1-4 March 2016

Report and photos courtesy of Keith Ashton
[CLICK ON PHOTOS TO VIEW FULLSIZE - or view pics in accompanying SIMPLEVIEWER Presentation]


As usual we had a full complement of 10 hikers, namely, Rose, Jenny, Stella & Harry, Marie & Nevil, Andy & Marlise & Margaret & Keith (all seasoned hikers). Margaret & I were staying for 7 nights as usual & all the other hikers were here for the 3 nights.

After everyone arrived during Tuesday & spent an enjoyable social evening with good food & plenty of drinks plus a good nights sleep we were off on our first Hike just after 08h00 on Wednesday & as all were seasoned hikers I decided to do an unusual mostly off the beaten track hike with a considerable amount of steep roughish climbing - but a really beautiful route.

The first part is relatively easy walking through Lake Naverone land adjacent to the Thukelana River & then continuing into KZN Wildlife areas where the river is crossed & the steep long "off the beaten track" climb begins until we reached our highest point of the day at about 2000 m at a cairn I had previously built on earlier explorations to mark the start of our rough route down from an escarpment to the upper reaches of the Mzimkhulu River far below. Once down at the river it was cooling off time in the water & lunch time in a beautiful pristine area with magnificent views all around.

After lunch we located & followed the overgrown track in the reverse the direction back towards the cottage (this track leads to Mzimkhulu Cave, Fun Cave & Verkyker Cave, then further on to the Lesotho border escarpment via Mzimkhulu or Verkyker passes.)

On our way back to the cottage we divert again away from any tracks & onto an "off beaten track route" eventually crossing the Thukelana & Mlambonja rivers, with then only 2km back to the cottage for hot showers, socialising & well earned food & drinks. This day we did 14 km & climbed over 400 metres of rough terrain so earned a good nights sleep.

On our second day hike (on Thursday) again started directly from the cottage climbing up to & through the back fence for another off the beaten track route, gradually climbing for magnificent views of Garden Castle poking its head through the mist but with Rhino Peak in clear blue skies except for a few higher "cotton wool" clouds.. However our destination was a couple of caves with very good Bushman's Painting, namely Bushman Rock 1 & Bushman Rock 2 as well as several crystal clear streams, waterfalls & pools. I am keeping this write-up short & will let the photos tell the story, but must mention that we had a very enjoyable braai on Thursday evening to round off the day.

Some of our group had to leave during Friday morning but the rest of us did a very enjoyable walk meandering walk along the Mlambonja River before it joins the Mzimkhulu River & back at the cottage Margaret served up her usual waffles to accompany lunch.

Thanks to all our participants for your friendly company & comradeship

Keith & Margaret

1. Start of 1st full day hike & yes we have to climb up & over this
2. First stream crossing for our group
3. Start of the steep climb
4. Onwards up & further up
5. The route is off the beaten track but beautiful
6. 1st rest to stop the heavy breathing
7. Still more climbing
8. Getting quite a sweat on now
9. Taking another rest to enjoy the views
10. Insects spotted on a flower enjoying the nectar

11. Margaret & our cairn looking towards Eagle Rock & Hodgsons Peaks
12. A telephoto of Minaret from our cairn
13. Our route down from our cairn to the Mzimkhulu River
14. On our way down to the Mzimkhulu River
15. Then further down still
16. Rose taking a welcome cool-off in the river
17. Time for lunch & cooling-off in the upper reaches of the river
18. Lovely view across the dam on Castle View Farm land
19. Making our way back to the cottage
20. Still on our way back
21. Our last river crossing about 2 km from the cottage.

22. Start of our 2nd full day hike - off the beaten track again
23. Looking back to Garden Castle poking its head through the mist
24. Still off the beaten track looking at the escarpment with the RHINO prominent
25. Still no tracks here heading towards Bushmans Rocks 1 & 2
26. Dropping down to the stream before heading to the caves
27. Still snaking down to the stream
28. Taking a break in the first Cave - Bushman Rock 1
29. Andy having a rest in the second Cave - Bushman Rock 2
30. Nevil & Marie looking happy having lunch in Bushman Rock 2
31. Making our way back down the valley from Bushman Rock 2

32. The 4 ladies shaking a leg in the bath-tub above the pool
33. The pool & waterfall not far from Bushman Rock 1
34. Descending to the three pools area
35. Stella cooling off in one of the 3 pools (Champagne Pool)
36. Champagne cascading onto Stella
37. Margaret taking the plunge into Champagne Pool

38. Swiman Rock (foreground) & the Rhino standing proud
39. Eagle Rock (centre) & Hodgsons Peaks in the background
40. Lovely small waterfall en-route to Hidden Valley
41. A resting butterfly
42. More waterfalls en-route to Hidden Valley
43. The junction of Thukelana & Mlambonja Rivers - about 2km from cottage
44. Lovely Eulophia
45. The same Eulophia with insects inside
46. Margaret having another cool-off in the Mlambonja River