Encounters Travel is an adventure tour operator offering lively, good value South Africa Tours. e.g. The Garden Route & Lesotho including Addo Elephant Park, Lesotho pony trekking, Drakensberg hiking; Big 5 Encounters including Kruger National Park, Blyde River Canyon and more.
Central Drakensberg mountains, the 'Sphinx' walk, July (winter).
The low and lumpy ridge on the right is the Sphinx; the low flat rock straight ahead is Champagne Castle; the high flat rock is Cathkin Peak; the pointy bit to the right is Sterkhorn; the bumpy ridge falling away to the right is the Dragon's Back.
Drakensberg, bordering mountainous Lesotho, is one of South Africa's best hiking spots, with varied environments and awesome views.
The Drakensberg Range has three sections, South, Central and North. While the north section contains the stunning 'Amphitheatre' group of peaks, many hardened local walkers consider Central to be most attractive area. Driving time from Jo'burg is about 4 hours and from Durban about 3 hours.
Champagne Castle Hotel guests at play.
The Sphinx Walk was a minimum effort hike (3 hours) with maximum scenic returns. The starting point was Champagne Castle Hotel and it seems that it is not necessary to be a guest there in order to do this gorgeous walk that can include mini-diversions to a Fern Forest, San (bushmen) rock art, a sunken forest and a crystal waterfall.
This 2/3 hour walk finishes at The Sphinx rock, pictured top left, though it doesn't look much like a Sphinx from close up!.
walks from this beautifully situated (but poorly managed) hotel range
from 1km/half an hour up to
18 hours beyond the Sphinx (round trip).
There are plenty of other guest houses and hotels in the vicinity, though none with quite the same spectacular views - when clouds permit.
Part of the Sphinx Walk looking back at the Champagne Castle Hotel, a distant right.
Best time to travel in Drakensberg and Lesotho
Autumn (Feb-May) is an excellent time to get hiking and mountain biking as things are cooler and drier than in summer.
Winter (June-Sept) is also fine, though a little chilly at night,
and very high areas can see a dusting of snow.
In the summer (Nov-January) violent thunderstorms can wash away your good feelings in a flash.
An early part of the Sphinx Walk.
If you're travelling from Durban to Drakensberg and think that Pietermaritzburg looks like an interesting place to stop off, think again, it isn't. No longer a tourist town, the few quaint colonial buildings are dominated by breeze-block, caged liquor stores and concrete office blocks. Money has fled from downtown in favour of distant shopping malls, leaving the centre to the indigent, or the accidental traveller.