DRAKENSBERG GARDENS - COTTAGE - 3-NIGHTS - MID WEEK - 28-31 MARCH 2017 - Leader Keith Ashton

Report and photos by Keith Ashton

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

DAY 1. About 10 km. As usual we had a full complement of 10 hikers - However only the early birds who arrived before 08h30 joined our first hike, these being Steve & Lynda, Margret K, Margaret Robberts, Margaret & Keith.

We hiked directly from the cottage & out through the back fence along an off-the beaten-track route climbing gradually to the top of a lovely plateau, via a steep but safe route.There are fantastic rock formations on the plateau which are great places to rest & take in the beautiful scenery all around. From the top, we hiked first to the cairn high above the cottage & then made our way to "a secret place" amongst massive rocks & a beautiful natural tarn. Then it was onwards, followed by a steep descent & along the valley to 3-pools where we had a swim in Champagne Pool to cool off as it was a very hot day. After the swim we made our way back to the cottage in time for the arrival of Julia, Eric, Harry & Stella.In the evening we had our enjoyable meals & drinks & friendly banter with plenty of tales & jokes.

1. DAY 1 - Baboons telling their tales
2. Climbing up from the Thukelana River Valley
3. The majestic Rhino Peak on a beautiful day
4. King of the castle Steve with Garden Castle in background
5. A rocky resting spot
6. Three Queen Margarets with their castle behind
7. Time for another rest to enjoy the beautiful scenery
8. Margaret taking a bite with Lynda & Steve looking on
9. A very rarely visited tarn - Rhino Peak in background
10. The upside-downers
11. Lovely flowers from thin stems keeping their heads above water
12. Making our way down off-the-beaten-track
13. Margaret A cools off in Champagne Pool - one of the 3-pools

Day 2. Over 16 km & 350 m climb. Today we first drove & parked just before the gates to KZN Wildlife, on Drakensberg Gardens Hotel property & then made our way up the hotel mountain bike route until we reached the escarpment.

This escarpment is a beautiful route high up above the hotel with scenic views down to the large dam & golf course below. It meanders above the top of steep valleys crossing streams with lovely waterfalls.After a while we left the hotel property & made our way to join the Giant's Cup Trail, but in the reverse direction & along the Black Eagle trail for about 8 km where we found a lovely spot to relax & have lunch.In the distance we could clearly see the "Giant's Cup" between Hodgson's Peaks & "Minaret" a bit closer to us on the main escarpment.

After lunch we made our way back along the Black Eagle Trail, this time in the normal direction but instead of returning through the hotel grounds we made our way down to Swiman Hut & from the hut we went down to Peppermint Pools but decided to walk back a bit further & had a swim in the chilly Hippo Pools. From here we returned to the cottage for a relaxing time & another merry evening.

14.DAY 2 - Early start of our day 2 with the mist rising
15. Lovely series of bath-pools
16. Good to see the dassies back in the area
17. Looking for things in the lovely stream with waterfall
18. Harry astride with Fairways Dam below
19. Lets all push together says Eric, outnumbered by the ladies
20. Clouds nearly gone away from Rhino Peak
21. Nice view from a cave with no name
22. Continuing high above Drakensberg Gardens Hotel - Swiman Rock behind
23. Making use of a big cairn to have snacks
24. A dung beetle rolling its dung
25. Hodgson's Peaks in the cloud & Little Bamboo Mountain to right foreground
26. The rock or mole-man Harry

Day 3. Over 16 km. Today we headed for Hidden Valley via Swiman Hut in the normal direction on the Giants Cup Trail towards Bushmans Nek.

We filled our water bottles from small streams with pure water, as we headed upwards before having a short rest under a group of proteas.From here there are good views towards "Crystal Waters" with a series of large dams & we spotted eland & a herd of black wildebeest with their white tails flashing.Then it was onwards in the heat of another beautiful day in the Berg, eventually turning off the Giants Cup Trail towards & then descending into Hidden Valley. Our aim being to reach the massive boulder which protrudes into the Mzimude River & forms a large pool, ideal for swimming on such a hot sunny day. All of us except Harry had a swim in the invigorating but very cool water. After cooling off we enjoyed a leisurely lunch before making our way back.

As we passed Swiman Hut on our return, we noticed the largest number of people staying at the hut we had ever seen. This turned out to be a large group of school girls (teenagers) from a school in Johannesburg with a few teachers. They had filled the 30-bed hut & had also pitched 9 tents outside the hut so the group size was approaching 50. Very good to see the girls enjoying themselves in the great outdoors, before we headed back to the cottage, firstly for a relax & then a good braai on a balmy evening with drinks & more merriment.

27.Day 3 - A nice start with some lovely helichrysum
28. On our way to Hidden Valley
29. A glorious view of Rhino Peak with Little Rhino to the right
30. A couple of waterfalls before we reach Hidden Valley
31. Descending into Hidden Valley in very hot conditions
32. The welcome pool after a hot 7.5 km
33. The Mzimude River was flowing well & the pool was very cool
34. Getting out over the rocks after a good cool-off
35. Ready for our return after our swim in the big pool behind that rock
36. Time for a rest after climbing out of Hidden Valley
37. Two of the three Margarets in the shade - Garden Castle in the background
38. Looking down on Crystal Waters
39. A fleeting photo of a herd of black wildebeest as they charge away
40. A nice trio of Eland
41. Julia chills out at a rarely visited stream on a long lost route
42. A group of baboons play on the high golf tee of Fairways

Day 4. A morning hike of about 8 km. As this was the last day for our group at the cottage, we just did a walk to "3-Pools" for a relaxing swim in Champagne Pool, then returning to the cottage for a bit of lunch & Margaret's famous hot waffles, with syrup or jam & cream (actually yoghurt). Then it was time for our happy group to make their way home after 4 days of perfect weather.

43. DAY 4 - A shorter morning hike for swimming in Champagne Pool
44. Eric caught in mid-air as Steve looks on
45. This is the life - chilling-out
46. Looking down on Champagne Pool - one of the 3-pools
47. A camouflaged lizard near the pool
48. Returning from 3-pools along the Thukelana River

Day 5 onwards. - Margaret & I of course stayed on for another 2-3 days of hiking & the accompanying pictures illustrate all of our hikes much better than just words.

Thanks to all our participants for sharing these precious moments with us.

Keith & Margaret

49. DAY 5 ON OUR OWN (Just Keith & Margaret)
50. Just Eland to keep us company
51. The lovely dam on private land
52. Margaret admiring the waterfall on the upper reaches of the Mzimkhulu River
53. A lovely spot where we enjoyed lunch
54. Margaret cooling-off nicely whilst eating her apple
55. We stayed in this lovely spot for a long time - completely on our own
56. But its now time to leave for our 8 km hike back
57. We also cross the lovely Thukelana River back to the cottage