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Why the Midlands is a gem for hikers

Outdoor lovers, look no further than KZN Midlands and the Drakensberg!

Cascades, in Royal Natal National Park. Pictures by Garth Johnstone

Visitors to the KZN Midlands are spoilt for choice when it comes to hiking and enjoying the natural beauty of nature reserves and wilderness areas.

Whether you’re in Howick, Underberg, Mooi River, Notties or Greytown (and all places in between) there are plenty trails and reserves close by to enjoy, at little-to-no cost, where you can check out, reboot and recharge your batteries.

And there’s something for everyone… from gentle walking, to strenuous hikes, to scrambling and climbing, Ezemvelo’s parks offer a wonderful slice of the great outdoors.

Cooling off

One of the best days out we’ve had involved just a gentle stroll of about a kilometre, from the car park to Cascades pools at Royal Natal National Park (see pic above), where we pulled up a deck chair and chilled for an afternoon. Families were, like us, taking advantage of the natural pools to cool off on a hot summer’s day.

On another occasion, we had a 22km hike (there and back, inclusive) to Bannerman’s Hut at Giant’s Castle.

Giant’s Castle, one of the most recognisable vistas in the Berg.

This was a great day out, with enough strenuous walk/hiking to keep most trail lovers satisfied. The really energetic can extend this by going up Bannerman’s Pass, or sleeping over in the hut and making it a two-day event. You can return to the main camp at Giant’s Castle via Langalibalele Pass, a fun outing with a steep descent into the valley at the end.

Another memorable day out was a day-trip to Injisuthi in the central Berg. One of the more remote rest camps in the Ezemvelo portfolio, certainly in terms of access, the last 10km of road approaching the camp is really rough – you have been warned!

We made it in a Corsa bakkie but it was a rough ride and I was grinding my jaw at some of the jolts in and out of deep ruts. A 4×4 is preferable but you can get there in a sedan.

Splendid scenery

This reserve is absolutely splendid in terms of scenery and the camp is clean, well presented and in a beautiful, serene location. There is a sense of wildness and isolation about Injisuthi you will love and which is enhanced when you walk one of the trails.

A familiar sight in the Berg.

Monk’s Cowl is another fave. We wrote that you can be up early and drive from Nottingham Road to Monk’s Cowl, do the shortie walk to Nandi’s Falls and be in time for a picnic breakfast behind the falls. See the post and pics here:

The drive through the Champagne Valley to Monk’s Cowl is probably worth the trip on its own. There are also numerous attractions along the route like farm stalls, Drakensberg Brewery (perhaps not for breakfast), superb chocolate at Drakensberg Chocolate Memories, restaurants and more.

Walking in this reserve is a feast for the eyes and senses and there are various routes depending on how hard you want to test yourself.

Typical flat track in Highmoor, a ‘lekker plek’ for a walk and a chat. Picture: Chante Ceronio

Highmoor is a firm favourite in our household. Perhaps, it being less than an hour away, we see it as our “local” reserve. But I also think it’s possibly because it is very different from the other Berg reserves. It’s distinguishing feature is that there’s very little in the way of mountains, big hills or even large bumps. Instead it’s a gently rolling selection of paths that meander ever-so-slightly up and down, but for the most part are quite flat.

There’s not a heck of a lot to see up here – other than the odd antelope and a fair bit of birdlife, it’s eerily quiet. The sense of isolation on a decent day is accentuated when the breeze gets up and whips in your face. Sometimes it really feels like you could be all alone in the world.

The area has loads of history – tales of animals long gone and people who’ve moved on. With a popular fishing dam close to the parking office, it’s a favourite of local and visiting fly fishermen.

Close to Nottingham Road…

Grasslands and forest

Fort Nottingham Nature Reserve is a small reserve just off the Fort Nottingham Road, about 15km from Nottingham Road village. A regular walk is held here under the auspices of the Lions Bush Conservancy. The reserve is open to the public and is worth a visit for a walk through grasslands and thick, evergreen forest.

Take the Lotheni Road turn-off from the R103 at Nottingham Road (corner where the police station is situated), drive about 35km and you will arrive at the Mkhomazi Wilderness area.

Mkhomazi Wilderness Area, a favourite, and close to the main Midlands beat.

Here it’s all about peace and quiet, and some damn fine walking that starts right at the parking lot. Hand up, I haven’t explored this little reserve much, but what I’ve seen is perfect for those looking for peace and quiet and to commune with nature. There’s plenty elevation, so for keen hikers there’s enough of a workout to get you puffed up, while the scenery is stunning.

Take a walk here and wonder what exactly it is you do and why, day in and day out in the city!

“The Berg” (read KZN interior, foothills of the mountains and Drakensberg) is an outdoors lover’s playground – everyone has their favourite spot and stories, there are lots of “secret hideaways” and so much ground to cover. And you don’t have to be Bruce Fordyce, Sibusiso Vilane or Ryan Sandes to get involved, there’s something for every level of physical ability.

So haul out the backpack, dust off the boots, hit the road and start making some mountain memories.

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