They Own Cattle but Own No Land

“They own cattle but own no land.”

Upon showing me to the quaint cottage room near a misty dam, my host uttered these words.

Quite a bizarre statement to hear for a city slicker like myself.

I was unfamiliar with this kind of problem. A problem experienced in the hinterlands surrounding the majestic Drakensberg mountains.

However, this article does not concern the logistics of modern South African cattle grazing complexities, and I digress.

The Drakensberg had ideas of its own for me

I arrived in the Drakensberg mountains from a stint at a friend’s apartment in the coastal town of Umhlanga.

The entire trip was a miracle, really.

South Africa moved to level 2 of the lockdown.

Moving around again after months of being cooped up in my Johannesburg home felt amazing.

The Drakensberg Mountains in Black-and-white. Photo by Crowpix Media.

Regardless, I had arrived in the Berg, and my mission was to do an overnight trek in the Giants Castle region, the first trek in a while.

While I experienced a warm winter climate in Umhlanga, I showed up to some cold weather in the Berg.

The mist was thick. I knew from previous experience that the grassy mountain hills lay hidden under the veil of this fog. A bitter wind hustled the stark trees, and a gentle but constant rain fell upon my jacket.

I prepared for this eventuality.

The weather App on my phone had predicted the could conditions correctly.

The only problem was that the weather was worse than expected, and lone trekking would not be an option for the foreseeable future.

I was ready to buckle in. Sit it out.

Today was Tuesday.

Wednesday arrived.

The weather remained the same.

No walking in these torrid conditions.

The only option was to get the camera out and record the local environment, even in inclement weather.

It is fair to state that some of the most unusual photos happen in this type of weather.

Poor weather is seldom an excuse for laziness.

The Nikon came out of the bag.

Into the mist, I wondered.

Photograph by Crowpix Media

There was a braai for one later that night, and plenty hoped the sun would appear the following day. I desired a gap that could allow me to begin my photographic-inspired hiking mission.

The mission was to overnight at Bannerman’s hut on the Little Berg.

A straightforward hike with some steep inclines.

I also wanted to see the Bearded vultures indigenous to the Drakensberg area. I had my camera geared towards that occasion.

A 70–200mm f/2.8 Nikon lens is locked in.

I needed the vulture to come in close or get some elevation towards the bird.

Sun, glorious sun

Thursday, and the early morning sun was out. Hallelujah! The hike was on. Being the organised person I am, I had everything ready to go.

I packed the car and drove towards Giants Castle’s main gate.

I paid the fees and did the health check per COVID-19 regulations.

Before I knew it, I was at the start of the path, camera in hand and backpack in tow. The clouds were still around, scattered, and no rain in sight.

The cool temperature was favourable for climbing a constant, gradual incline with about 20 kg on your back.

Finally, I got to hiking in the berg

The hike was duly scenic. I was unfit after months of sitting at home during the lockdown, so I felt the rucksack’s weight by the end of the hike.

With quivering legs, I arrived at the hut late afternoon and was the only person in sight, amongst the splendour of the peaks.

Photograph by Crowpix Media

After a coffee (on the gas burner) and some snacks, night fell, and the cold arrived again. After watching the moon rise, I removed the wide-angle lens and did some night shots before heading to bed.

The following day I awoke to a vicious wind that appeared as suddenly as the sun arose, and then just as suddenly, the howling wind disappeared.

After the howling wind, the most beautiful day arose.

It was crisp and clear, with no haziness, something unfamiliar in the berg, especially in winter. The peaks of Giants Castle stood tall, clear, and majestic before me.

Satisfied with the results, I began the journey back to the mountain base, taking scenic shots as I progressed.

I was further blessed along the way when I spotted a Bearded Vulture soaring in the mid-morning blue skies above. 

I was happy and appreciative of the gifts that nature had displayed to me. From that point on, I settled into a comfortable pace.

I went down the steep ridge back to the Giants Castle main camp area, stopping only to refresh at the river for a short time.


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