Blyde River Canyon

Over this past weekend, I decided it was about damn time I went on My First Solo Camping/Hiking Trip. I had no other commitments this weekend and had some spare money in the bank for once. So I packed my car and made the 3-and-a-half-hour trek to Mahai Campsite to begin my Solo Adventure. The trip was very spontaneous and I didn’t plan anything other than the spot I wanted to go to.

Mahai Campsite has been a place I have wanted to camp at for the longest time. It’s a beautiful grassy green field in Royal Natal National Park and overlooks a stunning rock wall that I couldn’t stop admiring all weekend long. But let’s rewind a bit to how I got to Mahai in the first place because that was an adventure on its own.

Mahai Campsite

Friday 26 April 2024 – This was the start of my grand adventure. As I am a broke college student, I don’t have my own car, sad days. So I made a deal with my dad. I could use the car for the weekend if I put my own fuel in and left a bit in the tank for Monday. Fair enough. He got off work at 3 so after my wallet was R500 lighter and I had very hurriedly packed the car I was off by 3:30pm, a bit later than I had originally planned on leaving, but stoked to be on the road.

My destination, Mahai Campsite in Royal Natal National Park (which, by the way is not actually a national park) a 3-and-a-half hour drive in the Northern Drakensberg region. Sunset was at 5:30 and I didn’t want to drive after dark in a region of the Berg I had never been before, so I was already behind schedule. I zoomed up the N3 hitting the speed limit all the way up to Howick (I’m from Durban by the way). From there things went south.

I’m not a great planner as will become more and more apparent as you read on. So, I forgot to top up my data before leaving. Naturally, I ran out halfway through the drive so Google Maps stopped working. This also meant my Spotify tunes stopped playing. Fantastic! I did take this one precaution though luckily. I had written the directions down on a piece of paper, so that was my one saving grace. I would have been royally screwed without that bit of forethought.

So anyway, I am cruising along at the speed limit, well trying to at least, but of course traffic is a literal nightmare and roadworks are a constant companion. I found the 194 turnoff onto the R74 Road and that’s when I was faced with another South African delight. Potholes! So, so many potholes! Eventually you end up feeling like you are playing a game of Mario Kart, weaving in and out of potholes trying to avoid damaging my tiny Hyundai I10.

My Bush

Then it started to get dark! I had missed the deadline! So now I’m driving a road I have never been on before, riddled with potholes, after dark and the road was bendy so you couldn’t see oncoming cars till the last few seconds. And, because I wasn’t having enough fun just yet, the rain started, a drizzle at first but quickly turning into a torrential deluge. And then the chaos continues. I thought I got lost! I passed through a township and I asked a local where Mahai was and he said it was only a few km’s down the road I was on. *Sigh of Relief*

So, I eventually got into Mahai at 7 at night. I pulled up in the first place I could find with my car spotlights. Visibility was kinda low and the rain was still coming down. I managed to set up my tent in a rush getting soaked in the process. I retreated into the tent to get out of the rain, only to discover I hadn’t put the tent flysheet on properly. Water was leaking inside. Back into the rain, I go. After much longer than I would like to admit, the tent was all squared up and set up properly. Now I was hungry, and it was time for dinner.

On the menu was 2 packs of 2-minute noodles. I wasn’t paying close enough attention to the gas cooker and I clumsily knocked the pot over, spilling my precious noodles all over the floor. Wow isn’t this fun! I managed to save half the noodles and get some sort of a meal in. I was tired, overwhelmed and ready for bed. Then I realised…

 

I forgot to pack my sleeping bag. SHIT!!!

Mahai Tent View

Saturday 27 April 2024 – After a pretty rough night of bouncing in and out of sleep because of the cold (I covered myself in my clothes to act as a blanket of sorts. It kinda worked but not very well), I decided to get an early start to the day. For breakfast, I kept it simple, All-Bran cereal. Then I hit the showers to try to wake me up for the day. The thing with taking a shower in the Berg though, is that it is either scolding you to the core or it’s like doing a polar plunge into the Antarctic ocean, there’s no happy middle ground. No Just Right! The shower did wake me up though and I felt like a human being again.

I headed into reception to pay for my 2-night stay and chose to get an electricity-powered site so I could charge up my phone and camera batteries. I then moved my tent to my new spot. The spot I had set up in dark last night, was in some random bush in between 2 campsites. I thought that was pretty funny.

