Oo Da Lally
I’ve been super fortunate to partake in many different activities during my stay in South Africa: theatre and markets in the city, hiking in the hinterlands, partying along the Garden Route, bungee jumping off Bloukrans Bridge, ostrich riding in Oudtshoorn, MonkeyLand in Hartbeespoort, meeting the former president of the Netherlands on top of Table Mountain, picnics and braais in Jozi and Pretoria, drinking wine on top of the Lion’s Head during gale force winds, playing pool in Soweto, buying spices in Durban, swimming in both the Indian and Atlantic oceans, dancing whenever a good song comes on – the list goes on and on and on.
Out of all these things, what would be my number one recommendation? Easy. Hike part of the Drakensberg.
Although I’d previously visited parts of the Drakensberg during my weekend adventures, you need to spend days in the mountains to really appreciate them.
Last week, my friend and I spent four days hiking. First, we did a day hike to the top of Tugela Falls, the highest waterfall in the world.
Second, we spent three days hiking to the top of Hodgson’s Peak, the highest peak in the Southern Drakensberg. We started at Sani Lodge, right beside the Sani Pass into Lesotho. From the Lodge, there are various trails that range from an easy day hike to the 5 day Giant’s Cup trail. Throughout the trails are caves and cabins so you don’t even need your own tent!
We had a tent, but decided to leave it in the car and “booked” a cave for two nights instead. A guide at the Lodge named Philip showed us on the map where he recommended considering we only had three days and a thunderstorm had been forecast for our second night. He drew an unmarked trail called the Dakka Trail (“dakka” means marijuana) that he said smugglers use. We automatically assumed he meant smugglers used to use it, but were proven wrong!
Our first day we hiked 13 km in a gradual uphill with our heavy packs to the cave. We had been told the cave slept 12 people, but we were still unprepared for how absolutely awesome the cave was! Hidden behind some trees so you couldn’t see it from the trail, it was surprisingly huge! It basically had two rooms. Plus a stone table! Furthermore, it was right beside a waterfall so we had plenty of water to drink. And the best part? Right outside on the cliff was a perfect rock for stargazing and watching the sun rise.
Upon discovery I exclaimed, “I feel like Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men in their secret hideout!” For days, my friend had to listen to me sing “Robin Beth and Little Shaun, hiking through the mountains… Oo da lally, oo day lally, golly what a day!”
We stashed our big bags in the cave and set out for Hodgson’s Peak on our second day. The first 7km were gradual uphill again, but the last 2km were basically straight up. Every time we’d climb over a crest, there was another steep hill waiting for us. Unfortunately we didn’t make it all the way to the top since my friend got heatstroke and we could see a raincloud rolling in, but we got pretty close.
On the way, we saw groups of locals hiking the pass to commute between South Africa and Lesotho. Wearing gumboots, jeans, and toques – and often singing as they walked – these locals put us to shame. We’d brought huge bags of trail mix and we gave handfuls to everyone who passed us.
Three men carried huge white bags that reeked of weed. They seemed wary of us – two white people – and gave us a wide berth. One man dropped one of his bags, however, and my friend helped him pick it up again. My friend said he estimated the bag weighed 20 kilos! And the men each had two!
I hadn’t realized how much hard labour went into the marijuana industry here. It makes me feel guilty that a joint only costs R10 ($1.10) – or so I’ve heard.
We got caught in the rainstorm as we jogged our way back to our cave, but it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Some hail, some lightening – but nothing like the severe storms I’d experienced before. The only problem was the mist. We knew where we were going, but it was often tough to see the “trail” in bright sunshine – this was almost impossible! We miraculously found our cave again – well, by “miraculously” I mean that my friend read the map correctly and recognized the river while I was hopelessly lost – and snuggled into our warm clothes and sleeping bags.
The next morning we watched the sun rise again then made our way home. The Dakka Trail, which we’d imagined as even less distinguished than the “official” trails, was actually very easy to follow. Back at the hostel, we saw Philip again and thanked him for his advice. He seemed somewhat surprised that we’d found the cave: apparently most tourists miss it. He also told us about his blog www.southernsecrets.co.za that describes his escapades hiking through the Drakensberg. Check it out!