A seemingly endless mountain range, spanning a significant part of the South African landscape, the Drakensberg Mountains are well-known by every South African, yet surprisingly hidden in the back of most guidebooks. With a proximity of "4 hours from anywhere," the scenic wonderland that is this majestic mountain range (hello poetic statement!), is just far enough away from the "beaten tourist trail" to maintain a sense of solitude and serenity – Perfect for a honeymoon destination, at least so I thought.
With 2 days to soak up postcard views for as far as the eye can see, the only hurdle that stood in our course was a google-mapped-distance of 7 hours from Kruger to the Drakensbergs -- A relatively long distance to most, yet for us seasoned Soskolne travelers, a small drop in the bucket (see 14-hour travel day in Turkey involving 7 separate forms of transportation). Little did we know, several more “obstacles” stood in our way, thus turning our “easy travel day” into a panicked rush to the finish line:
1. As mentioned in the prior post, numerous well-timed “traffic jams” at Kruger added several hours to our pre-established plan of attack. Estimated time spent in car = 7 hrs --> 9 hrs
2. Despite frequent “friendly reminders” from Julie prior to our trip to avoid turning our honeymoon into an episode of The Amazing Race (I have no idea why she would ever think that…), I could not help but add a few “detours” to our route. With the park gates of our destination closing at 10PM, and 14 hours to travel approximately 9, why not relish in a few more hours of driving, right? Estimated time spent in car = 9 hrs --> 12 hrs.
3. For those unfamiliar with the South African highway system, it is a popular planning technique to build the thoroughfare directly into the middle of every town it crosses, thus forcing long-distance travelers to enjoy a never-ending array of traffic lights (all of which were red of course) and stop signs along their journey. Estimated time spent in car = 12 hrs --> 14 hrs.
4. Having no access to internet or phone in the past 4 days, and my mother having a slight reputation for calling hostels to check on her “baby boy” which by-no-means was embarrassing whatsoever when you are traveling with friends at the age of 23 (Hi Mom!), we decided a phone call was in order. Yet, thanks to a recent addition to the South African legislature, all newly-purchased SIM cards must be “officially registered” with a physical SA address. Having no such address, this task a little longer than expected (and may have involved a semi-illegal transaction). Estimated time spent in car = 14 hrs --> 15 hrs.
5. With 6 hours remaining until 10PM, and only 4 hours to travel, we seemed to be in relatively good shape. Fate was not on our side, however, as we mistakenly routed ourselves onto one of the most notorious construction sites in all of South Africa. For the next 2 hours, we enjoyed following unpassable “abnormal/heavy load” trucks at a pace of 3MPH, and then, I sh*t you not, passing over 100 high-enough-to-destroy-your-undercarriage-unless-driven-over-at-snail-pace speed bumps, placed approximately 50 feet apart for over 15 miles. Estimated time spent in car = 15 hrs --> 18 hrs.
With only 30 minutes separating us from a night spent sleeping peacefully away in our mountainside hut, or parked outside a locked gate, shivering in the confines of our car, we thankfully made it through. Awaking the following morning to one of the most amazing views of either of our lives, we decided the 18-hour arduous journey was not completed in vein (although would probably be slightly modified if completed again).
As to celebrate making it through such an exhausting day (hurray for not teaching Julie to drive a stick-shift prior to our trip), we decided to take a leisurely hike along the gorge valley. By leisurely, of course, I mean a 6-hour hike with limited shade, countless flooded river crossings, and of course several hundred feet of climbing up ladders, vines & other "better-not-lose-your-grip-or-death-is-imminent" objects on the way to the viewpoint. Hey, you can’t blame me for being predictable! :)
Onto the pics: