Ernest and Mark: The faces behind the Drakensberg’s new hiking trail

  • Ernest and Mark: The faces behind the Drakensberg’s new hiking trail

    The Drakensberg mountain range, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has long been a popular tourist attraction with thousands of people from near and far visiting each year. Not only do these mountains boast incredible rock art and a rich cultural history, they are also a paradise for adventure travellers. Now there is a new activity that combines traditional Zulu culture and the expansive wilderness of the Drakensberg.

    A group of local youth developed an overnight hiking trail in early 2015 along the Drakensberg Experience Route as part of a programme run by the non-profit organisation Open Africa. This three-kilometre hike between Weenen and Colenso offers visitors the opportunity to spend a night at a homestay in the rural Zulu village of Mankandane, where they are treated to a traditional meal and local hospitality.

    Ernest Miya, who manages the homestay experience, is originally from Mankandane and this project is close to his heart. ‘By adopting this initiative the community now has something to offer. The hike is not too long, nor too short or technical, making it ideal for all fitness levels.’

    Ernest accompanies travellers into the village and oversees their stay. He partnered with Mark Calverley, owner of nearby Zingela Safari and River Company, to develop the concept. Zingela plays a prominent role in marketing the initiative, as it offers its guests an authentic Zulu cultural experience.

    ‘When I initially suggested the idea to a group of international tourists I was met with a stone wall,’ says Mark. ‘I added a coincidental walk through the area on to their agenda and briefed Ernest who excelled himself with the full and enthusiastic support of the community. What started as a “tea break” on their hike soon turned into a firm booking for 120 people for 2016. The problem was people’s perceptions. Once they’d seen and experienced the traditional rural Zulu hospitality they were blown away.’

    Mark says their biggest obstacle is people’s ‘fear of the unknown’. He thus encourages his guests to break out of their comfort zones and take the hike to nearby Mankandane to experience the hospitality and the extent to which local people will bend over backwards to look after any visitors they receive. The overnight hike has become very popular with international travellers and even the British Cadets have expressed an interest in the experience. The addition of a successful dance team and a visit to a sangoma have gone down very well with overseas groups.

    For Ernest, the impact it’s had on his village is noteworthy. ‘It’s added an income-generating model for home-owners while at the same time showing the community that these sorts of things are possible, provided everyone is on board. It has also received the blessing of the local Nkhosi (chief) and his Indunas, making it something the people of Mankandane can be proud of.’

    The overnight hike has been called a once-in-a-lifetime experience by visitors and the opportunity to benefit a local community in such an innovative way is appealing to travellers. According to Mark, ‘People don’t want staged shows. People want authentic experiences and interaction with locals.’

    For more information, contact Mark and Linda Calverley at the Zingela Safari and River Company on (036) 354 7005.

    Photo of Ernest Miya by I Heart Your Outfit.

    Interested in travel travel to the Drakensberg? Here is a great package for you, valid until end March 2016.