A few days ago I was able to visit Lotheni Nature Reserve in the southern Drakensberg again, after an interval of about six months.
My previous visit had been during the rainy season, and there was water all about, and the landscape wore its near-uniform green summer garb. Every gulley was awash, and each cleft in the hillsides was a waterfall.
The local community had spruced up their homesteads with a vibrant range of colours. I always wonder how decisions are made on those colours – is it an artistic impulse, or did the nearest hardware outlet offer a special on a particular paint? Whichever it was, the effect was cheerful and pretty, and offered a happy relief from the overpowering green of the landscape.
On the gate of a cottage at the bridge over the Loteni River was a sign reading “Folly Bridge.” The cottage was previously owned by Jeff Horton of Pietermaritzburg, who named the property thus after a favourite spot in Oxford from his university days, and because his friends were so dubious about the wisdom of his decision to buy a home in such a remote place.
The approach road was a riddle of muddy pools, and the storm water trenches flowed strongly. Even in the cultivated fields I could see standing water in the furrows and lower-lying areas. Nature had paid a visit and bestowed her bounty on the region. Here and there were herds of cattle attended by not-too-active herdsmen, and goats ran wild and free as they always do. A bonus was the friendly and placid donkey who allowed me to photograph him from all angles.
The river ran deep and strong, and places where I’d normally been able to cross were submerged. I’d intended walking to Jacob’s Ladder, a series of five cascades tucked away in a deep recess, allowing the casual observer to see just the last three falls. The long walk around the hutted camp to use the suspension bridge would take too long with the limited time available, so I had to be satisfied with long-range photos that didn’t do the Ladder any justice at all.
The hutted camp at Lotheni is not as striking or picturesque as those at Giants Castle or Thendele, but then the terrain is very different too. The grasslands are very exposed, with few features, and the camp stands out prominently.
This visit was limited to a drive to Simes Cottage, the original farmhouse on the reserve, and, for our family, the prime accommodation at Lotheni. It’s rustic, but is out on its own, far from other residents and visitors, and is a bit of paradise. Memories of so many previous stays flooded my mind, going right back to 1982, when our children were young, and together we all discovered the majesty of the mountains, and the release of staying there, even if just for a few days. We’d walked to most corners of the reserve, spent lazy hours basking like lizards on the great slabs of rock along the river, and had spent the winter evenings staring into the flaming coals in the lounge fireplace as we shrugged off the pressures of business and schools.
Simes Cottage, Lotheni
This week’s visit was not one of discovery for me. I knew what was there, and that it would be as good as ever, but it was an occasion of seeing new territory for a friend from Johannesburg. She was spending some time with family in the Durban area and I’d offered to show her another part of the Berg after taking her to Giants Castle some eighteen months ago. She didn’t hesitate. Even my company wasn’t an adequate deterrent.
Ashely Kemp, aka the Little Ash Cloud.
The Drakensberg landscape in winter has a drama and colour range that almost makes the summer show seem bland. The veld is a blaze of oranges, yellows, pinks, greens and mauves, punctuated here and there with boulders or rock formations, and the occasional shrub or tree and, often, an azure sky canopy. So it was that Ashley and I arrived in the dead of winter. The roads were dreadfully rough and stony, and any movement of beast or vehicle sent up billows of dust that hung stubbornly on the air.
As on the previous trip, time was limited. We parked near Simes Cottages and set off for the waterfall some way upstream. I’d been surprised at Ashley’s lack of questions at Giants Castle, and this time was no different, but now I was prepared. She was immersing herself in the place, revelling in the splendour, the emptiness and fullness, and more than anything, in the quietness. It was the same response to the mountains that I’d seen from many people I’d taken there for their first visits. I remember very clearly the effect those places had had on me when I first saw and experienced them. Although the effect is different now, it’s no less awe-inspiring or enjoyable for me.
A leisurely walk took us to the waterfall on the Loteni River. Sadly, it’s difficult to photograph the full waterfall due to the terrain, but it’s possible to the more agile to get to the lower pool and do the deed from there, but that’s in my distant past. It’s a lovely place with only the sound of plunging water intruding into the vast silence. It’s the sort of place to shrug off one’s backpack and find a vantage point, and just sit awhile. And look and listen. The beauty is all around. The best part, as with all Berg walks, is the reward of a deep draught of mountain water.
Too soon it was time to retrace our steps, pausing here and there to make sure our cameras still worked, and got to the car to find I’d not locked it. That’s one of the best things about these places. Security isn’t a major issue. Coming from Jozi, Ashley was aghast, but no harm had been done. I must be the least security conscious person around. One day it may prove to be a problem.
And so back to that barbaric place we’re told is civilisation. Smog, trucks, taxis, fences, noise, telephones and crowded pavements set it apart from the primitive place we’d so recently left behind. I’m confident that as much as I’m thinking back to the day, my guest is too.