Tiered ramparts of sheer cliffs rise quickly to tabletop mountains in a scenic spectacular, creating a vast escarpment along the border between South Africa and the tiny kingdom of Lesotho. Endless grasslands extend across the region, home to a great diversity of orchids, gladioli, beautiful everlasting daisies and exotic proteas attended by malachite sunbirds. This a complete tour of this remarkable mountain range, from the seldom visited, yet botanically-rich south-west to the breathtaking landscapes of the north-east.
A 16-day tour with Chris Gardner
Upon arrival in Durban we will transfer to a comfortable bed and breakfast in Port Edward for the night, surrounded by lush sub-tropical plants, including Gloriosa superba which naturally grows in the gardens.
This diverse reserve extends along a dramatic canyon from near the coast to well inland encompassing areas of sub-tropical forest to our first introduction to grassland. Plants vary from impressive cycads; Encephalartos ghellinckii to diminutive pink bladderworts, fine clumps of Agapanthus campanulatus on rock outcrops and the pretty pink semi-parasite Alectra sessilifolia. We will explore the various trails that lead into forests too. From here we continue to Maclear for the night arriving in time to look around a rich area with Hesperantha coccinea, Satyrium sphaerocarpum, Eulophia hians, Wahlenbergia cuspidata and lovely Monopsis decepiens. Overnight Maclear.
Our destination is nestled among the scenic tablelands in the seldom visited part of the Drakensberg. To reach it we will drive through extensive grasslands stopping for Gladiolus oppositiflorus and big drifts of Kniphofia linearifolia, whilst damp sward over rock sheets have various orchids including Habenaria lithophila and Satyrium longicauda. The route skirts drier areas before climbing to a 2600-metre pass where we begin to see one clumps of elegant Dierama robustum and large numbers of the handsome spiny daisy; Berkheya purpurea. Rocky areas will have slender Kniphofia pauciflora, Crassula setulosa, Zaluzianskyia ovata, marshes Wurmbea elatior and the mighty rosettes of Kniphofia northiae. Hefty mounds of Euphorbia clavarioides are wedged among roadside rocks. Our home for the next three nights is the superbly positioned Tenahead, a very comfortable oasis among the hills with rich flora all around.
The terraces nearby brim with Disa oreophila, Tritonia drakensbergensis, Kniphofia hirsuta, Satyrium longicauda, Scabiosa columbaria and its’ orchid mimic Disa cephalotes, forming delightful meadows of colour. Closer examination of the trackside and turf will reveal unusual orchids such as Disperis hamata and the much sought after Disa thodei, one of the finest orchids we will see. Indeed, there is a thriving population here, often mixed with other orchid species such as sweet-scented Disa fragrans. The vivid scarlet flowers of Harveya scarletina parasitise small shrubs and with luck we will find the delicate Gladiolus longicollis among the grasses. Altogether more vivid is fiery G. sandersii, and the first of these extra-large glads should be in flower on the rocks, with Eucomis autumnalis, pure white Harveya speciosa and another little firecracker; Cyrtanthus epiphytica. Depending on the weather we will explore various areas, walking across the extensive habitat and enjoying the first of the many spectacular landscapes that so define this region. Overnight Tenahead.
A transfer to day to reach the next core area of this extensive range. Overnight Underberg.
After our long drive yesterday we will have a relaxing day looking around the grasslands and forest patches at the base of the escarpment. Here we find some fine Protea roupellei woodland, plentiful Dierama dracomontana and many different orchids including Disa brevicornis, Pterogodium cooperi and Neobolusia tysonii. Overnight Underberg.
A diverse mixture of plants today as we ascend to the cooler heights of the 2876-metre Sani pass on the border with Lesotho. Lower grasslands have the attractive dwarf shrub Protea simplex and new orchids such as; Eulophia zeyheriana, Satyrium crystatum and Disa stachyioides among a matrix of blue grasses and silvered helichrysums The remarkable tangerine lanterns of Sandersonia aurantiaca are a far cry form most other Colchicaceae and these grow near rocky slopes with Watsonia confusa and Moraea inclinata. Protea dracomontana becomes more common and Gladiolus ecklonii starts to appear as we gain height. Rocky riversides have plentiful Agapanthus campanulatus, Eucomis bicolor and E. schiffii, flowery bushes of Euryops tysoni and pretty tufts of Wahlenbergia cuspidata burst from the rocks. Higher up are handsome pink Harveya huttonii and the vermillion Gladiolus flanaganii clinging to cliffs, in one place accessible for us to see them close up. White forms of Dianthus basuticus also enjoy cliffs whilst the grasslands below have plenty of orchids including; Disa cephalotes, Brownleea macroceras, Disperis cardiophora and possibly rare Disa nivea. The top of the escarpment defines the border with Lesotho and we will enter this tiny kingdom and spend the night at a comfortable and spectacularly position hotel overlooking the twists and turns of the Sani Pass road.
