Report and photos by Keith Ashton

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

Extremely unusually we only had 4 of us staying at the cottage this time, namely Daryll & Stan Jacobs & Margaret & Keith Ashton so we had loads of room. We had perfect weather in this beautiful area of the Drakensberg & as usual we did a different hike each day.

I (& others) have done many write-ups of hikes from this beautiful, peaceful & very comfortable base & regretfully this will be the last write-up as we have sold our share in the cottage. So this write-up is short & just briefly outlines our routes on each of the 3 days & the photos illustrate the relatively easy hikes we did this time..

Over many years of exploring around the Garden Castle area I developed several unique routes, many off-the-beaten track & it has been a pleasure to share these routes with so many different hikers.

Day one - This time we hiked directly from the back of the cottage & gradually climbed to eventually past Rinkhals Rock, then it was off-the-beaten track until we reached the track from Garden Castle KZN Wildlife office to "Three pools". We continued past 3 pools to complete a circular route back to the cottage via Lake Naverone land & private tracks. Photos 1, 2 & 3 illustrate the first section of our route - I have not included photos of "Three Pools" as these have featured on many of our previous write-ups.

1. Margaret, Daryll & Stan next to Rinkhals Rock with Rhino Peak in distance
2. We always enjoy some off-the-beaten track route to Three Pools area
3. Tractor & crew from Lake Naverone collecting rocks

Day two - We drove through Drakensberg Gardens Hotel grounds to park just outside KZN Wildlife entry gate to at first follow the mountain bike route but in the reverse direction up hill & then skirted the high escarpment above Fairways Resort with very scenic views close-by & in the far distance snow covered Hodson's Peaks. We had close contact with a large group of baboons, saw rock rabbits & an orange throated longclaw. Then we made our way along another escarpment & above a beautiful valley before leaving the Hotel land to eventually reach the Giant's Cup Trail track between Winterhoek & Swiman Hut. We then followed the Giant's Cup Trail route to Swiman Hut, hiking from here to return to our vehicle.

Photos 4 to 13 illustrate parts of this route.

4. Ready to start our hike up above Fairways first, then on to part of Giants Cup Trail - Rhino Peak behind
5. On Fairways Resort high golf tee-off point - Garden Castle in the distance
6. An orange throated longclaw in the grass
7. Baboon look-out rock high above Fairways Resort
8. Waving at ourselves across the valley - very shadowy
9.Good to see the rock rabbits back in the area
10. Stan next to a lovely stream high above Fairways Resort
11. A pilar of strength - Snow on Hodson's Peaks in the distance - Fairways Resort below
12. A closer hazy view of the snow on Hodson's Peaks
13. Crystal Waters can be seen behind the rugged rocks

Day three - We hiked directly from the cottage & soon were following an old eland route on private land climbing steadily & soon spotted a lonely eland below a series of rock bands. After climbing it was time to descend to reach a track on Castle View farmland where they were busy burning fire-breaks & we noticed a new substantially fenced enclosure, but I am unsure of its purpose at this stage. Our objective today was to have lunch in the mid to upper reaches of the Mzimkhulu River & this we did at a beautiful waterfall & swimming spot.

On our return route however we were concerned that serious block-burns were being carried out, so we had to tread carefully & select a safe route over just burned ground as fires raged close-by. Before long we were past the raging fires & returned safely to the cottage over another lovely off-the- beaten track route.

Photos 14 to 26 illustrate parts of this day.

14. Margaret at the start of our special route to the upper reaches of Mzimkhulu River
15. A lonely Eland watches us below the rock bands
16. We watch the burning of firebreaks on Castle View farm - Garden Castle in background
17. Close supervision of the burning - note the new fence enclosure
18. Lovely view of the Mzimkhulu River - waterfall & swimming spot
19. Margaret, Daryll & Stan relaxing by the river after lunch
20. We encounter a raging block-burn fire on our return hike
21. We have to circumnavigate the fire on our return
22. Finding a safe route across already burned areas to pass the fires
23. The fire rages on as we safely leave the area
24. Returning far from the Mzimkhulu River on our special route
25. Tread carefully on this special route
26. Daryll takes a photo of Stan as he crosses the very low Thukelana River back to the cottage

Day four - As usual on the last morning was a gentle hike returning to the cottage for Margaret's famous waffles etc & tea/coffee before Daryll & Stan left for home.

Another very enjoyable time at the cottage (sadly the last) with plenty of socialising in the evenings around a nice fire in the lounge & an enjoyable braai on the last night.

Thanks Daryll & Stan for sharing this special time with us.

Keith & Margaret