Off Road Picnic on the Rocks, in the Valley of 1000 Hills
If you had to ask me to name my “Happy Place” I couldn’t name just one, but I can tell you that I was in it today. It involved a little valley in the Valley of 1000 Hills, a 4×4 route to get there and a picnic on the rocks with only the villagers’ cows as company.
Sunday 27 July 2014
Muddy toes, adventurous hearts and a piece of the great outdoors all to ourselves. That’s what happiness is.
I don’t have an exact, singular location or special spot that I can call my one Happy Place. Rather it’s a feeling I get that assures me I’m in it. It’s that tingly, giddiness in my tummy I feel when absorbed in a certain type of experience, usually involving playing in the big outdoors, somewhere remote, natural and soul-fulfilling in the sun.
Today we did just that. My little family, Graham (aka husband), Moose (Aka our excitable travelling Staffie “child”) and I took full advantage of this sun-shiny, Durban Sunday when we veered into the Valley of 1000 Hills in our 4×4.
It’s been a while since we explored somewhere unseen in our own backyard and even longer since we steered into terrain which called for a little 4 wheel drive engagement. We were smiling and so was the car.
It was a “big sky” day which was clear as a bubble and one made for picnicking. We drove the 40 minutes or so from home and immediately saw the change in landscape and lifestyle as we turned off the highway, just after Hillcrest and into the hills. As we made our way steeply down into those valleys we felt the welcome gear change into rural life. Villages of bright blue huts dot the hillsides and people walked and waved in the road while chickens and goats milled around on their breakfasting business. It felt as if we were on holiday and time slowed down to Sunday-pace to give us the breathing space we were looking for.
Following some GPS co-ordinates Graham had jotted down based very-loosely on some suggestions by the 4×4 community and forum, we felt our way onto sand roads and into lesser-trodden land. We were now at the bottom of a valley and tracking track marks in the mud and sand made by the few motorbikes and 4x4s who had ventured there before us. Parts of the valley seem to be used as small rock or sand quarries but we quickly reached more natural and uncleared wilderness where a sure path was not obvious. It was just us out there with trusty 4 wheel drive to move us forward into the next unknown bend. It was glorious.
The going had slowed down and we were into our blissful- adventure frame of mind. Graham navigated a route as we went, reading the tracks and choosing lines based on whatever the rocks and watery obstacles in our way dictated. We often stopped and jumped out the car, all three of us, to check out some possible channel forward. We carefully and excitedly walked through any water that dammed the pathway to safely check its depth before plunging in. Big fun in the mud was a big part of the drive.
We splish-spashed through a few fun, little water crossings made by the tributaries of the Umgeni River which flowed gently in and out of sight. These little rivers eventually flow into the Umgeni River and then into Inanda dam.
After a few kilometres of winding along the valley floor, we found ourselves amongst the rocks. Big, proud and flat- topped rocks that the Umgeni River trickled between. We had arrived at our destination. We’d been looking out for these rocks as a landmark to confirm that we’d found the place where we wanted to stop and explore, as well as picnic. What an incredible setting it was.
We parked the car on top of a section of rock and hopped out. The valley bedrocks sprawled out beneath us and beyond, and the hills surrounded us still, cuddling us protectively with their charismatic villages decorating them. We busied ourselves by ambling up and down the giant, creamy-brown rocks and investigating the rock pools and potholes that have been carved out there. Some of the potholes were bigger than us and fascinating. They gave the surface a moon-like character and we soaked up the sun while playing on that moon.
We relaxed and rock-jumped and ate and drank and were very merry indeed. Moose walk-swam in the shallows and chased the resident goats across the rocks in an attempt to make play-mates of them, but he was too eager for his own good and they bounced off nervously. The local cows came to inquire after our intentions in their territory and accepted our leisurely ways. They were not willing playmates for Moose either though and intimidated him with their solid, confident stances and unimpressed expressions when he skulked around them. He had to settle for us as his companions, as usual, but seemed more than OK with that.
We watched a pair of Hammerkops fly around us with interest too and the Cormorants were a constant sight in the skies and in the water. A lone Kingfisher also made an appearance, attracted to the water’s appealing offerings.
It was one of those days that made me so appreciative to be alive and loved and living in a land that offers these amazing experiences and settings, just around the corner from home. We are surrounded by awe-inspiring naturalness and beauty in South Africa and all that is required of us is to seek it out and enjoy it. Here’s to more Sunday’s like this one filled with easy-going adventure with like-minded loved ones to share them with.
GPS co-ordinates for the remote part of off-road happiness on the rocks we found ourselves in:
Our end destination, on the rocks in the valley:
29° 40’ 52.02”S
30° 42’ 35.18”E