The KwaZulu Natal Drakensberg. What’s to say really! Simply exquisite! This massive escarpment stretches about 1000 km from the Eastern Cape, through KwaZulu Natal and Mpumulanga, and ends in the northern part of Limpopo Province. In KwaZulu Natal it separates the province (and South Africa) from Lesotho and rises to a smidgen under 3500 metres above sea level! Much of the KZN Drakensberg and its associated foothills form part of the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The source of many of the country’s major rivers are located in these awesome mountains. Tugela Falls, the second highest waterfall in the world (after the Angel Falls in Venezuela) is found at Royal Natal National Park in the northern part of the park and, in full spate, is a sight to behold.
Nearby, just outside the park, is The Cavern Drakensberg Resort and it’s here that we went for a bit of good, old world hospitality, a little R&R and some mountain biking! While The Cavern offers a bunch of family orientated activities (hiking, trekking, bird watching, horse riding, trout fishing and mountain biking) its neighbour, All Out Adventures, has laid out a series of mountain biking routes that range from the easy Gipsy’s Bend trail to the way more difficult Grotto Trail and Berghouse routes.
We tackled Gipsy’s Bend first. It’s a lovely, gentle track that passes through grasslands and acacia groves and includes a couple of very rideable stream crossings. Total elevation gain is just 180 metres so no one was stressed at all. The 30 km Grotto Trail meanwhile is a different kettle of fish and I must say that we didn’t ride all of it – time constraints just got in the way – but we have every intention to ride it in its entirety in the near future. This is how All Out Adventures describe it on their website: “Groomed single track with most difficult grades. Features include: Long steep climbs, exposed traverses, long narrow bridges, sheer sand stone rock features, elevated fast peddling plateaus, long flowing downhills with big berms”. And that sums it up pretty well. It’s not for the feint hearted, nor for those that suffer from acrophobia, nor for those that are not technically proficient. If none of these disqualify you then you are in for a stunning ride, and a huge longing for a full body massage at The Cavern’s Spa afterwards.
The next day, rather than doing another of the trails, we decided to explore a little further afield and take in some history. About 10 km from the summit of the nearby Oliviershoek Pass, is a turning to the north on the S796, to the Kallvoet Vrou Monument and Retief Klip. It is here in 1837 that Voortrekker leader Piet Retief and a group of some 54 boer wagons arrived at the top of the Drakensberg, where they camped prior to Retief heading into Zululand to meet with Zulu King Dungaan to negotiate for land. On 12 November 1837 (Refief’s birthday) his daughter, Debora, wrote her father’s name and the date on an overhanging rock and the inscription can still be seen today. The group’s minister, Erasmus Smit, named the mountain adjacent to the camp, Kerkenberg (Church Mountain) because it reminded him of a Cathedral and indeed it is rather magnificent, with wonderful views over the surrounding countryside.
After the British annexed Port Natal in 1843, the boers decided to return to the Free State. At the time Susanna Smit, wife of minister Erasmus Smit, declared that she would rather trek barefoot back over the ‘Berg than live in Natal under British rule. And so it is that there’s a bronze statue of her – The Kaalvoet Vrou – on the edge of a cliff just above the old Voortrekker pass down the mountain – a lonely figure, barefoot, heading back into the Free State. We parked our cars at the Afsaal B&B a few kilometres along the road at the turnoff to the Kaalvoet Vrou and cycled the short 12 km to the monument. For the most part the road follows a canal so it is pretty level and in reasonable condition. In the valley below herds of cattle stared balefully at us, chewing away at the cud and, on the occasional disused telephone pole, sat the occasional jackal buzzard hoping, i suppose, for a rodent to make a break for it and end up as lunch. Susanna was there, alone. It’s a desolate place and it’s really not the spot I’d choose to be in the wind and cold and rain.
We made our way back to The Cavern to comfortable suites, and dinner – course after course of splendidly cooked food. A really fine way to end the day’s adventures.
Click here if you’d like to see more of our mountain biking photographs.
Route distance: There are a variety of rides available at All Out Adventures from 14 to 35km. The ride from the start point to the Kaalvoet Vrou and back is about 24km
Route Conditions: All Out Adventure tracks are well maintained, nicely signposted and vary from easy to rather technical. The district road to the Kaalvoet Vrou is smooth gravel with one or two mild climbs. As always, make sure that you are carrying a mobile phone and adequate water and sustenance.
The Cavern GPS coordinates: S28° 38.100′ E28° 57.744′
All Out Adventures GPS coordinates: S28° 38.617′ E29° 01.092′
Start of Kaalvoet Vrou Route: S28° 30.431′ E29° 05.236′