In the shade of giants

Nandi's Falls, Monk's Cowl Reserve. Picture by Garth Johnstone

Monk’s Cowl Reserve

By Garth Johnstone

If you get up early enough and do your preparation, it’s quite feasible to take a drive up from the Midlands and enjoy a walk in the Drakensberg by breakfast time. Why not take along an energy bar, then hike for a while and enjoy a picnic for your real breakfast?

Or, if you’re lucky and have the time, go for one of the longer day hike or multi-day options.

We went the shortie route recently, departing Nottingham Road at 6.30am sharp and arriving at Monk’s Cowl Reserve (about 30km from Winterton, along the R600) shortly after 8am.

At Monk’s Cowl, you may at times be surprised to find you are not in the world of Hobbits.

After signing the mountain register and paying the 40ZAR required to enter the reserve (per person), we were ready and very eager to get going.

Make no mistake here, this was no alpine assault but rather a chance to get together and enjoy some company while taking in a walk in the hills. We embarked on the very pleasant and, let’s be honest, easy Nandi’s Falls hike precisely because it allowed us to get in a good walk and be back home around lunch time.

Our selection turned out to be a good one. We slowly noodled our way up towards the falls, stopping for pics, to chat or to remark on the scenery or flora (animals were in short supply). It’s a gentle, happy introduction to this great reserve, with its looming mountains packed with history and stories of drama among the mountain climbing fraternity.

The star of the piece on our walk was indeed Nandi’s Falls, which follows a number of delightful mountain streams and midget waterfalls. At Nandi’s the water really surges over the top and clatters down on to the rocks. It’s a delightful spot and you can get extra bang for your buck by scrambling up the right side and walking behind the falls.

Now read, The Giant was showing off

Here the waterfall makes a happy noise, it’s nice and cool and the perfect place for a snack and a selfie or three (if you must). Maybe a snooze or a strat session if you’re so inclined.

There are a number of longer options for day hikes at Monk’s Cowl Reserve, such as Blindman’s Corner (about 6 hours) or Hlatikhulu Nek (16km, estimated 8 hours), but at just 7km Nandi’s Falls is worth a whirl. We left at 8.30 and were back at the car park by 11.30am, despite taking things at a pedestrian pace and having a nice break at the falls.

And when the clouds parted obligingly on our way down to reveal the big peaks in their glory? Priceless.

IF YOU GO:
Notties to Monk’s Cowl in about 1hr, 40min;
R40 paid at the entrance to the reserve;
Although there are plenty places to top up, takes lots of water;
There is a shop and toilet facilities at the camp entrance;
Sign the register;
Take warm clothes along in case;
If it’s warm, don’t stint on the sunscreen;
Recommended reading: David Bristow’s Best Walks of the Drakensberg; RO Pearse, Barrier of Spears; ML Pearse, A Camera in Quathlamba
*Other places recommended for hiking and tested by The Meander Chronicle: Highmoor Reserve; Kamberg Nature Reserve; Giant’s Castle walk to Bannerman’s Hut; Moor Park Reserve.

Monk's Cowl Nature Reserve.

The money shot… well, a little cloud remained, but we appreciated the opportunity to get a look at the high peaks. Pic by Garth Johnstone