Hiking the Drakensberg - climbing The Amphitheatre's chain ladder
Karma Backpackers

There's Lots To Do In The Drakensberg!

Zee Ndaba, Mountain Guide

Meet Your Tour Guide, Zee

South Africa's top woman Mountain Guide

Zee Ndaba is one of SA's top qualified mountain guides, and the only practising woman one. In her capable hands you can experience a wide range of tours, from the 12-day Grand Traverse hike of the Drakensberg Mountains to cultural daytrips into Lesotho and to the top of The Amphitheatre. She brings her own bubbly personality along, ensuring that your trip is not only physically demanding, but informative and fun too! In addition to running tours, Zee also owns Z-Lounge in Phutaditjaba, which includes a restaurant, music venue, poetry-reading venue and art gallery.
Tourist Guide Reg: KZN1554

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Drakensberg Mountains - The Amphitheatre

Drakensberg Mountains - The Amphitheatre Hike

A thrilling daytrip to the top of Africa's highest waterfall

This is the hike that everyone wants to do...but not all are brave enough! Karma is the nearest Backpackers to the car park that is the Sentinel Hike and Amphitheatre Hike departure point.

On a clear day, summer or winter, climbing to the top of the Amphitheatre is a breath-taking experience, specially as regards the view from the escarpment. All the way from the Sentinel Car Park, whether one climbs the Chain Ladders or tackles the Kloof Gully, Nature offers surprise after surprise: from the miniature montane flora growing on the banks of a burbling stream to the occasional glimpse of mountain Reebuck, various raptor species and occasionally a noisy small baboon troop; one gets to feel part of the pristine environment.

The water on the mountain is crystal clear and tastes as good as it looks. A few streams cross the plateau and the biggest of these forms the Tugela Falls. Be careful when approaching the edge of the falls, it is a long and rocky way to the bottom. In dry winters the Tugela Falls may dry up completely, but the drop remains spectacular. In the snow and on very cold days, the waterfall freezes, offering an even more spectacular view of its majesty. Keep in mind that this is the second highest waterfall in the world.

There are rock pools along the river and right near the waterfall; the water is refreshing but not uncomfortably cold on hot summer days. In winter there may be ice and very low night-time temperatures ensure that only the hardiest visitors are likely to be able to enjoy bathing in the streams. Winter days can be quite warm, but temperature changes can be sudden and problematic. We always recommend that visitors take warm clothing with them.

In summer, thunderstorms can hit suddenly and even though they normally last only a short while, being drenched to the bone is no pleasure whether going up or coming down. We recommend protective clothing and the wisdom to abandon the climb if a thunderstorm hits or the clouds close in and reduce visibility to dangerous levels. There is no real shelter at the top; the Mountain Club has a hut there, but it may not be accessible and its maintenance is a bit erratic.

Usually one ought to stick to the paths, but the plateau is very flat and it is safe to meander aimlessly without the danger of getting lost as long as one gets a bit of a bearing first. Of course, staying on the path is less damaging to the environment. It is comforting that one is seldom alone on the top, in general, other hikers are helpful if you need assistance. Looking out for the river course is an easy way to find the path, it is usually within a short distance of the water.

The Kloof Gully is an awkward way to get to the top: it is rocky and sandy, steep and hard on tired muscles. It also isn't obvious unless you look out for it, so it is possible to miss. It makes up for these drawbacks by being a quicker and earlier way to the top than the Chain Ladders and by offering the most spectacular view right where one exits the gully: it is a vantage point that one may easily overlook when climbing up the Chain Ladders.

For those who fear the Chain Ladders, we have a few words of comfort: no one, to our knowledge, has ever had the slightest accident on the ladders. There are a few spots where the step is too close to the rock face to fit one's foot comfortably on it, but one must remember that there are three other limbs holding one up when that happens, it is a short-lived awkwardness. Also, because of the strength of the ladders, one can be reassured that each step is precisely the same as the preceding and following steps, the actual distance from the top or the bottom is immaterial. Lastly, the nature of the fear is purely psychological, triggered by the sensation that one is never quite on firm ground when each step yields as one puts one's weight on it. Overcoming this fear isn't equally easy for everyone.

Witsieshoek Hike

Witsieshoek Hike

An easier walk into Royal Natal National Park

If the thought of 30 metres of chain ladders is not for you, you can walk from WitsiesHoek, down towards Mahai in the Royal Natal National Park; you are walking in the arms of the Amphitheatre and from here you get a magnificent view of the lower Drakensberg Range.

