Be One with Nature

The Midlands MagazineJanuary 10, 2024

Sleeping under the open sky, swimming beneath a waterfall, and forging new friendships, this experience promises both physical challenges and enduring memories.


The Drakensberg is one of those places where people lose their souls, not in a negative way, but in the sense that they let go, find themselves, and tend to always return. The mountains are fortresses of solitude and it is an incredible experience exploring their vast lands.


If you haven’t heard of the Aasvoelkrans Cave in Highmoor Nature Reserve, it’s a large, open cave that can accommodate eight people and is a 4.2-kilometre hike from the nature reserve’s reception. It is also situated right alongside a waterfall that falls into an amazing pool, perfect for a lovely swim after the hike. So, what did I do for a weekend? I hiked and slept in a cave!


David Allen, the co-founder of Camp Soloman (a leadership and adventure program for School groups and adults) and a body language trainer, public speaker and author, has an innate passion for sharing his “backyard”, the Berg, with anyone and everyone who wants to escape the bustling city life. David invited me and four others on this two-day hike to stay in the cave.


As I have always wanted to be a bit more adventurous, I was thrilled to experience something new. The first disclaimer is that you need to ‘rough it’ for one night. There are no bathrooms so you bring what is necessary and find a ‘loo with a view’. It’s also important to note that whatever you want with you, you carry, and you will most likely sleep on a yoga mat in a sleeping bag.


If this sounds intimidating, I promise you that these small compromises are nothing compared to the priceless reward of the fulfilling experience.


To start our trip, David took us all for a paddle on the Mooi River. With the abundant birdlife and riverbed flora, there was beauty everywhere. Afterward, we enjoyed our lunches before bag checks to make sure we all had everything we needed. The hike can take an hour and a half, depending on the group, and is perfect for beginners or people who aren’t avid hikers. From rolling green hills to the winding river and spotting amazing flowers, my mind was empty but my soul was full. Water was never a worry as the running water from the river and waterfall is safe to drink, which is rather sweet but extremely refreshing. During the hike, we saw amazing views of Giant’s Castle which looked like it could be the perfect postcard photo. This is when David shared his intimate knowledge of the Berg. Apparently, in the late 1800s, a father and son claimed to have seen dragons in the mountains, and thus “Dragon Mountains” became Drakensberg. In Zulu, the mountains are known as the “Barrier of Spears”.


After we reached the cave, we set up camp on the flat parts before doing a small rock climb down to the waterfall. The water was so refreshing to dive into and cool off. After everyone enjoyed the waterfall and took a few photos, we headed back up to get dinner started. A trusty small camping gas stove and pot are all you need – everyone took their turn to make dinner and a hot cup of tea. We were even blessed with a faint rainbow in the valley that we got to marvel at while eating.


As the night slowly crept in, we finished our “campfire” stories and all hit the hay for an early rise, which was at about 5 a.m. after the sunrise illuminated the cave. I trekked up our trail to get a higher view of the sun rising over the cliff and into the valley below and had a moment to reflect and appreciate the beauty of our world.


After everyone was up and packed, we enjoyed our cups of coffee before starting our hike back. The toughest part was the very beginning, going up the stairs along the cliff, but I pushed through with everyone’s motivation. Our first view was breathtaking – on one side you look down over a cliff into a valley of farms and dams and on the other is Giant’s Castle and crystal clear blue skies made for uninterrupted views.


The trek back was a hard one but the mountain scenes were incredible. Honestly, it was a hard goodbye, but I wasn’t leaving empty-handed. I completed a hike and slept in an open cave, swam under a waterfall, and made new friends while creating memories that will last a lifetime. If there is anything adventurous you want to do this new year, you must add this to your list. You’ll thank me later!

Words by Kai Coates