16-17 JAN 2016

Report and photos by hike leader Keith Ashton

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

As I indicated on the hiking fixtures Mkhomazi is one of the least visited areas in the Drakensberg, but it has a lot to offer & is ideal for exploring, with beautiful views & fantastic rock formations in the surrounding areas of McKenzies Caves. Although it is only about 80 km from Howick & not much further from Pietermaritzburg, maybe the last 20 km of gravel road puts people off travelling there or maybe less people know about it.

However we are always very happy to visit there & this weekend 8 of our hardy hikers met at Mkhomazi office by 08h00 on Sat morning & were warmly greeted by Mica (the Officer in Charge). In my experience Mica is one of the best, most caring & cheerful O.I.C. you will ever meet - he is passionate about his job & does regular patrols. In our group of experienced backpackers were Steve & Lynda Verreynne, Margret Kirsten, Kevin Knox Davies, Alan Etchells & son Michael & Margaret & Keith Ashton.

It was pouring down with rain when we arrived at the office but luckily the forecast was reasonably good & after signing the Mountain Register the forecast proved to be correct & the rain stopped as we started our continuous climb of over 600 metres in reasonable cool & perfect hiking conditions.

The route up crosses a few streams which were not flowing strongly due to the drought but this made them easy to cross & the water was still exceptionally good to drink as sweat gathered on our bodies as we climbed with fantastic views all around, passing close by a puff adder & a bit later a mountain reedbuck.

One of our ladies took a bit of strain on the stiff climb with a heavy backpack, but no problem we had plenty of time to take in the scenery & as we got higher we were able to see Cape vultures nesting in cavities on sheer rock faces. After more climbing we eventually reached the area of the old repeater station, now all that is left is a pile of rocks but this is a welcome landmark as it is all downhill from here towards the caves. We kept a wary eye open for the resident rinkhals which is often seen on the route down to the cave but this time there was no sign of it in the wet grass.

We were using the larger cave with much more space & plenty of room for just 8 of us.

1. On our way up - track overgrown
2. Margret K feeling the strain of this climb with full backpack
3. All that is left of an old repeater station
4. Taking a breather after a still climb of over 600 m.
5. Just after arrival at McKenzies Cave
6. Busy preparations in the cave

After settling in & having lunch we had to find water for the rest of the day & night, the nearest stream being in a valley less than 200 metres from the cave but the stream was hardly flowing so we had to collect from a small pool. In the afternoon we did some extensive exploring of the fantastic rock formations, hidden caves & deep gorges & will let the attached photos tell this story.

7. First priority getting water for the day & night - quite scarce
8. Returning to cave with water- note only a trickle in stream
9. After lunch on our way exploring - see cave in distance
10. More water in this stream further from McKenzies - & another cave to explore
11. A stiff climb to another un-named cave
12. What goes up must come down
13. If you slip shout I resign - we don't want any deaths in the club
14. Spectacular rocky terrain
15. Spot the hiker (Steve)
16. There's Steve with the upside down keyhole
17. Face Rock

18. Quick get past before the rock falls
19. Lynda & Margaret showing how big is balancing rock
20. Steve saying how do I get out of here
21. McKenzies Cave from the spy-hole next door
22. All settled back in the cave
23. Feet first
24. Margret K. saying I am not stuck up

Thick mist descended on us in the late afternoon & evening & was even worse on Sunday morning, so after breakfast & packing up most of our stuff we decided to visit the cave in the next valley, leaving our main gear in our cave (I had intended to lead the group on a circular route on the way back to view other great rock features but we would have seen nothing in the mist). The long grass was sodden as we made our way to the next valley, gorge & cave - again I will leave the photos to illustrate the area.

As we arrived back at our main cave still in thick mist someone from above, descending out of the mist, shouted down to me - It was Mica (O.I.C.) & he & a colleague had travelled up from the office on horseback to check if we were OK in the thick mist as he said he had phoned me on my cell several times but got no answer. I explained that I put my cell on charge early Sat morning to make sure it was fully charged, then after loading all our gear into our vehicle, I had a senior moment & left without it. The two horses were waiting obediently outside our cave & I thanked Mica & his colleague for their caring attitude but said we were all fine & no problems as I knew the area well - we waved good-bye to them as they rode away & disappeared into the mist.

Then it was our turn to make our way back, first up the hill in thick mist, wet grass & no discernable track in this area, but knowing the direction we reached the top of the shallow nek & could just see the vague outline of what was left of the old repeater station rocks. It was downhill from here & as we descended we eventually came out of the mist. Further down there are a couple of streams to refill water bottles & at another stream there are bare flattish rocks which is a good place to rest & have lunch or some snacks. After lunch, at this spot there is a detour which can be made to find some Bushmans paintings, if you know where to locate them, as you need to make a rock-strewn steep descent below a rock overhang - of course we did visit this spot as a couple of the photos show.

25. Exploring the cave in the next valley on Sunday
26. Making our way back to McKenzies main cave
27. Mica (O.I.C. Mkhomazi) on patrol in the mist
28. Of course we know where we are
29. Making our way back down on Sunday morning
30. Still going down
31. And further down
32. Heading down to the stream for fresh water
33. Lovely fresh & cool water

34. Cape Vultures on cliff face
35. Still more downhill
36. The large white inkflower (Harveya speciosa)
37. Some of the Bushmans paintings in a hidden gorge
38. A few more of the paintings
39. The hidden overhang site of the paintings

We then returned to the office where Mica was there to greet us & after completing the mountain register we were on our way home after another great weekend outdoors. Thanks to all our participants for your pleasant company & comradeship.

Good hiking