The Drakensberg is a mountain range stretching some 1000km along the eastern side of South Africa, with its highest peaks being 3,482 metres (11,424 ft) above sea level. On our way up from the KwaZulu-Natal (eastern) coast up to the North-west Province, we decided to stop for a night at the Sterkfontein Dam / Oliviershoek Pass (1730m / 5675ft asl), with great views down in to KwaZulu-Natal and the KZN Drakensberg.
The first twitterings of Forktailed Drongos and a Cape Robin woke me up just before dawn and so I decided to head out for a bit of an early morning hike up one of the nearby koppies (small mountains ringed by cliffs aka a Monadnock).
The waking of the day was spectacularly beautiful. The KZN Drakensberg lies very close to my heart, with stunning scenery – a combination of wide-open spaces and towering, vertical cliffs – and a whole suit of unusual bird and plants. I took the title photo (at the top of the page) as I was heading out on one of the trails. The view shows the KZN midlands, what is called the Little ‘Berg; the rolling hills and hillocks slowly increasing in size as one gets closer to the main Drakensberg escarpment (the line of mountains in the background). This escarpment line is at about 3000m / 10000ft asl, with peaks rising somewhat above this.
The second highest waterfall in the world (Tugela Falls) drops 948m / 3110ft from this escarpment in to the valley below (it happens to be on the right-hand side of the image, but a bit far away to see).
After having walked through fairly level terrain for about an hour (accompanied by Longclaws, Pipits and Cisticolas), I reached the base of the koppie. After coming across two Grey Duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia – a small antelope) and two Blesbuck (Damaliscus pygargus), a couple of Banded Martins (Riparia cincta) turned up to feed with the Brown-throated Martins (Riparia paludicola) over a small trout pond.
Starting up the koppie, making my way through the Proteas (unfortunately not blooming yet), I spotted two Eland further up the hill…
To my surprise, another two Eland were standing just off to my right. Moving slowly, they allowed me to pass within 30m of them (100ft). What a wonderful experience to be so close to these enormous and beautiful antelope – the largest antelope in Africa.
After a lot of hard work, scrambling and a little bit of climbing, I reached the top of the koppie. Naturally, I had hoped for great vistas over the Drakensberg escarpment to the east and the Free State highveld grasslands to the west, but the morning mist still covered the koppie like a fluffy table cloth. It was, nonetheless, beautiful to be up there and I did get some nice peaks through the clouds every now and again. The little pond you see in the foreground was where I picked up the Martins, and the large dam in the background is the Sterkfontein Dam – an important hydroelectric dam, boasting its very own Griffon Vulture Restaurant (Feeding Station).
By the time I was nearing camp again, it was starting to warm up and wonderful group of 20-odd Cape Griffon Vultures (Gyps coprotheres) came passed, circling and playing in the wind. I just soaked it up – the landscape, the light, the bright new day, and a great big group of awe-inspiring birds…
not just a good morning, a great morning.