Northern Garden Castle Trip Report

08 Nov 2016 17:02 - 09 Nov 2016 09:02 #70162 by Smurfatefrog
Weekend #2 of Intrepid's SA visit was planned to explore new areas, the original plan was Vergelegen but when the weather forecast looked very wet for the first two days we decided to rather do a cave based route on the northern side of Garden Castle, of which the little berg was a new area to all of us.

Saturday morning Intrepid, Papa Dragon and myself left a miserable KZN coast expecting an equally miserable looking berg, but to our amazement as we neared Underberg the escarpment was bright and clear!

We parked at Garden Castle and then were kindly transported to the end of Castle View's farm road, a few hundred metres from the Mzimkhulu river.

Crossing the Mzimkhulu, two days later it was quite a bit fuller much higher up


The hike only started just after 11am but we had planned this and had a comfortable day in store. We quickly picked up the path heading towards Wilson's Cave, we could see John's Cave on the other side of the valley which had about 50 cows and 50 eland grazing in front of it. About 200m further there was a similar scene, this time with even more eland! (they were a little far to count this time)

Little Bamboo, John's Cave, cattle & eland


We were all running low on water by the time we reached a river crossing about 7km in, we had all taken minimal water and weren't particularly keen to take from the rivers near all the animals. There is water along the route but we just didn't feel like heading down to the river because we were expecting a river crossing, as it turns out the path goes past the river that flows past Wilson's Cave and then sidetracks across a ridge to get there.
2km further we arrived at the cave thrilled to have made it before the rain that was forecast for the whole day...
It turned out to be a clear night with some great views of the escarpment from the ridge about Mehnir Rock.
Wilson's is a really nice cave!

Wilson's Cave and Menhir Rock



Sunday morning we were ready to start hiking at 6:30am, at about 6:15am the rain started....
At 7:15 it had mostly stopped so we headed out onto the top of the first ridge, we planned our route contouring south across a few ridges & then heading up Stones Pass North.

A few minutes sunshine


Stones South and North Passes


A few minutes later the mist engulfed us, followed a few minutes later by a fairly steady downpour! With hardly any visibility and a few discussions we made it to the ridge heading up the pass, this section took us 1h30 but it felt like much longer! Once on the ridge we found the path which then seemed to disappear once it crossed to the true right but this wasn't a problem. Just under an hour later we were on top, completely drenched! We all had full rain gear on but that didn't seem to help much.
We had a whopping 2 minute break at the top of the pass before setting our sights on Sandleni Cave for a dry and warm lunch stop.

We got to soggy Sandleni Cave at 11am, quickly took wet clothes off, put dry ones on & boiled up some water. Intrepid & Papa D battled to get warm and resorted to some cave cuddling, I was generally ok until I drank some cold water after my hot chocolate... not the best idea

Trying to get warm



About 2 hours later we headed off with still 7km to go on the escarpment, thankfully the rain eased off to just a slight drizzle every now and then, and visibility was always good.



Two shepherds came to meet us at the top of the No Mans ridge, they treated us to some song (aka shouting) and dance. They were very friendly and never asked for anything so we gave them some snacks.
The one chap had some pants made out of the sacks used by the smugglers, Papa D made some mental notes for his next DIY project.
Intrepid and I popped up No Mans Peak while Papa D kept watch of the packs before we headed down to Mzimkhulu Pass North. The path taking us down into the mist was very easy to follow and in good condition for a path used often by smugglers. We arrived at Fun Cave just before 17:30 on what had been a long and testing day! Once again... wet clothes off, dry clothes on, boiling water on!

Fun Cave washing lines


The cave was a lot better than I had expected: good grass covering in the sleeping areas and most important it was dry, even with mist and drizzle around we were kept perfectly dry.

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Last edit: 09 Nov 2016 09:02 by Smurfatefrog.
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08 Nov 2016 17:10 - 08 Nov 2016 17:11 #70163 by Smurfatefrog
Monday's forecast had promised sunshine but after Saturday being a thankfully horribly wrong forecast we woke up relieved to find a fairly clear day, quite a bit of cloud around but no rain!
This time we did leave at 6:30am, first stop was Verkyker Cave which is directly opposite Fun Cave, not a great cave at all... sloping, full of stones and not much sleeping area.

Verkyker Cave from Fun Cave


Verkyker Cave, with Fun Cave across the river


Heading down the valley was a great surprise to all of us, definitely one of the most scenic valleys I've walked through, amazing rock formations, plenty possible caves and some nice pools. The Mzimkhulu pipeline section was also a highlight, I wouldn't like to walk through there after a big storm though!


