MHC/MBP uMkhomazi
McKenzie s Cave
uMkhomazi Wildlife
Southern Drakensberg
7-8 March 2015

Report and photos by Dave Sclanders

[CLICK ON PHOTOS TO VIEW FULLSIZE - or view pics in accompanying SIMPLEVIEWER Presentation]

Eight of us met at the uMkhomazi office at 08h30 on Saturday morning to take the long steep uphill climb to McKenzie s cave for the week end. The reason for the late start was that the weather forecast had shown drizzle from about 11hoo onwards, so whether we rushed or not we would get wet. The morning remained cool, overcast with a few light drops of rain, ideal walking conditions. A patch of bright purple pampas grass stood out against the browning grasses of the berg side. McKenzie s cave is on the other side of the highest ride in the area, so it is a long uphill trek that never seems to end, and worse still, getting steeper towards the end. On the way, a large herd of eland were seen in the distance. The scenery of the surrounding area is very picturesque, if one takes time to rest and enjoy the view.

Pic  3 - part of a large herd of eland
Pic  4  10 - going up ???? !!!!

As the weather had started to look more threatening as we climbed, we decided not to have lunch on the way up, but to push through up and over the ridge, straight down to the cave in the next valley. On reaching the top, a rest break was needed, now we could see southwards for as far as one could see. The rain clouds had lifted, and to our right the high berg points of Lotheni were clearly visible  Reddie Peak, The Tent and The Hawk.

Pic  11 - great views of the Southern Berg area.

We now headed off down to the cave.( On the 25 January 2004, I had hiked this same route, and as we dropped down to the valley bottom , had stood on , and disturbed a rather large Cobra. I was wondering if the Cobra was a territorial animal, and MIGHT???? still be around. When we got to the area of my last year s incident, I walked carefully looking into the grass, suddenly Tish gave a gasp , and when I looked around at her, she said a large cobra had reared up out of the grass not far from her. Advanced towards her with its hood open, then dropped down into the grass and disappeared. Maybe they are territorial?

Pic  12 - My 2004 Cobra encounter .

On arriving at the cave, sleeping places were sorted out, water fetched, tea made, and a little later we set off to explore the area.

Pic - 13 - 14

It must be explained that the McKenzie s cave is situated on a very high , steep sided ridge. All around are incredible views looking into the valleys far below, great, sharp steep cliffs race their way to the flat valley far below. The Lotheni road snakes and winds its way round the base of the cliff  run outs , on its way to Lotheni , Vergeleegen and ultimately to Sani Pass. To the west, Lotheni Nature Reserve is the main valley into which we are looking into, with the high Lotheni range behind. From our vantage point we could see the heavy rain sheets beating down on the Lotheni area, moving towards us, then retreating back into the high mountains. So we were blessed with great views, and a promise of a great afternoon.

Pics  15  24 - Views from around the cliff tops.
Pic  25 - The Old protea , past his prime

We took the long way round, and finally made it back to the cave for afternoon tea, and little bit of Sunbathing at the cave entrance. Later we enjoyed a very tranquil sundown time

Pic  26  back home
Pic  27   Catch a mountain tan!
Pic  28 - Quiet mountain late afternoon.

Later , the rain did come, and with it an amazing wind which dried the grass so well, that by morning there was not enough moister in the grass to even dampen our boots.

If you snooze you loose. Early morning rise is a must if one wants to enjoy the sunrise from a vantage point above the cave

Pics  29  33  Sunrise
Pic  33  first hill to catch the sun.
( see Newsletter 46 , dated 20 January 2008. Another great sunrise from the same area)

After breakfast we headed east for a while to get more great views and angles of the high places, then took the path down home wards.

Pics  34  37 High and far away.

Now it was time to drop our altitude  all the climbing we had done yesterday , would be reversed, and sometime you ask yourself,  did I really come up here yesterday?

Pic  38  did we come up here yesterday.

We had a bit of time to stop at the waterfall. This great waterfall is quite spectacular when running high after a good rain, but was a bit low this time round.

Pic  39 - careful if you are a bit allergic to straight drops
Pic  40 - O K , that s quite steep !
Pic - 41 - On the edge
Pic  42 - O K , if I lie down I can get a better picture of the waterfall.
Pic  43 - Then carry on down till finally we reached the cars.

The wek end turned out to be great, the weather was kind to us, the views were incredible, and the mountains were still full of magnificent colour. There was plenty of time to enjoy the whole experience at a leisurely pace. So often we rush , to rush down, and all we can say is  we were there !

Autumn is now, April and May are our best hiking times for the berg. Not too cold, still plenty of water around, and the autumn colour changes can be spectacular. NOW is the time to leave the TV, leave the cricket  watch that on the fast replay, leave the rugby and whatever else excuse you may have, and go out and enjoy this special time of the year.