Came across Drakensberg region when South African trail running racer, Ryno Griesel and Ryan Sandes smashed the Drakensberg Grand Traverse in 2014 – non-stop for 42 hours. With 3 months to go to the big race (more on this later) that require lots of climbing, it sounds like a perfect location to be after Comrades Marathon – to do some recovery hike in the nature before returning to flat pancake Dubai. The 200km long Drakensberg (from Afrikaan meaning ‘Dragon Mountain’) covered the eastern portion of the Great Escarpment, which encloses the central Southern African plateau, bordering Kingdom of Lesotho.
Question was which area of Drakensberg to discover – the Northern, Central, Southern or the surrounding regions. We opted for the Central near Winterton and stayed in Ikhaya la Mafu (meaning ‘House in the Clouds’) a secluded self-catering accommodation situated up in the Monk’s Cowl Reserve. The type of hike around here suited training requirement without much ‘hassle’ (no scrambling over rocks and no rope climbs). Arrived after a 3 hour drive from Durban with enough provision stocked from local supermarket, we were welcomed by Paul and Ricky. Paul explained their property located on 95 hectares of mountains, streams, waterfalls, and indigenous forest. No entrance fee to the reserve being the guest at the property with metres away from the world heritage side. Being environmentally friendly – the water supply comes from the stream, the electricity is sourced from owner’s solar plant and sewerage is handles in septic tanks/soak pits. No power grid on the land. They live on the eco-site self-sufficiently in honey and vegetables. A hidden gem indeed and what a privilege to be here – endless trails to hike and run covering both Ikhaya la Mafu’s tracks as well Monk’s Cawl reserve World Heritage Site. The wood fireplace provided a cosy ambiance to warmth the winter nights. In the morning, a local Zulu lady came to top up the logs and built the fire base. Hover over on images below for caption and link to websites.
On the lookout for foodie adventure (thanks to Paul’s Champagne News publication), we stopped by at Drakensberg Chocolate Bar on the drive back to Durban. It is located at Cedarwood Village. Ordered a chocolate testing plate filled with variety of truffles and coffee served from a cool looking vacuum pot. Of all the chocolate bars on free tasting counter, preferences are for the diabetic friendly milk chocolate bar (no added sugar) and 70% dark with hints of roasted coffee. Chocolate sourced from Belgium and made locally – must try if in the area.
The store manager was very welcoming explained the coffee beans sourced from Ethiopia (freshly roasted in Durban) where the high altitude played important factor for quality beans. She checked us a few times as we sip the coffee with chilli essence – a drop only she warned prior. Yes, SOTG’s first time of tasting the world hottest chilli (glad it came in essence as I could not imagine biting raw) that gave a strong kick to throat and stomach within seconds – enough heat for that ‘feel great’ endorphin rush. The essence contain juice of Trinidad Scorpion chilli (1.46 million SHU) which for few years was the world hottest until 2012 when Carolina Reaper, another type of chilli took over the honorary title. It is a very competitive world for this – though I am not sure how the reaction higher than what I’d tried. As per Guinness world record, ‘the Scoville Unit (SHU) scale is a method of quantifying a substance’s ‘spiciness’, through determining the concentration of the chemical compounds responsible for the sensation called capsaicinoids.’ The scale is named after Wilbur Scoville who developed the test in 1912.
Any time of year is good time to visit Drakensberg though it is best outside cold period of July to August. Some snow expected on mountain during winter.
Drakensberg stunning landscape and trails enticed for return visits to further explore the regions in tranquil setting. The land is not only for nature and adventure lovers, this can be balance with gourmet discovery, good eating and some pampering perhaps. SOTG pick for next visit:
Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse – gourmet lodge dedicated to sumptuous food and rustic luxury.
Hartforfd House – voted South Africa’s best restaurant in 2009 in a historical charming building. Situated on the famous Thoroughbred farm (Summerhill Stud) where the Ruling family of Dubai located their stallions.
What is the hottest chilli or chilli essence you tried? Do you use the essence in cooking, drink or cocktail?
South Africa, till we meet again.