Mzimkhulu Pipeline


We passed two groups of smugglers on the way down, both very friendly. It was clear that the one group had stayed at Mzimkhulu Cave.

Massive pool partially behind the tree


The next part of our route was a slightly debated one, but we decided to head downstream and then go over the ridge towards "Three Pools". This proved a good decision and soon enough Papa D and I were having a dip in one of the pools while Intrepid ventured off searching for Bushman Paintings. He joined us and had a refreshing dip of his own before we trekked up the ridge towards Garden Castle and finally dropping back down to the car park.

On top of the ridge before dropping down to Three Pools


Pool #2


Looking back from the ridge above Garden Castle office towards Three Pools and the ridge we crossed over


The end in sight!


46km were covered on what was a new lower berg area for all of us, always great seeing new areas! Not always great seeing pine trees in these areas, but all the more reason to go back to the area again.

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Last edit: 08 Nov 2016 17:11 by Smurfatefrog.

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08 Nov 2016 17:51 #70164 by ghaznavid
Nicely done, guys!

I also found the area around Fun Cave to be one of the most scenic Small Berg valleys. I don't think it is often visited, but well worth visiting.
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17 Jan 2017 12:57 #70661 by MarkT
Thanks for the report - who did you organise the lift from (to get to the end of Castle View farm road?) And did you phone the owner of the farm to ask? Just curious if these steps are necessary.

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17 Jan 2017 13:07 #70662 by Smurfatefrog

MarkT wrote: Thanks for the report - who did you organise the lift from (to get to the end of Castle View farm road?) And did you phone the owner of the farm to ask? Just curious if these steps are necessary.


We called the farm owner and asked, you should always call before you cross their property.
A friend of ours gave us a lift to his farm, it turned out that she was a good friend of the farm owners as well, so I assume this was part of the reason he gave us a lift to the end of the road.
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18 Jan 2017 10:53 - 18 Jan 2017 10:54 #70667 by Bigsnake
My ears pricked up when I read about Castle View farm.

Previously we have parked our cars at Lake Naverone and walked from there onto the farm road and onwards.

A couple of friends and I tried to get permission to cross the farm a couple of weeks ago… A painful experience!
We didn't have the number for the owners so I decided to phone Lake Naverone to ask them for the number.
Spoke to a very harassed and self-important lady who straightaway told us the owners would not be happy with that idea!
When I explained to her that hikers cross the farm from time to time and I have myself in the past she reluctantly agreed to phone on my behalf (she was not going to give me the number).

To her credit, she got back to me reasonably quickly to tell me that under no circumstances were we to cross the farm according to the wife of Richard Hamilton who is the present owner.

The reason being,

Her:"they have a very vicious dog and the last hiker had his arm ripped off! sic... and they had to call an ambulance to take him away."

Me: "arm ripped off, hey?"

Her: "well… badly bitten! But anyway under no circumstances can you cross the farm!"

So after that exchange we decided to go the long way around and start on the Giants Cup Trail and work our way around the farms Braemar etc.
Last edit: 18 Jan 2017 10:54 by Bigsnake.

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18 Jan 2017 12:10 #70668 by Smurfatefrog
Interesting.....

That's not the name of the owner AFAIK
He did mention to us that his dog did bite a hiker a while back, but that same dog rode on the back of the bakkie with us and was fine

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18 Jan 2017 18:05 #70685 by intrepid
In preparing for the trip I contacted the owner (Humphry) directly and he was very pleasant to deal with. He did warn me right away about one of his dogs and told us that when we drive up to his yard that we should stay in the car until he said it was OK to come out. The same dog did ride on the back of the bakkie with us eventually - this has to do with dog's psychology evidently, if you arrive in a strange car you are an enemy, if you get into the bakkie though and dog is excited about going for a drive, you are a friend.

If anyone would like to arrange access to the farm, feel free to PM me for his contact details (I won't publish them since I'm not sure if thats OK). He is very friendly and does deal with hikers.

Take nothing but litter, leave nothing but a cleaner Drakensberg.
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23 Jul 2019 10:53 #75180 by GriffBaker


Did one of you guys leave a book in Wilsons cave 2 years ago? :)

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23 Jul 2019 11:05 #75181 by Smurfatefrog

GriffBaker wrote:
Did one of you guys leave a book in Wilsons cave 2 years ago? :)


Yes, damnit man, I was going back next weekend to finish the last few chapters, now I have to carry that weight back there!
ok no, wasn't us :p
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