Bad weather can either make or break any hiking trip and I’ve experienced my fair share of wet conditions on a trail. We were prepared for rain but imagine our surprise and delight, waking up to a blanket of snow stretched across the Drakensberg escarpment! Finally, my chance to build a snowman and have a snow fight. I’ve lived in Joburg all my life, and we don’t get snow in the highveld. My mom swears that Joburg has experienced snow on a past rare occasion, but I doubt it was comparable to the snowfall that a few snow regions experience in the country.
Social media can be a great place to meet and engage with like-minded people. Through Instagram, I met new friends who also share my passion for hiking. We wasted no time and started planning for our upcoming group hike. Regrettably, I tested positive for Covid-19 shortly afterwards but thankfully, I didn’t need hospital intervention. I treated my symptoms at home and eagerly anticipated the big Berg hike.
I’ve completed a few single-day and multi-day overnight hikes in the northern Drakensberg, so I was keen to experience other parts of the mountain range. I plan to visit the Underberg too someday and will document all the trips. I might also attempt the grand traverse which starts in the northern region and ends in the Underberg. That’s a good couple of days on the trail. The Drakensberg Mountain range is also known as, Maluti in Sotho and uKhahlamba in Zulu native languages, stretches more than 1000km across four provinces, Mpumalanga, the Free State, western KwaZulu-Natal, and the Eastern Cape.
We packed the car and set out to our destination in the central Drakensberg, Giants Castle Game Reserve. All trails start from reception, and our mission was clear, complete the three-day, two-night hike. Our itinerary was to spend the first night at Bannermans Hut and to camp at the top of Langalibalele Pass on the second night. Persistent rain forced us to abandon our first day of hiking, but little did we know that the rain was making way for the snowfall later that evening.
Through my research, I learnt some historical facts about the Giants Castle region dating back to the late 1800s. Langalibalele was King of the Hlubi tribe who settled in the area now known as Escourt. He made plans to escape the British Government by escaping to Lesotho through the Bushman’s River Pass. This was after he declined to hand over guns that his people obtained as payment for being labourers at the Kimberly gold mines, and for failing to appear before the magistrate. He was eventually detained and is considered to be one of the first political prisoners sent to Robin Island. Bushman’s River Pass is now known as Ka-Langalibalele Pass.
We started our hike early on Sunday morning against the backdrop of white, snow-covered mountains. I have never experienced snow in the Drakensberg. To say I was excited is the biggest understatement. It was cold, my hands were frozen, and I couldn’t stop sniffing. I think the adrenaline from my excitement must have helped in keeping me warm and motivated. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make it to the top of Langalibalele Pass due to the deteriorating weather conditions later that afternoon, and so we spent the night at Bannermans Hut instead.
Nothing like a warm meal and singing around a campfire with friends to mark the end of a successful hiking trip. I plan to return soon and summit Langalibelele pass.
Before you go
You can stay at Giants Castle Game Reserve or White Mountain Resort to rest and recover ahead of your trip back home. White Mountain Resort is approximately 20min away from Giants Castle. There are no other close accommodation options to choose from.
Beware of the potholes once you come off the N3.
Plan your trip early to drive in daylight. The roads don’t have streetlights, and you might miss some potholes while driving in the dark.
The trails are well marked, but you can buy a map from reception for R10
Hiking fees at the time of this blog publication were R80 per person.
Reception at Giants Castle is an additional 7km drive from the main gate.