Drakensberg Gardens Cottage 8-11 NOVEMBER 2016
Keith and Margaret Ashton, Marie Gurr, Nevil Walmsley, Christopher Dobson, Libby Deysel and two excited “newbies”Christa Gadd and Anna Kapp

Report by Rose Dix, photos & comment courtesy of Keith Ashton

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

Once again, Keith and Margaret opened up the cottage to we eager hikers who delight in exploring the superb areas surrounding the cottage.

TUESDAY – 9 KM - Cottage/Three Pools
Chris, Anna, Christa and I arrived earlyish on Tuesday morning to join Keith and Margaret in a warm-up hike over undulating (!) hills to the back of Three Pools, followed by a gentle walk back to the cottage, where we met up with Libby, Marie and Nevil. The gentleness of our return hike smartened up considerably by a flash hail storm with stones big enough to hurt, resulting in record breaking speed for the final kilometre.

Wednesday’s weather looked undecided, so Keith took us to Drak Gardens where we hiked on the Hotel grounds, starting off on their Mountain Bike Trail and then wandering off onto unmarked territory towards Chrystal Waters and then having lunch under some proteas before ending up on the Giants Cup Trail which took us back to Swiman Hut and finally to our cars parked a short distance away. We began our hike in cold gusty weather which chilled our bones and played havoc with our headgear...but as is the way of hikers, we revelled in the challenges, particularly that of retrieving Nevils very expensive cap.! To quote him “I bought the cap and they gave me the car”

An added bonus was having Philip Grant join us for an evening of chats and reminiscences of hikes shared over many years of togetherness.

Thursdays hike was the “cherry on top” – the ultimate in day hikes for many of us. Misty rain obscured our views but did not dampen our enthusiastic start which is a considerable huff-puff up to where we contour around with supposedly magnificent views of the Parks Board office and further, but our imagination had to suffice in this instance. Now and then we would catch tantalising glimpses of Rhino and the surrounding mountains. After a good long walk- off path - (my favourite way of hiking), we arrived at our destination. A valley filled with enormous stone edifices – but nothing worthwhile is attained without effort and effort indeed was thrown at us on the ascent of an almost vertical hill which drew a few expletives from the more vocal members. But we all summitted with the help of the handy tufts of long grass and our guardian angels. But as is the way of hiking, as soon as we reached the top, all was forgiven and forgotten. After a beautiful sojourn in the company of these magnificent rock edifices & a beautiful tarn which afforded reflections of upside-down hikers (see photos), we continued our walk along the top – nice and flat for a change. Thick mist soon enveloped us, but Keith is a superb leader and knew exactly where to take us which was,of course, a very long way away! And so we trudged, through soggy grasslands,back to the Beacon high above the cottage, where we checked out stones laid there previously , then had to make our way back along the edge of the ‘escarpment’ to find a suitable way down through the rockbands,which we had done easily in bright sunshine, but now extremely challenging in almost zero visibility.

So it was a very wet, very happy, bunch of hikers who returned to the welcoming warmth of the cottage for our well earned drinks and an early supper.

FRIDAY MORNING - 7 KM - River Walk on Lake Navarone land.
Pushing ones feet into muddy sodden boots isn't everyone's cup of tea, but we stoically did just that and set off for a pretty walk bordering the Mlambonja River which is usually crossed by a hop, skip and jump, but today was flowing far too strongly to invite our usual swim, altho we probably wouldn't have got much wetter than we already were !

Keith and Margaret – once again – thank you so much for giving us such a fabulous stayover. What a joy it was to share this beauty with Christa and Anna who were the starry-eyed newbies to this area and for us “oldies” the magic never lessens.

Please forgive this ending on a very personal note.......I have been fortunate to hike with Midlands for a long time, and Id like to say a deeply heartfelt thanks to everyone who has been so kind and supportive to me down the years. It meant more to me than I can say.

Rose Dix

1. Rhino Peak keeping a look-out
2. Rose's gaiters matching the watsonias
3. Hikers taking a short pose break before being ready to roll
4.On our way along the escarpment above Drakensberg Gardens Hotel
5. Rose, Nevil, Marie & Anna with Fairways down below
6. Libby, Chris & Christa looking a bit wind-swept but happy
7. Nevil looking for his cap which blew off in the high wind
8. Lovely cascading stream en-route
9. Natural baths en-route
10. Swiman Rock centre with Rhino top right
11. Lovely spot for some chit-chat

12. Further along escarpment with Swiman Rock & majestic Rhino top right & Mashai top left
13. Nevil & Christa sitting pretty & with Libby, Marie, Rose & Chris saying its a push-over
14. Christa with a bit of an overhang
15. Lovely watsonia pointing to Rhino Peak
16. Libby leading Marie, Anna, Rose & Christa astray

17. Lovely walking off the beaten track
18. Wild Anna looking a bit wildebeest
19. Wild Christa not wanting to be out-wildebeested
20. Christa astride a small stream feeding a lovely 2 metre deep pool
21. Time for a photo or two
22. What goes up must come down before it goes up again - still off the beaten track
23. Our ladies also being turned upside down in a lovely tarn
24. Chris doing his King Canute - but the tide does not come this high
25. Watsonias standing proud as the mist starts to roll in
26. Margaret leads a bit of a scramble
27. Its gear- on time as it gets colder & wetter
28. Still going strong off the beaten track in spite of the weather
29. Christa on her pedestal standing proud with yet another layer on
30. This is the life of hardened hikers - wet through in the mist but still cheerful
31. Making a soggy descent out of the mist

32. Another morning & looking forward to another wet walk
33. The Mhlambonja River - no we have not been in it but we might have well have been
34. A lone eland stares at us
35. The clouds look ominous today as just Margaret & I make our way towards 3-pools
36. A hanging food store for a jacky hangman
37. The beautiful Champagne Pool with the river pumping fast