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.
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 more, go to www.yearinthewild.com and www.facebook.com/yearinthewild. Check out my Flickr photos at www.flickr.com/scottnramsay and my Instagram photos at www.instagram.com/wildscotty. Twitter on www.twitter.com/yearinthewild.
Conservation partners BirdLife South Africa, Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks, CapeNature, Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Gorongosa National Park, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Namibia Wildlife Resorts, Parque Nacional do Limpopo, South African National Parks and Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.