A Day At Oribi Gorge In South Africa
After leaving Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park on our way to the Oribi Gorge, Bob and I found that the rural landscape quickly reverted to hillsides covered in a patchwork of cultivated fields. On the outskirts of larger urban centres, small buildings clustered together in kraals were still common.
From Mtubatuba, we took the fastest route available to drive to Margate where we would stay for one night en route to Port Elizabeth.
Highway N2 allowed speeds of 120 kilometres/hour, but we had to be ever mindful of errant cattle wandering onto the tarmac, hitchhikers, locals crossing the 4-lane highway, and fruit vendors set up on the shoulders of the road.
We pulled over briefly and negotiated with a lady for a pineapple…10.5 rand ($1.30). I was shocked to see not one but 5 pineapples in the bag that she gave me!
As we neared Margate, the landscape was brightened by houses with colourful facades. They had transitioned from earthy brown to pastel shades of pink, green, mauve, yellow and blue.
For one night, we stayed at Beachcomber Bay – Guest House in Margate where a grandiose room awaited us. A multitude of glass windows and doors in the sunroom afforded unobstructed views of the Indian Ocean.
Bob and I needed to stretch our legs, and despite a light drizzle falling, we descended a steep set of steps to the beach for a little walkabout.
At 4:30 a.m. the following morning, I peeked out the drapes hoping for a sunrise over the ocean, but instead the sea was hidden by dense fog, and a dark brooding sky completed the ominous picture.
With so many pineapples on hand, I cut up one to hold us over until breakfast was served at 7:30 a.m. By that time, the fog was slowly beginning to drift onshore.
As we scanned the horizon, mega cargo ships drifted into view and sluggishly proceeded across our line of sight. While spying on them through the binoculars, we caught glimpses of whales that popped up, catching their breath as they made their way toward the Cape of Good Hope.
Our day was going to consist of about 10 hours of driving, so we decided to sacrifice a bit of time to explore the Oribi Gorge before getting underway.
A short 21-kilometre drive inland from Port Shepstone had us there in no time. The Oribi Gorge is named for the Oribi Antelope that live within the Gorge.
Oribi Gorge is on the Umzimkulwana River. It has carved the eastern gorge of two gorges that cut through the Oribi Flats. Our drive first took us up through the river valley that was shouldered by sheer cliffs and craggy mountaintops.
The Oribi Gorge is within the Lake Eland Game Reserve . Hiking trails are provided on the plateau, so we set off to find Overhanging Rock. From that viewpoint, Bob and I had spectacular views of the Gorge and river.
Lantana provided bursts of colour where it grew in tangles next to the lookouts.
It is a flower that we often purchase from a garden centre at home to add to a mixed planter in the summer.
A myriad of waterfalls tumble from the lip of the plateau into the Oribi Gorge creating beautiful vistas of lush green vegetation. Lehr’s Falls is one such cascade dropping 300 metres down the escarpment with a plunge pool mid-way.
There is a rough trail that hikers can use to descend to the plunge pool. We did not undertake that owing to time restraints.
The walkway above Lehr’s Falls took the form of a simple wooden boardwalk across the stream that feeds the falls.
One overlook was planned with a view of Baboon’s Castle, our reward for walking the short 1-kilometre trail to the edge of the Gorge. Over eons, erosion has shaped the formation out of the sandstone cliffs.
What a delight to find a suspension bridge!
Seen from a distance hovering 130 metres above the floor of the Gorge, the bridge was intimidating. We had to brave it for the excellent views it provides of Lehr’s Falls and Baboon’s Castle.
We almost needed sea legs because of the sway of the bridge.
As we hastened across the 80-metre span, Bob and I paused only long enough to snap a few quick photos.
From our vantage point on the suspension bridge, we noticed zip lines available for use by more adventurous visitors.
We were onlookers when one tourist elected to take advantage of the Wild 5 Adventure bungee jump into the Gorge from the top of Lehr’s Falls.
Although the structure supporting the wild swing looked very safe and secure, neither Bob nor I could muster up the courage to try it out.
I was really taken with the colourful and ornate flowers of an Australian Chestnut Tree. This evergreen tree is native to Australia and other Pacific Islands.
Also known as a Blackbean Tree, the seeds have been harvested by aboriginal people for some 2,500 years, but they require strict methods of preparation otherwise they are poisonous.
After leaving Oribi Gorge, the drive took us south from Kokstad. For hours, we drove through the Drakensberg Mountains. Tracing South Africa’s Eastern Escarpment for 600 miles, the Mountains are composed of a stunning, largely unpopulated wilderness of alpine grasslands and pockets of forest, waterfalls and rivers.
The escarpment marks the point where the high veldt plateau plunges down over 1,000 meters before spilling out onto the eastern low veldt, forming a dramatic knot of soaring cliffs, canyons, sweeping rounded hillsides and shaded valleys. Literally, around every corner are spectacular vistas that left us breathless.
Near Mthatha, we had to fill our gas tank. This lovely family gave us the brightest smiles as they savoured their ice cream cones.
The mountains eventually became barren and treeless, and flocks of sheep could be seen dotting farmland as well as the sacred cattle. Our progress was hindered when a rolling bank of fog engulfed us and forced traffic to a crawl. It was a relief to break into the clear at Butterworth.
As the afternoon light was swallowed by dark brooding clouds, we continued to make headway. Nearer the coast and East London, the hillsides became more populated with trees and the grass grew greener.
For the last 2.5 hours of driving, we were plunged into darkness save for a full moon that fooled us into thinking that some car’s headlight was beaming in through the rear window. We sped along near-empty highways and finally drew up to the Radisson Blu in Port Elizabeth at 10:30 p.m. This was our longest driving day of the trip. We were glad to hang our hats that night!