Golden Gate hike

Golden Gate National Park

Spectacular scenery, gentle walks and horse trails

Nestled in the Maluti Mountains, the Golden Gate National Park is much less subject to extremes than the Drakensberg areas. It is readily accessed by car and one can drive into the heart of the reserve on paved roads. But the real pleasure lies with the gentle and not so gentle hikes one can undertake.

Thukela Gorge Hike

The Thukela (Tugela) Gorge

Drive to Thendele Camp in the Royal Natal National Park and walk upriver.

From this point the hike takes 8 km on easy gradients to the base of the massive Amphitheatre. You will be walking through rainforest and will have magnificent views of the lower Berg. When you reach the point where the path meets the river, be prepared to boulder-hop across the river for another few hundred metres upstream, where you will find the confluence of two streams. This is a great spot for a picnic lunch and a dip in one of many champagne pools.

Tour of Lesotho

A Quick Tour of Lesotho

Experience another way of life.

Join Zee or Terrence on their day tour to Lesotho. Ride on a taxi, visit a local school, play soccer with the boys, have a drink with the locals in a shebeen. This is an interactive grassroots experience.

South Africa and Lesotho are separated from one another by the Drakensberg mountains, known in Zulu as "Ukhahlamba" which means "The Barrier of Spears". In the 1800's there were three main groups fighting for land throughout this region: the Boers, British and Zulus. As they moved into the land around the Drakensberg they met up with smaller Nguni tribes and the San (the people who did the cave paintings). These smaller groups could not compete with them, so they moved higher and higher up into the mountains, until they were in such inhospitable land that their pursuers left them alone, having gained all the fertile land that they needed. The fact that Lesotho is set right on the top of the mountains has influenced the way that the Sotho people live. They have had to adapt to their environment

When we visit Lesotho, we do not take the usual route. Instead, we travel around the back of the Amphitheatre and Golden Gate. Although we use a high clearance vehicle, the emphasis is not on driving but on exploring the country of Lesotho itself. It is very beautiful, with indigenous succulents and amazing rock outcrops. It is so remote and wild that not even cellphones work. There are no tarred roads and people use horses to travel around. The men still travel great distances with their cattle, looking for grazing, and often sleep out in the open, eating lizards and mice for nourishment.

While we are in the area we hike up to cave paintings, cross rivers, and pass herdsmen and men coming off the edges of the mountains with their hunting dogs. Perhaps the kids have caught mice, which they cook over an open fire, and if you are adventurous they'll let you taste some. Women still prepare beer for their men using their traditional recipes. Nothing is predicted, as this is not a set cultural tour - it is simply an area that we are traveling around in, and as we see different things we explain them to you. It is one of the few places in the world that is still as it was hundreds of years ago - actually it is rather like walking into a National Geographic movie.

The trip takes a full day, leaving at 08h00 and returning at about 18h00.

Township tour

Tlholong Township Tour

Experience life in a small Free State town!

Take an eye-opening township tour with your fully qualified, bubbly guide Mpho, who will show you authentic life in the "loxion" of Tlholong, including a taste of some traditional Basotho foods! You will be given an opportunity to interact with the local children and buy your first pack of Mathunthuru at a spaza! Hope to see you soon…

Zulu cultural tour

Zulu Cultural Tours

In conjunction with Inkosana Lodge:

Affordable self-drive, guided day-tours to the dramatic and beautiful Injisuthi Valley. Visit a school, a traditional healer and enjoy a hike and a meal with a local family.

In conjunction with Zee:

Sandford Park Lodge is situated in the heart of a very traditional Zulu community. We have designed and run trips for backpackers into the settlements controlled by Nkosi Mia and Nkosi Hlongwane. Here poverty levels are high due to massive unemployment. There is a limited economy with a shortage of work and few possibilities for income except for labour.

Members of our staff also live within these settlements. They have a desire to introduce backpackers into their neighbourhoods. After much discussion we came up with a strategy whereby we could uplift the community .

We visit these communities with not much expectation as to the itinerary, with the hope that we can visit as guests and get to share in their day to day lives.

Due to the HIV pandemic in South Africa, there are a lot of kids that have been left orphaned. We visit some orphanages to share a hug or 2 with the little ones. We visit schools and traditional healers, or have a drink and a dance in the local tavern, and contribute to the development of our staff's communities.

Restaurant meal

Ethiopian Restaurant

Experience African reality - it's delicious!

A short drive from Karma in the beautiful Phuthaditjaba you will find the Ethiopian restaurant. The food is authentic and so good you can not stop eating. Don't get us started on how good the coffee is.

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GPS: S 28°18.650', E 28°41.950' 058 653 1433 - 083 442 3973 kestellkarma@gmail.com…

Karma Backpackers, 2 Piet Retief Street, Kestell, Drakensberg Area

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