Just outside Golela, I turn my 4×4 rental left onto the N2 and head south for Durban. I could probably make Durban before nightfall, driving along the 500 km of good motorway, but I decide to stop en route. There’s a game reserve at Mkuze but I want to gain some time so choose to stop at the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park. The other option is to go west to St Lucia Estuary, but I don’t want to go too far from the N2. After taking the Hluhluwe off-ramp, I turn right at the stop street and cross over the freeway. After about 14 km along a tar road, I arrive at the memorial gate and steer my 4×4 hire through the entrance to the reserve.
Established in 1895, Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve is the oldest game reserve in Africa and covers about 96 000 hectares. It’s contains an amazing variety of fauna and flora and is famous for having rescued the black rhino from extinction. On the drive into the reserve I see giraffes, zebra and loads of buck. There are some rhino around but I keep my distance, as I have heard stories of rhinos charging cross border car rental vehicles. I don’t know whether it’s true or not but I am not going to risk it. I spot some vultures sitting on top of a tree, no doubt waiting for their supper. I am spending the night in a camp on top of a hill in the centre of the park. The views are to die for. That evening I go on a 2-hour night drive and am incredibly lucky to see a leopard with its kill (a warthog) up a tree.
The next day, I drive slowly for 17 kilometres until I reach the Nyalazi gate. There I turn my trusty 4×4 rental right onto the R618 towards Mtubatuba and get onto the N2 again, direction Durban, which is less than 300 kilometres away. The Valley of a Thousand Hills is formed around the Mnegni River and its tributaries and as I drive along the lush coast road, I begin to understand how this landscape so inspired Alan Paton. The magic of these hills is almost tangible and so I stop from time to time to appreciate the beauty and enjoy a coffee.
It’s almost nightfall when I pull my cross border car rental into Durban. The next morning I join the hordes of sun worshippers on Durban beachfront. I play in the water, pretend to get eaten by sharks, eat pineapple on a stick, and watch the dolphin show. I even take time to watch one of the beautiful sand sculptors at work. I can’t resist a little twirl in a rickshaw, and then round off my day with the dodgy pleasures of Durban’s Minitown.
But, after a good night’s sleep, I am pleased to be on my way – my 4×4 rental and I aren’t made for city life. I take the N3 past Pietermaritzburg and Hilton until I reach the R617 off ramp at Merrievale (Southern Drakensberg). I then turn left onto the R617 to Underberg where I turn right to Himeville. I fill up with fuel and restock my supplies in Himeville. About 9 kilometres out of the town, I reach a crossroads where I turn left onto a gravel road that leads to the Sani Pass.
The Sani Pass is the highest pass road in South Africa and was originally developed as a bridal path in 1913. The first vehicle negotiated the path in 1948 when it was no more than a donkey track. Although the road has been upgraded, I am still glad that I am driving a 4×4 hire vehicle as the pass snakes its way up the Drakensberg escarpment. The driving is quite tiring. I have to navigate around zigzag curves and hairpin turns. By the time I reach the South African border post I have climbed more than a kilometre! At the South African border I am astonished when the officials tell me that the Lesotho post is closed for the day, so they’ll just give me the stamp – but apparently this is fairly common. Under 21 car hire has made the continent of Africa accessible to youngsters from around the globe and they often stand amazed at our supposed lack of fanfare where official business is concerned.
The road behind the South African border post is extremely steep and rocky. Greatly relieved to have good traction and four wheel drive, I drive slowly and take care to brake and accelerate smoothly. I am not surprised at the names given to some of tight turns in the road – ‘Suicide Bend’, ‘Ice Corner’ and ‘Big Wind Corner’ to name but a few. About eight kilometres after leaving the South Africa, I reach the summit (at 2874 m) and direct my 4×4 rental in the direction of the Lesotho border crossing.