Having lived in Cape Town all my life, I couldn’t believe that this was my first visit to the Drakensberg region of South Africa. Having driven for over eight hours from the Kruger National Park, we found ourselves moving sluggishly along at a designated 40km per hour. The heat continues to scorch the dry grass on the road side and on the mountains to our right.
It was hot, we were tired and hungry and just wanted to get there. The mountains in the distance drifted closer to us and the empty farmlands continued to span past us. Out of what seemed like nowhere, we saw the sign for Amphitheatre Backpackers.
We turned left down a gravel road which led us through a column of trees and into a stony parking lot. A tall windmill stood before the lazy sun and continues to spin ever so slowly in the breeze to generate water. Metal sculptures of African faces marked the entrance and decorated some of the walls in front of the reception.
I was so relieved to finally unpack again and put our bags down. The view from our room spanned out over the green lawn where cows grazed, past the wooden fence acacia trees and beyond the lake to the layers of mountain shadows.
The sun set the golden fields alight with light. We set out for a walk over the land and hoped we could reach The Big Tree before the storm earthed itself right in front of the backpackers. We moved slowly past pitch black cows.
Some moved quickly away from us along the fence and away into the distance, whilst others just looked up unperturbed and continued chewing. I lifted my hands up to my sides and allowed my fingertips to stroke to the tips of the long grass. Others mooed loudly in the neighbouring field as they were being herded. The wind lifted my hair and sun left even less light behind. Here in the midst of all this open space, I felt free.
The grey clouds moved in and appeared more ominous with every second. We picked up our pace and ran to the shade of the Big Tree. Marked with ‘love’, paint and material ribbons decorated its gigantic trunk. We made our way back over the mini-towers of cow dung and ran along the sandy beneath the fearsome gun-metal clouds.
I turned back to see rain falling in front of the mountains and turned and continued to run towards Amphitheatre. The clouds closed in and the allowed a slither of red sunlight to peak through the clouds. I ran past the still lake, past the gate and back to our room. The wind howled and the red sunlight slowly disappeared.
We held our breath and waited for a lighting storm to erupt but once the wind ceased blowing, there was nothing but a bit of drizzle…
Recently rated as a five star backpackers and lodge, we were delighted with a three course meal for dinner. The dining room walls were decorated with funky mirrors created from paper and animal masks made from plastic. Lion matchbox paper provided wallpaper and ‘Mzansi’ was etched into the floor before the fireplace with colourful mosaic glass.
The Jacuzzi was being filled up, guests played pool beside the climbing wall and the bar began to fill up. Some backpackers cozied up to a fire outside and others relaxed in the lounge to use the wifi.
We had an early night, knowing that the Sentinel Peak Hike lay before us the following morning. The majestic mountains we had seen in the distance would soon be up close and beneath our hiking boots.
Photographs by and © Vaughan & Lauren McShane