pic 12 - Sani Pass Hotel
Pic 13 - Mist
Pic 14 - Mist
Pic 15 - Mist
Pic 16 - Pholela Hut
Sunday was unfortunately cold and wet and it was decided to abandon any thought of a walk up the other valleys and so the weekend came to an end.
With a few hours to spare we decided to go via Himeville and were rewarded with an informative visit to the local museum. It is an award winning museum which gives an excellent background to the early days of the area. It was originally a fort, converted into a prison and into today’s museum. Why was Hodgson Peak so named? They have the answer.
The oak trees that line the road between Himeville and Underberg have their own history. They were planted by a number of contributors as a reconciliatory gesture between the two villages who historically did not always see “eye to eye”.
There is still much more to explore in Cobham and I for one certainly will be going back.