Your journey starts at Ithala Game Reserve, where the Ngotshe Mountains jut into the sky like Pride Rock in The Lion King. You half expect the giraffes to burst into the chorus of “The Circle of Life”. Day visitors pay a conservation fee of R120 per adult; half-price for children; free if you stay over in the park. Ithala is home to diverse landscapes and vegetation types. The best way to see the park is to pack lunch and pick a trail. The Phuzamoya Trail is a two-hour hike through woodland, savannah and thickets where Verreaux’s eagles glide overhead. The Horace Rail Trail is a longer 12 km hike (don’t start after noon in winter) through a localised patch of semi-alpine fynbos known as north-eastern mountain sourveld. There are only 800 ha of it in the world and you’ll stroll through half of it.
You can also do a guided walk with a ranger for R250 per person, including drinks and snacks (minimum two people; max eight). If it’s animals you’re after, a three-hour guided game drive in an open vehicle costs R250 per person (no children under 12). You can also explore in your own vehicle: The Ngubhu Loop is a 30 km circular route that connects several viewpoints. Rain determines whether the roads are sedan-friendly, so check with reception before you set off. Cool off in the pool at NTSHONDWE RESORT afterwards, then perk up with a coffee at the Guinea Fowl Coffee Shop. The hills of Ithala have been the setting for countless dramatic tales, from gold prospectors to refugees fleeing Shaka. Learn more at the small museum at the information centre. As evening approaches, sip a sundowner at the waterhole near the Kraal Restaurant while screeching bushbabies welcome the night.
DOORNKRAAL CAMPSITE – The campsite is an hour’s drive from reception so make sure you arrive with enough time to get there before dark. There are no power points and caravans aren’t permitted because the gravel roads can be dodgy after rain. It’s a secluded, no-frills, rustic affair with cold showers.