View of the Drakensberg from Sungubala
South Africa is a country of outstanding scenic beauty, but of its many fine mountains the Drakensberg range stands supreme. We explored the northern Drakensberg from the Sungubala camp.
The mountain chain is at its finest along the eastern border with Lesotho, where the average height is above 3,000m. Much of this range is designated the uKhahlamba Park, a World Heritage Site. The Zulu name means ‘barrier of spears’ and this well describes the silhouetted points and pinnacles topping the high sandstone cliffs. Beneath these stony faces are the green slopes of countless deep valleys, with forests running beside the rivers and protea bushes scattered across the grassy hills. From a distance the air around the mountains is blue. Dark shadows move with the clouds, which gather in climatic conventions along the ridges. Scenically spectacular, it offers fine walking, fishing and adventure sports, exceptional rock art, and, as we discovered, remarkable cultural experiences.
Cyndi Jonker, with her husband Terence, have established an unusual ‘bush camp’ in the northern ‘Berg, in the well-known Cavern area that adjoins the Royal Natal park. In a marvellous setting, beneath sheer faces, on a step overlooking plains, Sungubala offers ‘Glamping’, or Glamerous Camping. On the closely cut lawns, that lead out to mountain paths, there are dome tents covered by thatched-roofs, rustic A frame rooms and 3 self-catering cottages. The camp is solar powered, the plunge pools are simple reservoirs fed be streams. The accommodation is comfortable but keeps you close to nature, in keeping with the surroundings. But then, also imagine a lounge with coffee table books, a flask of tea for when you wake, an octagonal dining room with open views across the plains, charming staff and delicious meals, a roaring fire each night, lanterns marking the paths. Sungubala gives you the professional service of a quality lodge, with the simplicity of a mountain camp. It is a brilliant combination which we loved.
The Drakensberg is studded with luxury lodges, resort hotels, campsites and backpackers both within and outside the Park, but few people consider the ‘gap’ between Royal Natal and the rest of the Park; an extensive stretch of spectacular mountain range known as Mnweni. This is communal land characterised by rough roads, Zulu homesteads, small fields and grazing cattle. This area offers not only spectacular scenery but the opportunity to truly feel you are ‘in Africa’, welcomed in villages, guided by Zulus who have grown up climbing the peaks.
I have written more about our wonderful experience in the Mnweni with Caiphus Mthabela in a separate post. Suffice to say that it is a great area either for multi-night portered trails, or for a day visit / overnight in a ‘real’ Zulu village. Combined with Sungubala you have a brilliant Drakensberg experience.
Author: Roddy Bray
Published Date: 01 Mar 2010
Location: Southern Africa | South Africa
Themes: skills and interests, travel, natural world | parks and trails, conservation, travel