The rock sheets and alpine turf around the hotel are full of gorgeous Helichrysum milfordiae, each white flower edges with red outer bracts. These open early and the morning views with these are stunning. Almost as beautiful is H. adenocaulon and elsewhere we find an abundance of Rhodohypoxis baurii in colours from white to pink, little buns of Craterocapsia tarsodes and stands of handsome Kniphofia caulescens. the latter should be in great quality in marshy places when we venture a little in to Lesotho, driving up to a pass at 3250-metres where large cushions of Helichrysum pagophilum grow with various other alpine. Large specimens of Euphorbia clavarioides can be found in other areas too. We will descend back into South Africa, stopping for any new flowers we see. The afternoon will be spent visiting various orchid sites near Underberg where we should see Habenaria clavata, H. humilior, tall pale yellow Eulophia welwitschii and marshy fields with plenty of Satyrium hallackii, as well as stands of slim Kniphofia laxiflora and Nerine appendiculata. Overnight Underberg.
Our journey north passes through the rich grasslands of Kamberg where we will see the immense umbels of Brunsvigia grandiflora, plenty of Dierama. As we near our destination there will be the chocolate clusters of Schizoglossum atropurpureum. The lodge grounds are superbly conceived using only native plants with lots of architectural tree ferns; Cyathea dregei, Podocaprus latifolius and cabbage tree Cussinia paniculata. Overnight Giant's Castle.
A slight change of emphasis sees us visiting afromontane forests with plenty of Streptocarpus gardenii, the pretty dwarf orchid Stenoglottis fimbriata and Leonurus dubia amidst the fern-filled woods. There is also some interesting San rock art to see in the caves. bak in the grasslands a riverside walk among the fine landscape, backed by escarpment peaks has Disa patula, Habenaria epipactidea and stands of Melianthus villosus. An afternoon walk will take us onto higher grasslands and Protea roupellei woodland. Overnight Giant's Castle.
If the morning is clear we can hike up to a viewpoint for a superb sunrise. Then is on to the sensational landscapes around Witsieshoek, passing riversides with tall ivory-flowered Ornithogalum (Galtonia) candicans, scarlet Hesperantha coccinea, hopefully still a few ruby-red Brunsvigia undulata too. in the afternoon we will take a walk into the diverse grasslands beneath the soaring ramparts of the Amphitheatre where large numbers of Eucomis bicolor fill moist gullies alongside the warm tones of Kniphofia porphyrantha, the curved lilac spikes of Gladiolus crassifolius and both Satyrium parviflorum, deep-pink forms of S. longicauda. Overnight Witsieshoek.
From the trailhead a well-defined path leads higher into the escarpment, reaching rocky slopes and cliffs brimming with stunning Nerine bowdenii, mixed with greenish-white bells of Ornithogalum regalis, Eucomis bicolor, Agapanthus nutans Berkheya multijuga and the dainty orchid; Huttonaea grandifolia. This is one of the most floristically rich trails we explore. for those with the nerve, they can ascend the metal chain ladders and walk across the flat tableland above, past abundant orchids and patches of pretty Helichrysum adenocarpum to an overlook of the worlds’ highest waterfall; 983-metre Tugela Falls. Depending on the weather as to which day we undertake this walk. There is plenty more to find in the surrounding area too with pink Gladiolus microcarpus springing from rocks near springs or waterfalls, Zaluzianskyia microsiphon, bushy Berkheya rosulatus, Disa cornuta, Brownleea galpinii, hefty spires of Pterogodium magnum, fiery Crocosmia pearcei, Gladiolus ecklonii and the delightful white-and-red Kniphofia thodei. The landscapes are spellbinding and with luck we will experience them in fine weather. Overnight Witsieshoek.
The drama of the terrain softens as we continue north, reaching the warm-toned rockscapes of Golden Gate. hidden among the confusion of hills are marshy places with lovely Gladiolus papilio, whilst red forms of G. crassifolius and various colour forms of Pelargonium luridum are common. Nearby areas have a rich mix of the climbing Gloriosa modesta, fine clumps of deep orange Gladiolus dalenii, Kniphofia triangularis, tumbles of Clematis brachiata and exotic clumps of Aloe maculata, with fine overlooks of the tablelands. Overnight Golden Gate.
The international airport is only three hours drive to the north and we will leave in good time for our flights home.
16 - 31 January 2024
Per person: 6350 USD
Single supplement: 700 USD
Minimum number of participants 5; maximum 12.
For more information on our tours
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