Monks Cowl to Zulu Cave route update and tips January 2020
By Cal Snow, of Trail Bundu Basher
As I said to Nellie, in all the years I hiked with scouts in my youth, it was not as common as one would think to find a scout who had encountered the variety of scenarios and experience building dynamics that we found in our two days on this hike.
From flat beautiful defined trails with stunning views, to adventuring (bundu bashing!!!) till you find the trail, with stunning views. From hot humid weather with stunning views, to chilly misty weather, with NO views. From challenging inclines with stunning views, to grinding declines with, yes, stunning views, this hike is has a lot to offer.
Having said all of that, this hike is relatively easy going on average but there are some quite challenging sections, and, as we later found out, while comfortable for novice hikers, it will be a very good idea to have an experienced hiker lead the pack, especially when trail finding is a not as clear cut as following a defined path.
The leader should research the route on Drakensberg Park map 2 (Cathedral Peak Map), and make note of the landscape and topographical land marks. This helped us greatly on our route, especially after we left the day hiking routes.
- To start off, for the first 5,5 km one follows the well-defined and well-marked paths, of the day hiking area of Monks Cowl Park, to Bindman’s corner, the edge of the day hiking section. You can take any route you like to get there, but we recommend the Crystal Falls and Sphinx route.
- At Bindman’s Corner turn right and follow the contour path around towards Hlatikulu Nek for about 2,5 km. At Hlatikulu Nek you will get to an intersection that has the last sign you will see, and off of the path you are on will be a very unused path to “The V” off to your right. Do not use this unused path. Keep going straight past the left of the signage rock.
3. Follow the path for 1km until you are at the foot of a very small “koppie” (hill) to your right very close to the path. At this 1km mark there will be a well-worn path continuing straight on from the path you are on. DO NOT take this path. It becomes a fire break and goes to Keith Bush Camp.
Look at around 45 deg right and you will see a path leading up the small hill over into the next small ravine. Take this path.
4. Once over the top of the hill you will see a ravine and on the other side several paths going up the other side of the ravine. Head in the direction of those paths, you may find several paths heading down to the ravine crossing, depending on how over grown the area is.
Cross the stream and head up to the left hand path on the other side. Alternatively one could possibly take the path to the right as you exit the ravine. It seems to go in a similar overall vector, however we did not take this path and thus will not comment on it.
5. Once on that path up the other side of the ravine you will approach a rough intersection with the previously mentioned well-worn path/fire break. Don't take that path. Look to your right and you will see another grassy path heading in a northerly direction uphill and parallel to the Mhlwazini river at the foothills of the Gatberg range. (this is the river you will need to cross later)
6. At the top of the small hill you pass between some rocks and over the top. The path should be relatively defined, however if not just head north and keep the river on your left.
You will also be going somewhat parallel to a gradually uphill contour path on the foot hills of the Gatberg. You now know you are on the right path. Follow that path North, more or less, keeping the Gatberg and the river on your left.
7. You will be heading for the intersection with the stream you originally crossed in point 4 and the Mhlwazini river. The original stream will intersect from the right with the Mhlwazini river. The going will be relatively easy until you reach the edge of the plateau you are on, where you will go down a steep path that will take you to the river intersection, where the smaller stream will flows from the right down a small waterfall and into the main river. DO NOT cross to the right of the stream over the waterfall top. You want to wind up on the left of the main river after the intersection
8. Head to the main rivers edge from the flat rocks at the paths end.
Cross the river and up the steep, overgrown path on the other side of the river. The path is around 15m downstream from where you crossed.
9, Once at the top of the steep path, you should find only one sandy/grassy path contouring around the foot of the mountain to your left, with the main river to your right. Follow this path over two stream crossings and through a field that is scattered with large boulders.
Not long after the boulder field, the path will turn left away from the river and West up the forested ravine where the Zulu cave is situated. Follow the path up for around 800m and you should start to hear the waterfall that falls over the front of the right side of the cave. The path will take you straight into the left side entrance to the cave.
In the cave there is a dusty floor so a good ground cover will help. There is a short path to access to the waterfall to take a cold shower and get water. It is highly recommended that the water is filtered through a cloth or t-shirt, treated with purifying tablets and boiled. Better be safe.
NOTE: Do not leave anything out before going to sleep. Pack all your food and rubbish into your pack and place all your small belongings into a bag attached to your packs. There are furry nocturnal visitors looking for a snack and you are in their house now.
We were visited by a cheeky, yet beautiful, Large-spotted Genet after lights out. Needless to say us ignorantly leaving our food next to our packs resulted in my old inner JHB city boy surfacing when we were woken up by the food packet being dragged across the floor in the pitch dark. I am not too proud to say that I K&ked myself. Nellie laughed herself back to sleep.
We hope this article is of use to all who are embarking on this wonderful hike.