Central Berg’s remote treasure

By Garth Johnstone

Having been to reserves like Kamberg, Highmoor, Giant’s Castle, Garden Castle and Monk’s Cowl in the past year, it was now time to visit Injisuthi, about which I’d heard so much.

Known to be one of the more remote reserves in the Berg, the road to Injisuthi did prove to be a bit more testing than some of the others, but the rewards at journey’s end are definitely worth it.

Some early conservationists were quite happy for this part of the Berg to retain its remote status and remain unspoilt; perhaps the idea all along has been to keep it a bit “off limits”.

Loskop

My plan was to take the turning to Loskop off the N3 road (Exit 179, marked as Estcourt, Giant’s Castle) before turning left on to the Loskop road, through countless small villages which lead to the reserve.

A small hitch on the drive there, I missed exit 179 and had to take the R74 road via Winterton and cut back to Loskop, a small detour costing me only about 25-30km (on the way back I got the route right, in reverse).

The Cosmos put on an impressive show on the road approaching Injisuthi.

Anyways, once I hit the Loskop road heading towards Injisuthi there were two standout features of the next 20-30km – one being the amazing display of Cosmos flowers on the side of the road and even entire fields covered in the delicate, beautiful flowers; the other being the crowds of children walking on the road to school.

The flowers were really spectacular, far more explosive than I’ve ever seen before in the Midlands or the Free State, a riot of colour and a celebration of life; the kids were also a surprise. I’m well familiar with rural and district roads and the limitations of the school transport system, but have never seen anything like this.

On both sides of the road, in all shapes and sizes, many smart and tidy, others a bit scruffy; many smiling and waving, some smirking and striking a hip-hop attitude; some ambling casually, others walking fast as if in a panic (they were probably late), they went on and on.

By the same writer: In the shade of giants

After about 10km I went round a corner and was sure that was the end of the waves of pupils, but no, just around the next bend came the next batch. Suddenly the direction they were walking in switched, guess it was another school. Mostly a happy, energetic bunch, these children are our next batch of workers, academics, leaders. I prayed as I drove that there would be jobs and a bright future for them all, or at least a lot of them (a big ask, I know).

But I digress, getting to Injisuthi was my actual purpose. The last 25km before the reserve were a test. For 10km I slowed down, making damn sure I didn’t drive into anyone on the crowded, narrow road while also dodging the odd sneaky pothole. I was well aware I was only a visitor and keen to show due respect.

However, the last 10km were in a league of their own. Once you leave the tarred road, things deteriorate into a corrugated, rutted, shock absorber-bashing ordeal. Thankfully on this section, there are no kids, just the odd cow to get around.

Arrival at last… it was tricky but it’s all worth it when you get there.

KZN Museum: A step back in time

I was truly amazed that such a road led to this reserve, as it was so different from what I’d experience recently travelling to the other Ezemvelo camps.

I did get there (despite some doubts at one stage) eventually, thanks to my trusty Corsa bakkie, and breathed a sigh of relief that all appeared to be well with the transport.

As I rounded the final bend the peaceful, idyllic rest camp came into view, surrounded by tall trees. “Rest camp” is, I think, an apt term in this case, as its serenity calls to mind a place of peaceful refuge for holidaymakers in need of R and R. It really is a beautiful spot and I could imagine whiling away a lazy afternoon under the shade of those trees.

Battle Cave

After chatting briefly to the friendly Ezemvelo worker in the office, paying my day entrance fee and signing the register, I consulted my trusty Berg hikes book and set off to find the path to Battle Cave.

There are a host of walks of varying lengths and difficulties that start from Injisuthi camp but I had decided that Battle Cave was the one for me. At an 11km round trip it was suited to my time frame, had some nice features and wouldn’t be too taxing (I was recovering from a sore and irritating injury – a stomach strain, which might sound a bit naff but is really debilitating).

So off I went, at about 8.30am, slow and steady (due to said injury) towards and then following the Injisuthi River, until I came to a really delightful spot. Here you must across the river while holding a steel cable attached to trees on either side of the river (see video). The Injisuthi was in good form due to recent rains so it was quite a lot of fun crossing over (including getting the boots sopping wet).

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea walking with wet boots, but I thought it was a really cool aspect to the walk and enjoyed cooling down for a while.

Hiking in the Berg: The Giant was showing off

On the way back I was in again and then stopped for half an hour on the river’s edge to sun my boots and socks. Here (on the return walk) I would contemplate the meaning of life, try to slow my mind and groove to nature’s pace, with rushing water as a soundtrack. Far out man – what a difference from life back in “civilisation”.

Eventually I took the boots and socks off. It was a great feeling to be barefoot in the water.

From the other side of the river the track goes up for 400-500m before levelling out a bit and heading in the direction of the high mountains, past a few funky looking woods.

I didn’t finish the walk, and turned around after another half hour’s gentle walking. I decided it was better to take it easy and live to fight another day, as I was still feeling the odd twinge from the injury. But I saw enough to know that I’d love to visit this beautiful reserve again… that’s if I could get my head around that troublesome road.

Distance from Nottingham Road: About 120km, when taking the most direct route.
Cost to enter park: R40 for a day visit; Accommodation in chalets is from a base rate of R700 (for two) upwards; camping starts from R100.
Examples of walks: Battle Cave (about 11km round trip); Lower Injisuthi Cave (about 17km); Wonder Valley Cave (about 15km); Grindstone Caves (6km).

There are more day hikes plus overnight hikes; you can get more info online. A good resource is David Bristow’s book Best Walks of the Drakensberg (Struik, 2003).

The view into Injisuthi – taken from about 10km outside the reserve.