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Ultimate Drakensberg

Key Information

Dates:

16 Mar - 27 Mar 2025

Duration:

12 days

Accomodation:

Hotels and Tents

Physicality:

Challenging

Group Size:

6 clients

Price:

£3000 (£600 Deposit)

What to Expect

The Drakensberg is a continuous three thousand meter high mountain escarpment in the heart of South Africa, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also known by the Zulus as uKhahlamba, The Barrier of Spears it encompasses vast cliffs, jagged ridges and endless pinnacles. In the mornings mist swirls around the valleys below and the bark of baboons echoes off basalt cliffs. Cape Vultures, Lammergeier and black eagles soar above the peaks. The afternoons can bring thunderstorms which crash around the mountains bring with them clear air and dramatic light.

In this extended 12-day adventure, we will spend 7 nights camped on the cliffs immersing ourselves in the landscape, discovering its finest views and enjoying true adventure where few other photographers have visited. Throughout our journey, we will be supported our Zulu guide Zee (the best guide in the Berg!) and her team of local porters. I have spent over 20 weeks hiking atop the Drakensberg and this trip is the best photographic plan I can come up with, visiting almost all of the most exceptional locations in the Drakensberg.

The photos on this page show locations that we will visit on our trip. The majority were taken on the March '24 workshops.



Itinerary

After our transfer from Johannesburg the trip will begin with two nights in comfortable accommodation to acclimatise to the altitude. On our first full day in the Berg day we will day hike into Royal Natal National Park where we can photograph waterfalls and local flora beneath the cliffs of the Amphitheatre.

The majority of the trip will be taken up with an eight day, seven night backpacking adventure. On the third day of our trip we will begin our hike with a 400m ascent to the top of the Amphitheatre via the famous Chain Ladders, two 20m steel ladders bolted into the cliffs (don’t worry you won’t have to carry your backpack up them!). Our camp gives us a view of Tugela Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in the world.

In subsequent days we will hike ten to twelve kilometres each morning over and around the hills of Lesotho, ascending and descending around 300m. We will normally arrive before 2pm to make camp at a new world-class viewpoint. With around 4 hours until sunset there is plenty of time to both relax and explore the photographic opportunities. 

On our final day of the hike, the 10th day of the trip, we will descend one of the most beautiful passes in the Drakensberg to reach the luxury of the Cathedral Peak Hotel where we will stay for two nights. On our penultimate day we will do one or two low level hikes as well as do a bit of image editing for those who aren’t too preoccupied with having a well-earned rest!

Tuition

I will be on hand at all times to help you with your images should you wish. With a modest group size of 6 there will be plenty of opportunity for 1-to-1 time. On the other hand advanced photographers have often joined me on these trips to expand their horizons in a new way.  The level of independence and tuition is entirely flexible, depending on individual interests and needs. I will be taking my own images on this trip, however my priority will always be in assisting the group in whatever way they wish.

 

Fitness And Experience

At this altitude the oxygen levels are only 70% of what you might be used to at sea level, but the distances we are covering are not significant. Our acclimatisation days will certainly help with the altitude. Altitude sickness is possible but this would be quite a low altitude for this to occur and you are more likely to find it slightly harder to sleep for the first couple of nights.

We will contour the hills as much as possible to avoid significant elevation changes. We walk very steadily, at a pace that would seem tedious for extremely fit hikers, but this is a great way to handle the altitude and the length of our trek, it isnt a gruelling competition, its a trekking holiday where we want to be able to chat as we walk!

There will be 6 clients and 6 porters and you can hand over about 8kg of gear to the porters. In general this means you dont need to carry your tent (the porters will pitch these for us) or stove (we will use my group stoves) and then you can also hand over a heavy/compact bag - often food, perhaps your tripod etc. The issue at the start of the trip is the volume that the porters can take, because they will have 8 days of food as well! As we eat through our food we can hand over more kit if necessary.

You do not need prior backpacking experience to come on this trip however you should be walking fit and free from injury. The fitter you are the more you will enjoy the hiking of course!

Weather and Temperatures

The weather in the Drakensberg might be best described as stable mornings and unstable afternoons! I have spent the majority of my time in the Berg hiking in March. Most days begin with a cool morning with a light breeze, crystal clear air, usually clear skies (although often there is high cloud) and views over a cloud inversion. Indeed, I have had several trips where every single morning we have had a cloud inversion over the valleys below!

The sun rises at around 6am and by 9am the suns strength is very significant with extreme UV exposure. A wide brimmed hat (or a hat with neck covering), factor 50 sunscreen and sunglasses are essential.

The mornings start clear but clouds will generally build from around 10am and by 2pm they may have enough energy to produce showers and on some days, thunder and lightning. On some afternoons this rain might keep us in our tents, but the rain is what creates exciting evening conditions and particularly the cloud inversions in the mornings, so in rain is a very good thing!

On some days the cloud inversion we were photographing at dawn rises up to swallow the whole area and you end up walking in the mist. There might be one or two days on a trip like this where rain is more persistent, but I have to stress that one of the great appeals of the Drakensberg is the usually reliable weather and incredible light!

Temperatures can get as low as freezing overnight (though 5-10 degrees Celsius is far more common) and 12-20 degrees in the day, usually around 15-17. It can get to 25 degrees and humid in the valleys, but this will only affect our final days.

Equipment

A full kit list will be provided after booking. I can loan some of the big ticket items including sleeping bags, sleeping matts and tents, but otherwise you will need to fully equip yourself. 

Additional Expenses

The trip does not include flights, insurance, tips for the porters (approx. R1000 total) or hiking food or drinks. It does include transport from Johannesburg to the Drakensberg, accomodation, and meals at the accomodation.

Transport

You should aim to catch a flight to OR Tambo airport in Johannesberg arriving BEFORE 9.30am on Sunday 16th March (there are several flight from Europe arriving before this time). It is important we are able to meet around 9/10am (TBC) to give us time for a food shop and then the drive to the Drakensberg without having to rush. If you are flying from a substantially different time zone then you might wish to fly a day early, the 'Protea by Marriott Hotel O.R. Tambo Airport' is a good hotel with free transfers from the airport.

After shopping a 5 hour drive (including stops) takes us to our accomodation in the Drakensberg.

Return flights should leave AFTER 6pm on Thursday the 27th of March.

Price And Booking

This workshop is priced at £3000 with a £600 deposit required to book your place. The remaining £2400 is due 3 months before departure in mid-January.

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