In search of the Dragon: Going it alone
Our “company” now thoroughly exhausted after hiking the Drakensberg the day before left Bug and I no choice but to go it alone. Pity for they would be missing out on us conquering the next leg of our activities; hiking through the Royal Natal Park. Our objective was to brave it all the way through to the foot of the Tugela Falls. All the while keeping an eye out for the mythical dragon.
We made our departure known by guilt tripping Tian and Frank over breakfast. I had to admit the idea of reclining on an easy chair taking in the Amphitheatre formation in all it’s glory was tempting. No, we had to get back out there and find that dragon. And in saying so grabbed the first shuttle heading in the direction of the Royal Natal Park. So named after the regions inhabitants the Zulu nation. Their legacy was still abundantly clear by all their rounded huts sitting atop almost every hill. We were headed toward the opposite end of the mountain to where we had hiked the day before. It would give us an opportunity to experience the waterfall from a different angle, the bottom up. However, today’s excursion I could only theorise would also be all about going the distance.
Shortly after being dropped off the driver informed us we had to be back at this very spot at a time eight hours from then or there was no ride home. I was like “yes, yes, and yes how long could this hike take” all the while thinking dragon, dragon, and dragon. The hike seemed easy enough just follow the stream running along the trail till you reach its source and then hightail it back. Interestingly the Royal Natal Park is the source of two of South Africa’s greatest rivers namely the Tugela and Orange rivers. It would’ve been amazing to find both but we opted in favour of the Tugela River. It would be homage to yesterdays hike (to the top of the falls). And I heard it was located in a series of caves that looked somewhat like a lair.
The initial trail was easy, peaceful and incredibly beautiful. Small streams bubbling under tiny wooden bridges and overhanging canopies gave it a Garden of Eden like appearance. But then every so slightly the trail began to gingerly snake its way along the side of the mountain range cutting through harsher terrains as it did. Some were tropical; some were grassland while others were downright wooded. The trail then began to take shape opening up a bit and then it hit us. The magnitude of what we were trying to accomplish in an afternoon seemed to lesson our chance of getting back to the shuttle on time. We had to make haste.
An hour or more passed and just like the hundreds of times before we were met by yet another incredible sight. Mini waterfalls pouring out of every nook and cranny appeared around just about every bend of the path. It was to be a prelude, yet we still had a way to go. We had noticed though that there was a scarcity of wildlife except of course for the occasional bark of a baboon. Its a daunting sound, but harmless nonetheless. Wild baboons tend to avoid people opting to voice their presence over making it known in the flesh. But the lack of not seeing much wildlife didn’t deter from the fact that they were near. I imagined there must’ve been thousands of critters just metres away from us around every corner.
After much snaking, scrambling and resting we finally came upon, or what seemed like, the early stages of the river we were following. Multiple rocky pools were laid out in front of us as well. Presumably formed by the river at the foot of the falls. It was though a little premature to celebrate for the numerous pools had to be crossed by any means possible, and the water was ice cold. But it was not enough to stop us as we dove in. And soon after much pool diving and crossing we finally came to what seemed like a dead end. A series of caves carved out by the river just like I had been told earlier. It kind of looked like the mouth of a dragon’s lair. And was a classic example of nature’s epic work waiting to be explored. I was convinced I could penetrate the cavern but as much as I tried I couldn’t. It was as well made all the more impossible due to the rising water level (there had been a bout of heavy rain earlier on top of the mountain). Defeated, tired and hungry we consoled each other by having our lunch atop a couple of boulders while peering in and out of the cave.
It was, for now, all over. I wouldn’t tempt fate anymore by braving it all the way through. Especially when help seemed a long way off and I didn’t want to be another lost or injured tourist in need of assistance. And on top of that what if I had found the source of the dragon’s hiding place? How would I have made it back to tell the tale? Nobody would have believed us!
The dragon it seemed had eluded us again, but we still had time…the quest was not quite over yet.
Watch this space for the third instalment of our Drakensberg Trilogy entitled:
“A taxi to Lesotho”
By Slippery Joe Lyzard ©
Photography: Nomadic Bug ©
Nomadic Existence 2016 ©
Explore. Conserve. Discover.