Now it was hiking time!

Mahai is surrounded by a bunch of amazing hikes to do. Viewpoints, waterfalls, swimming areas, valley climbs and a forest in all different lengths and difficulties. There’s a hike for everyone. I decided to trek to Gudu Falls, which I had heard was one of the best waterfalls in the valley. I set off at around 10. The first section was pretty steep and I had to rest quite a few times on the way up. I didn’t mind to much. I think the reason that hiking is such an enjoyable activity is not so much the actual hiking part of it, but more so the fact that you get to stop and look at the amazing views around you. Granted it was a cloudy and rainy day but you could see some length of the valley below.

I got to a beautiful lookout spot conveniently named ‘Lookout Point’ and here I got to chatting to two guys from Pretoria. Very cool peeps who had been to Mahai before and fallen in love with it, so were back for round two. After a few minutes, we shook hands and I carried on up the valley alone.

I trekked for a bit and then I somehow lost the trail. I ended up bundu-bashing for a few hundred metres before I managed to locate the trail again. Onwards! Now I trekked and trekked and trekked not seeming to be any closer to Gudu Falls. All the while getting more and more drenched from the on-and-off rain. I stopped for lunch under an overhang and enjoyed being semi-dry for the first time since starting this hike. Then it was time to carry on. I met some more people on the trail, this time people I had met when I was working at Southern Rock Climbing Center. Small world.

After a short convo I was off again. A little while later it finally clicked that I had gone freckin’ miles off track and had overshot the waterfall by a good few km’s. Now I had to backtrack a ways back.

Gas Cooker Incident

After trying to relocate the falls for most of the afternoon and failing, I decided to head down the valley and back to camp. The rain and cold were starting to get to me and I was craving one of those scolding hot showers I was talking about. I think I got back around 3 in the afternoon, just as the sun was starting to show its face. Mahai began to look very pretty and I dropped my bag off at my tent, whipped out my camera and started snapping away. After my basic needs to snap pretty pics were satisfied I got one of those much-needed showers.

The rest of the afternoon was a peaceful and relaxing time lounging around and snapping pics to my heart’s content. Dinner was good ol’ boerewors and rolls, although in an effort to make sure I didn’t leave any raw meat on the inside uncooked, I left the wors on for just a tad bit too long and got some very charred meat as a result. Delicious! Here also, I had another incident with the gas cooker. The frying pan was a bit too big for my tiny cooker, so being top-heavy the pan and cooker fell over burning a lekker hole in my plastic tarp that was lying on the ground.

That night was freakin cold! Worse than yesterday in fact. Around 7 degrees, I found out the next morning. That was a rough night to have no sleeping bag. I ended up wearing as many layers as I could to try keep warm, I think I had at least 4 maybe 5 on. The main place where I was feeling the biting cold, was my feet, so much so that they actually hurt. The problem was, I had only brought 3 pairs of socks, 2 of which were soaking wet from my wanderings in the rainy mountains all day. They were all super thin as well, perfect for the hot and humid Durban weather, but up here, thousands of metres of elevation up, they were pretty much useless. The solution I came up with was pretty Macgaver’y. I ended up emptying my backpack and stuffing my cold feet right into the end, then zipping it all the way up, up to thigh height. It looked pretty funky but it worked well enough to give me 2 or 3 hours of sleep, not perfect but better than nothing.

Sunday 28 April 2024 – Sunday was the best day yet. It was a beautiful shining and more importantly, warm day. I did a very slow pack up of all my gear and still had span time to kill before I wanted to make the long drive back home. I decided to do a short trail run to a nearby waterfall, Cascades, and when I got there I would do a little swim, or probably more accurately described as a polar plunge in the icy water.

I make an effort to get in the water every time I go to the berg. It’s like a mental thing. Makes you able to put fear aside and get comfortable with being uncomfortable or something like that. Also jumping in that cold water makes you feel alive, makes you feel refreshed, an instant shot of adrenaline to wake you up in the morning, just what I needed after a night of almost no sleep. I ended up going in 3 times although not for very long. It felt amazing!

With that out of the way, I spent a good few hours relaxing in the sun and snapping a shitload more photos. As lunchtime came around I decided it was about time I hit the road, the long drive to freedom. With one last look at Mahai I said my goodbyes to this incredible campsite, promising to come back here one day, although maybe a bit more prepared next time.

Mahai Camping Trip

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