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PICTURES: Hiking uMkhomazi Reserve

Hiking in uMkhomazi Reserve... and I had all this beauty to myself. Picture: Garth Johnstone

I spent the morning on Tuesday walking in uMkhomazi Reserve, which is part of the Maloti Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site.

About 40km up the drag from Nottingham Road town (on the Lower Lotheni Road), uMkhomazi is an underutilised gem, on both occasions I’ve been there it’s been quiet and lonely, but it’s breathtakingly beautiful and has a genuinely wild feel about it.

Marker to Cyprus Cave.

After parking and doing the necessaries at the office, I opted to take the 3km walk to Cyprus Cave, but soon realised this wasn’t going to happen because the river was too high and I couldn’t get across without getting properly wet.

Huffing and puffing

Here I spotted a cheerful group of Ezemvelo employees and we had a quick banter before I turned around and headed the opposite way in the direction of the McKenzie’s Cave hike.

Why the Midlands is a gem for hikers

This hike I would categorise as a rather strenuous walk, it does go upwards rather quickly and the first 30 or so minutes are pretty testing. You might find yourself huffing and puffing, or nursing a sore back (like I did). But having said that, anyone with a moderate level of fitness will get up to a plateau where there’s some relief before you march on towards the cave. Be warned, there are a few false flats before you really get up to the level part.

A sandstone cliff that dominates the scene.

Hand up here, I didn’t make it to the cave but I did get in quite a tiring walk and, with said sore back, didn’t want to push things, and so called a halt once I was right under the sandstone cliff that dominates the scene. I would guess that was about 3km, or maybe just a bit more.

It really feels wild, and the only thing you will hear is the wind whipping the grass. The office area is seen in the distance in this picture.

The route is well marked in places but overgrown in others, you can find yourself temporarily losing the path. But the direction is so clear and there aren’t other trails, so it’s difficult to actually go well off the track. There are plenty interesting-looking rocks to offer landmarks.

I noticed that after the past week’s rain there was way more water in the streams and gorges than on the previous occasion I have walked in the reserve.

Still waters in a gorge at uMkhomazi Reserve. The last time I was at this spot there was hardly a drop in the river.

It’s eerily quiet up here, all you can hear is the wind whipping hard across the grass. Other than the Ezemvelo employees, I’ve never seen another soul here. Wildlife is also shy and, judging from my experience, you aren’t going to see much game (or maybe it will have seen you but you might not have seen it) or birdlife.

Remoteness

But this remoteness, for me, makes uMkhomazi (which I believe is about 6000ha) one of the most special reserves in the Midlands and foothills of the Berg. With wide open hills and grasslands and big skies you get the sense that something really big must have happened here at one time. It’s like a giant, empty colosseum, devoid of people and where time stands still. Did I mention the haunting sound of the wind?

Now read: Who walks for fun?

**To get there, drive 40km from Notties on the Lower Lotheni Road. The first 10km is thick with potholes, thereafter there’s an immaculate newly tarred section for about 20km. The last 12km to the reserve is a decent section of dirt road… it’s easily manageable in a small car or sedan. From the Underberg, Himeville side, it is a similar distance, but there’s a higher percentage of dirt road. There is some spectacular scenery on this route, but take care if there has been very heavy rain.

Cost: R40 to access the reserve.

The river in full flight heading towards the ocean, just outside the reserve.
The cold waters appear almost black in places. In a few months we will be missing all this H20.

Some of the plant life seen on an uphill stretch to McKenzie’s Cave.

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