Thursday, March 10, 2011

Drakensberg Escarpment

6 March, Champagne Valley, KwaZulu-Natal

Our accommodations are again excellent. Champagne Cottages are at the head of the valley adjacent to Bell Park Dam in the Drakensberg Ranges.

We have probably become a bit demanding in terms of what we expect of 'spectacular scenery'. For us, breath-taking means just that. Even some of the sights raved about at home in Australia have not hit the 'breath-taking' mark for us. The Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, most of the Southern Island of New Zealand are some of the overseas sights that have stopped us in our tracks. Now we can add the Drakensberg area!

Today we drove to the northern area of the escarpment to visit Royal Natal National Park. At almost every bend, we pulled over for a photo. None of them of course will do the landscape justice.

Not having walked further than a few hundred metres in the past couple of weeks, we thought the hike to Tiger Falls would be just what we needed. The track started off as more like a bike path than a hiking trail, but that all changed as we strode up the escarpment to the falls. It was so steep that we almost grazed our foreheads leaning into the slope as we climbed. It was a tough climb, but well worth the effort. Fantastic views and sore legs!

8 March, Champagne Valley, KwaZulu-Natal

Most of our time over the last couple of days has been spent hiking in the various National Parks of the Drakensberg Mountains. We'll let a few photos tell most of this story, except for just one more 'little ripper' of a story from the Imperial days of the late 19th century.

On our way back from the San rock-art caves of the Giant's Castle, we came across a location on the path called Rock 75. In fact there were just four large boulders in the middle of a small clearing near a crystal clear mountain stream that bubbled quietly out of the rugged mountains near Langalibalele Ridge.

Spooky how things come together sometimes.

Those who struggled through our rather long treatise on the Anglo-Zulu Wars and, in particular, the tragic Battle of Isandhlwana, may remember the famous last stand of the Regiment, formed in a fighting square, bayonets fixed, around their Colonel. At that stage we didn't add all the names of the characters, but that valiant leader was one Colonel Durnford and that Regiment was the 75th. Durnford's place in history was guaranteed by a contemporary illustration in a London newspaper and one of the scenes in the movie “Zulu”. The newspaper featured Durnford's last stand with the famous caption, “Fix bayonets boys and prepare to die like British soldiers do.” And they all did.

That was January 1879. In 1874, Durnford led the 75th Regiment into the very valley we walked through this morning. From June to September, they camped around these three rocks on this small grassy clearing while engaged in actions against Zulu rebels. Clearly emblazoned on one of the rocks is '75' the regimental number. We had to wonder whether the soldier who carved the number in the rock, died with his old Colonel at Isandhlwana?

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