Zulu Cave Hike

Zulu Cave Hike

Views During The Zulu Cave Hike
Sharon, Warren And Lyall At The Start Of The Hike

Fresh off a week at Mkhuze Sharon and I were at it yet again, only this time we were heading for the mountains to overnight in Zulu Cave. The original plan had been a hike to Marble Baths but sadly it was booked and we were forced into plan B.

We met Lyall, Caroline and Raphael at the standard BP garage for a cup of coffee and then headed for Monk’s Cowl. My chosen route was via Winterton, past the Waffle House and straight on to the campsite. Sadly things went a little awry when Mr Garmin decided he knew better. I took my standard off-ramp and just as I was about to turn left my Garmin yelled at me to take the next off ramp. We cruised back onto the freeway, carried on and took the next off-ramp only to discover that it involved 5kms of dirt. Not too much of an issue for us but the baby car behind us was a little less impressed.

After arriving at Monks Cowl we did the usual pre-hike routine which involved buying a map, signing the register and using a civilised toilet for the last time. Then it all began…

Caroline And Sharon On The Sphinx

We strapped on our packs in misty conditions and started up the trail to the Sphinx where we had our first break. The walk to the Sphinx is short (just under 2kms) but it’s mostly uphill. On the up side the view is spectacular and you also pass Crystal Falls on route meaning you get a lot of buck for the distance. It was on this initial short stretch that we came across out first Berg Adder and quickly realised that every time we saw a snake Sharon would walk slowly, and cautiously, for the next 20 minutes or so.

After a quick break we continued the climb up towards Blind Man’s Corner. Sadly, just before the plateau, Raff decided to turn back due to some pain in his hip. At the time this seemed unfortunate since it was less than 5 minutes to the top, however later on we realised that he’d probably made the right call.

Once we’d made it to Blind Man’s Corner (roughly half way in) we took another break and ate a little lunch. Sharon and I had pre-made tuna rolls while Lyall and Caroline took it to the next level by whipping out the gas stove and brewing up a quick batch of 2 minute noodles.

Views During The Zulu Cave Hike

The walk then continued on a gradual climb towards the highest point, Hlatikhulu Neck. From there the hike was supposed to get easier but this was far from the truth.

Lyall And Caroline Taking In The Vistas

On the map the distance we needed to walk to our next point (where we turned off the main path) was 1.5km. In truth this was far shorter which was somewhat confusing. Thankfully I’d noted on the map that the path from Hlatikhulu Neck was straight and didn’t cross any streams. Hence when we crossed a stream I realised something was off.

Since we hadn’t passed a distinct path this was somewhat concerning. Lyall and I left the girls with the packs and set out through the grasslands to find a path. It turns out that the path to Zulu Cave is long gone and in its place several other paths (if you can call them that) have been created by people who’ve gotten lost and have wondered the bush looking for the mapped route (much as we were doing).

Eventually we were forced to pick up the packs and venture forth without a path to guide us. All we had going in our favour was that we knew where we were and where we needed to be. This didn’t seem to be enough for the girls who were a little panicked but we had no option but to continue.

Arrow Leading The Way On The Hike

Thankfully a kilometre or so later we found the path and continued on our way with two happier ladies. Shortly after this we crossed the Mhlwazini River where there was a beautiful pool and waterfall. The sun had popped through the clouds and we took full advantage by having a quick swim in the cool water (well, at least the lower part of me got wet).

It is probably worth mentioning here that while wading in the pool I spotted a small fish which I’d guess was a rainbow trout. Perhaps I should’ve been carrying my fly rod after all?

The path at the waterfall once again became a little suspect. Thankfully someone else who’d clearly had a similar problem had arranged a set of rocks into an arrow showing us the way forward.

With less than a kilometre to go we trundled up the hill to the cave, listening to the sounds of thunder rolling in the distance, finally arriving at around 5pm.

It had been a long day on the trail, especially for the girls who were both on their first hike. We had also walked a total of 15kms, meaning we had covered an extra 2kms looking for paths and making our own route. None the less everyone was in good spirits as we set up camp in the beautiful Zulu Cave, located on one of the tributaries of the Mhlwazini River.

Zulu Cave is a larger cave and can easily accommodate 10 people or more. The floor of the cave is slightly slopped but not enough to be of any major concern. It is however dusty with a lot of stone chips, so make sure you dig through the dry grass and remove them before laying down your mattress. There is a waterfall falling directly in front of the lowest point of the cave which makes for a good water supply and a fantastic shower. The only real downside to the cave is the lack of view due to the forest directly in front of the opening. On the up side this does mean that even on the windiest day the cave is well protected.

A Waterfall On Route To Zulu Cave
Sharon Cooking Dinner In Zulu Cave

Being rather late we laid out our beds and set up camp while we still had light. We then had a quick shower, climbed into some clean clothes, and relaxed with a sherry as the sun set over the Drakensberg.

Dinner for Sharon and I consisted of curry Two Minute noodles. We’d taken up some pasta sauce and tuna to add to it if need be, but surprisingly neither of us was particularly hungry. Lyall and Caroline meanwhile cooked up some pasta and sauce for their dinner.

Darkness fell quickly and we all lay in bed chatting for a while before trying to fall asleep. For those of you who’ve slept in caves you’ll know it’s not the most comfortable thing and you wake up often during the night.

Without curtains we were all awake shortly after 5am as the sun rose. Slowly we climbed out of bed and brewed a few cups of coffee to get the day going. This was followed shortly by breakfast which, for Sharon and I, was a muffin and the fruit salad we’d planned for pudding. Lyall and Caroline took it to the extreme and cooked up some egg and bacon (who says hiking food has to be dull?).

By around 8am we’d eaten, packed up camp and were ready to go. We picked up the now lighter packs and started the 13km journey back to Monk’s Cowl camp. I suppose one of the downsides of using Zulu Cave for a 2 day hike is that you have to head home via the same route rather than doing a loop. That said it is a very different walk in reverse and you do have the option of Keartlands Pass instead of the Shpinx.

Warren, Sharon, Caroline And Lyall In Zulu Cave

The climb out of Mhlwazini River was steep but thankfully took far less time than expected. Soon we were back on the contour paths, over Hlatikhulu Neck and heading for Blind Man’s Corner.

The hike back was pleasant and we made good pace amidst the combination of misty, cloudy and sunny conditions. The girls breathed a sigh of relief when we reached breakfast stream and took a short break to cool their burning feet while Lyall covered his blisters.

We then began the final descent past the Sphinx and back down to the camp. It was at this point that everyone realised just how tired their legs were. There was a huge cry of joy as we reached the bottom of the stairs and walked back to the campsite. It was 2pm.

Raff also cried out in joy as his 2 day reign of sitting in a car reading Dean Koontz, the only book they had at the shop, finally came to an end.

Sharon and I had a quick shower in the campsite, got into clean clothes, said out goodbyes and then headed for home.

It was a tough first hike but definitely one to be remembered. I think it’ll take a few days for the girls to forget their pain and then they’ll be begging for more.

Sleeping Arrangements In Zulu Cave