Year in the Wild Blog

“The mountains are my church”

I’m starting my next Year in the Wild on Monday! From next week until end of October 2014, I’ll be exploring many of South Africa’s protected areas.

On Monday I’ll be heading into uKhahlamba-Drakensberg mountains in the middle of the southern hemisphere winter. The Zulu name uKhahlamba means “Barrier of Spears”, while the Afrikaans name Drakensberg means “Dragon Mountains”. Both are appropriate and evocative of the scenery.

I grew up in Cape Town, far from the ‘Berg (as locals call it), so I never explored properly the province of KwaZulu-Natal where the largest and highest of South Africa’s mountains are located. But when I did eventually first go, I was hooked, and have been back several times. Last year, I visited during summer, but now I can’t wait to go back  in winter.

These mountains form the border between South Africa and the landlocked country of Lesotho and although the highest point is just 3 482 metres (compared to Everest at 8 848 metres), the basalt peaks can get very cold and icy in winter, with plenty of snow. The high, remote passes up the mountain are used not only by hikers, but also by marijuana (“dagga”) smugglers and cattle rustlers, who avoid authorities by hiding away in this true mountain wilderness.

I am going to be heading to many of the most beautiful parts. On the way into the foothills of the mountains, I took these photos. The winter temperatures and seasonal grass fires have turned the area gold, brown and amber.

uKhahlamba-Drakenbserg, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

uKhahlamba-Drakenbserg, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

uKhahlamba-Drakenbserg, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

uKhahlamba-Drakenbserg, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

I’ll be staying at several of the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife camps, including Thendele, Didima, Giant’s Castle, Kamberg and Cobham. I’m hoping to get up into the Mnweni area as well, which is considered the most photogenic. It lies between Thendele and Didima.

There’s a wonderful black and white photographic book by Malcolm Pearse called “A Camera in Quathlamba”, and many of the photos in this book are taken at Mnweni. Try get a copy if you can.

Another great guide book to the Drakensberg is David Bristow’s Best Walks of the Drakensberg. His book is the best for anyone who wants to explore the mountains on foot.

David writes: “Sometimes I believe it is the voice of God that comes to me on the wind or in a gale; yet I am not otherwise a religious person. The mountains are my church, nature my religion and, although I have tramped up and over mountains from the bottom of South America to the Himalayas, the Drakensberg remains the cathedral I most cherish.

I know exactly what David means! And I wish everyone could experience for themselves the inexpressible sacred aura of wilderness that exists in places like uKhahlamba Drakensberg.

On that note of sharing my love for Africa’s wilderness, this past week I gave a talk at Cape Union Mart in Durban, the first of many around the country over the next year.

Hosted in conjunction with Wild Magazine, my talks will hopefully inspire others to travel to Southern Africa’s protected areas, because not only are the national parks and nature reserves the most beautiful parts of the region, but they depend on our tourism for conservation funding! South Africa is blessed with beauty and biodiversity…the third-highest biodiversity of any country on Earth. So let’s celebrate it, and look after it!

For a calendar of talks at Cape Union Mart stores around the country, check out my website or go to Cape Union Mart’s events page.

So that's me, doing my best to talk in public without getting nervous! But it went really well, so thanks to the team at Cape Union Mart, including Denzel Vilakazi who set everything up.

For more, go to and Check out my Flickr photos at and my Instagram photos at Twitter on

Thanks to my partners Cape Union MartFord EverestGoodyear, and K-Way.

As well as EeziAwnFrontrunnerGlobecommHetznerNational LunaOutdoor PhotoSafari Centre Cape Town, Tracks 4 Africa, and Vodacom.

Conservation partners BirdLife South AfricaBotswana Department of Wildlife and National ParksCapeNatureEastern Cape Parks and TourismEzemvelo KZN WildlifeGorongosa National ParkiSimangaliso Wetland Park, Namibia Wildlife Resorts, Parque Nacional do Limpopo, South African National Parks and Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.


  • such beautiful photos Scott. I am excited for your adventure and to be hearing about it along the way.
    Lori Robinson

  • Hello Scott,

    Thank you for the wonderful work you’re doing with Year in the Wild. Good luck as you start out today!
    Here’s looking forward to a journey filled with exciting discoveries and an abundance of photo ops.

    Safe travels!

    • Hi Jo, really appreciate the support and comments. Thanks a stack!

  • Hi Scott,
    Those pictures are magnificent. I was privileged to live at the bottom of the Sani Pass in the early 90s and in Underberg with Cobham as our special “garden” for another 15 years. Those mountains are really special, and I must agree they were also my Church for that special time there. Good luck with your travels and please look out for the beautiful, elusive Lammergeyers

    • Thanks so much Pam. Yes, these mountains are incredible. I’m hoping to get some photos at Giants Castle of the Bearded Vultures. Thanks for your support! Will be visiting Underberg and Cobham as well! Keep well :)

  • HI Scott

    i came across your wonderful pics of the Berg via Google Images. Wonderful memories came flooding back to me as I recall the privilege of I had climbing with Malcolm Pearse. I wanted to use a couple of your photos for our church website in Newcastle KZN. how do I go about the copyright thing. All the best with your great adventure. Malcolm

Leave a comment

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>