Monks Cowl May 2021

The challenging and partially scary Sani Pass done and dusted, we turned north-north east towards the next part of the Drakensberg. We skirted the south side of the Maloti Drakensberg Park with its beautiful vistas over mountain ranges and sparkling green valleys dotted with trees dressed up in their autumn best.

Although we forgot to take photos, we had another experience of the messy kind. Not as invasive as our monkey-burglary at Sodwana, but definitely a bigger clean up: we had obviously not checked well enough if all our cupboards were properly locked before taking on another dirt road and when we stopped for a coffee break and opened up the house we were greeted by a sea of broken eggs! And let me tell you: eggs are most probably one of the more difficult things to clean up with the slimy egg white slithering and slipping around on the floor.

So yes… after this clean up we definitely deserved that cup of coffee!  And we could enjoy it with truly magnificent views!

A bit later, we continued the seriously slow drive through this beautiful part of the world and- moving more north- we recognized some views. On a trip a few years ago, we had done a hike up the mountain to see the Bushman rock art in the caves at Kamberg. We hoped we would be able to park at the Kamberg Rock Art Centre overnight, but unfortunately the office was closed and there was nobody around to ask.

So we hit the road again in search for a place to sleep. As we have said in the past: we have done the “wild camping” on many places, but we’ve always tried to get a feel for the environment and circumstances. Driving though this part of the country however, we realized that it is way more populated than say… the Northern Cape or the Freestate. That means that, even if you would find an “isolated” spot, we might possibly attract curious people. In order to avoid that, we decided to continue to Estcourt and a safe place to sleep. We eventually found VM Truckstop. We took in diesel, paid our standing fee and parked for the night. This was our first time on a proper, real truck stop and we figured out soon enough that truck stops are not quiet places. Trucks arrive at all sorts of times and the early birds already leave by about 2am in the morning. But it is safe as houses and that’s usually our main priority.

The next morning we returned to the mountains and although we had intended to start traveling in the direction of the Tugela falls, we instead took a turn towards Champagne Castle at the spur of the moment.

And that turned out to be a very good decision. We camped at the Monks Cowl camping site and eventually got stuck there for almost a week. 

We realise that, even though we continuously want to see places, we very regularly need time off to catch up: with laundry, with cleaning our house, with “homework” on website, you tube, social media etc! So yes, to be able to catch our breath and catch up with all of the above in a spectacular environment like Monks Cowl was a rare treat.

We set up camp and walked a short hike to the Sterkspruit Falls on our day of arrival. That evening we sat outside and enjoyed a braai with a glass of wine under a magnificent starry sky: the first of several such evenings to come! Just Beautiful!

As said, we took these few days to catch up and chill out. On our last day before leaving, we got up early is the morning to take on one of the longer hikes: the 12km Blindman’s Corner. As we had realised in the last few days that winter was upon us and the days were getting shorter, we knew we had to be back in camp around 4pm to be on the safe side, hence the early morning start.

It was a spectacular day with the mountains set sharp and clear against the sapphire blue skies. As usual, the uphills were a bit challenging for me, but hey, eventually I got there and that’s the most important thing. Add to that, that I make a million stops for photos along the way and we know that our walks quickly take us longer than anticipated. We have adopted the habit by now to add one to two hours to the walking times suggested in the brochures!

We’re in the age group that we don’t go bouncing up and down the rocky paths like mountain goats anymore and we look at every step we take to ensure we don’t slip or twist an ankle. That means that our gaze is now directed downwards to the path and suddenly you get up and personal with another mini world that carves out its own spot in this rugged and imposing mountain scape.  Every square meter explodes with new discoveries of insects and creepy crawlies gorging on nectar, of gogga’s and butterflies soaking up the sun, of flowers and roots and grasses holding on tight and digging deep in the lifegiving soil. 

One of the attractions/special points on the walk is the Sphinx. We passed this rock (below left) on the way up, deduced that this was supposed to be the Sphinx, but weren’t too convinced why they would call it a sphinx. Until we looked back from way up higher (below right) and all of a sudden we could see and we got it!

After the main serious climbing section we got on the plateau with magnificent views of the last part of the trail up to Blindmans Corner and the flat Champagne Castle formation just visible (left) behind the Blindmans corner range.

Along the way we saw some interesting geological features: blue-white crystals or quartz nodes (don’t really know what they were but they were pretty) and some weird formations on the path that Stefaan thought could possibly be petrified clay formations (I read somewhere something about a Stone Rose which looks very similar, but is way bigger than the ones we saw, so I’m not really sure if it is the same). I kinda thought that the stone roses looked like those Russian nesting dolls: after every one layer there’s another one! 

We went down via another path enjoying the gradient blue hues of the distant mountains. This path definitely seemed less trodden than the one we took in the morning. Some parts were steep and rocky and needed serious focus not to slip. 

We made good time though and got back to camp around 3pm.

We had been quite lucky to have been almost alone on the campsite. There had been days that we were completely alone and other days that there were perhaps only two or three other campers.

When we arrived back home from our Blindmans Corner hike, we were met with new campers who were very curious to have a look inside Trokkie. We chatted with Stephen, Denise and their daughter like old friends about all things forex, health, politics and our beautiful country.  

It seems we had chosen the right day to take on the Blindmans Corner hike, because when we woke up the following morning, the valley was shrouded in mist and clouds. We left Monks Cowl and were now heading towards Harrismith, from where we would continue to the Tugela Falls.

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