South Africa Highlands

Giant's Cup - Day 1
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This relatively easy trail is situated in the foothills of the southern Drakensberg and is an ideal hiking opportunity for those unfamiliar with the Beg. Stretching between Sani Pass in the north and Bushman's Nek in the south, the trail winds past eroded sandstone formations, across grassy plains and through spectacular valleys with inviting pools. Herds of eland can sometimes be seen, while raptors like bearded and Cape vultures are occasionally seen overhead.

(Go to overview map of Giant's Cup Area.)

Day 1: Sani Pass to Pholela Hut
The trail starts near the foot of the Sani Pass, the only road link between KwaZulu/Natal and northeastern Lesotho. Over the first 4 km (2.5 miles) the trail rises gently to cross the ridge between the Mkhomazana and Gxalingena valleys. The name Gxalingena means "where one should not enter" and is said to have been given to the forest farther downstream to which witch doctors prohibited entry. After 5 km (3 miles) you will reach the Gxalingena River, which is crossed by means of a log bridge at Ngenwa Pool. As the first overnight hut is only 8 km (5 miles) farther (about three hours), it is virtually compulsory to spend some time here to soak up the beautiful scenery.

From Ngenwa the trail climbs steadily uphill whilst skirting the eastern slopes of Ndlovini. A track branching off to the left near the 9 km (5.5 miles) marker follows the alternative route via Bypass Ridge. During rainy weather the Trout Beck, which has to be crossed several times on the main route, can be a problem, so it is advisable to follow the Bypass Ridge route after heavy rains.

The trail then descends to Trout Beck and shortly before reaching the river you will get a close up view of a dolerite sill to the left of the trail.

Over the next 2 km (1.25 miles) the trail follows the course of the Trout Beck over fairly level terrain and as you enter the Pholela Valley, the peaks after which the trail has been named can be seen to the north west. During his journey through the Drakensberg in October 1835 Captain Allen Gardiner recorded seeing a mountain with a "singularly indented outline," which prompted him to name it the Giant's Cup. The peaks were later renamed Hodgson's Peaks, a name which serves as a grim reminder of the fierce clashes that took place between the San and the early white settlers. Thomas Hodgson was a member of a punitive commando organized in 1862 to recover 67 cattle and 18 horses that were stolen by San cattle rustlers. Whilst giving chase, Hodgson was accidentally wounded in the thigh by one of his companions. He died the following day and was buried at the top of the pass. A cairn was erected on the site a year later.

Keep an eye out in the valley for eland, which can sometimes be seen in large herds, especially during the winter months. Shortly before reaching the hut the trail crosses the Trout Beck by means of a suspension bridge. Pholela Hut was one of the original farmhouses in the valley and has been changed as little as possible to retain its character. It is a beautiful old house, built of dressed sandstone, and consists of three bedrooms, a large common room, a kitchen with a stove, and a shower and flush toilet.

Trail Planner

Distance: 60 km; five days

Grading: A+

Reservations: The Reservations Officer, Natal Parks Board, P.O. Box 1750, Pietermaritzburg 3200, Telephone (0331) 47 1981, Fax (0331) 47 1980. Reservations are accepted up to nine months in advance.

Group size: Minimum 2; maximum 30 Maps: Go to overview map of Giant's Cup Area. A full color trail map (waterproof or plain) with useful information on the history, flora and fauna on the reverse is available, but must be ordered separately.

Facilities: The huts at the four overnight stops are equipped with bunks that have mattresses, tables and benches, water, toilets, and refuse bins.

Logistics: Linear route without any public transport. Transport to the start or end of the trail can be arranged with Himeville Toyota Service Station at Himeville, telephone (033) 702 1121 or Giant's Cup Motors, telephone (033) 702 1615. There is no overnight hut at the start of the trail, but campsites with ablution facilities are available at the Himeville Nature Reserve, which is conveniently situated close to the start of the trail. An overnight hut is provided about 1.5 km from the end of the trail.

How to get there: The start of the trail is reached by turning left onto the Sani Pass road three km north of Himeville. The Sani Pass Hotel is passed after about 11 km and the start of the trail is about five km farther on.

© Article copyright Menasha Ridge Press. All rights reserved.


Excerpted from Hiking Trails of Southern Africa by Willie and Sandra Olivier

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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