Monkeys and Mountains: My EPIC Day in the Drakensberg

My EPIC day in the Drakensberg, the highest mountain range in southern Africa, involved two of my favorite things:  monkeys and mountains!

Drakensberg mountains in South AfricaIt started with a hike to Orange Peel Gap, in the shadow of Cathedral Peak.  There were incredible views throughout the entire hike that kept my motivation up.  It wasn’t easy though.  There were times I wanted to turn around and quit.  I was tired, dehydrated and the hike felt harder than it really was.  I preserved.  Not even the odd cobra darting in front of my path deterred me and I’m petrified of snakes.  One of the reasons I love hiking so much is that it parallels life in a lot of ways – sure it’s easy to give up, but then you aren’t going to get the sense of accomplishment (and the gorgeous view when hiking).   If you give up every time you get tired, or there’s a tough patch, chances are you’re probably not going to accomplish much of anything – when hiking or in life.

Drakensberg mountains trail in South Africa

The trail to Orange Peel Gap and the views on the return.

I wearily pressed on for several hours,  focusing on each step I was taking and not how far I still had to go.  Each step I took, no matter how slow, or how small,  was getting me closer to my goal of reaching Orange Peel Gap.  Eventually I made it.  Our guide was disappointed that it had taken us two hours longer than expected, but nevertheless I got there.  Better late than never!  My efforts were rewarded with a view over the UNESCO designated Drakensberg.

Drakensberg mountains:  Orange Peel Gap in South Africa

View from Orange Peel Gap – My reward for all the effort!

I was proud of myself.  Not so much for hiking  to Orange Peel Gap as I’ve done tons of hikes that were longer or more strenuous, but for preserving, for not giving up even when I didn’t think I could make it.   I took an hour to enjoy the reward.  My energy and spirit returned.  And the way down was much easier.   Two months later,  I still feel a sense of accomplishment.
baboons in the Drakensberg in South AfricaDriving back to Didima Chalets where we were staying, we came across a troop of baboons, including a baby baboon.  Just hanging out, foraging, being baboons.  I was in heaven.  I am fascinated by primates (and even hold a B.Sc in Primatology – the study of primates) and can watch them for hours, especially when they’re in their natural habitats.  Sadly, but not surprisingly the rest of our group couldn’t, so we hopped back in the van.
South African wildlife:  Baboon in tree, South AfricaAs we exited the van at Didima Chalets our guide noticed more baboons hanging out around the chalets.  Our group snapped a couple of photos then headed back to their rooms for a much needed shower, but missing out on a baby baboon temper-tantrum.  I stayed alone observing them until finally all I could make out in the darkening light were shadows of the few remaining baboons, the rest having headed to the mountains for the night.

I gave a silent “thank you” to them for allowing me to observe them and take over 300 photos.  I also gave a silent thanks to the cobras whose paths I had crossed earlier that day.  They had not harmed me and were as unexcited to see me as I was to see them.  Encountering them  has made me a little less fearful of snakes.  Finally, I said a thank you to the Drakensberg.  You showed me what I was really made of and what I’m capable of when I preserve.  And nothing is more epic than that.

Thank you to the South African Tourist Board for hosting me.

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Laurel Robbins is the founder of Monkeys and Mountains, an adventure travel blog and company that helps people plan their active holidays in a sustainable way. Although Canadian, she lives in Germany. You can find her in the mountains on most weekends.



  1. Italian Notes July 25, 2012 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    I’m really fascinated by the green slopes of those mountains. They look like something out of Tolkien.

  2. Laurel July 25, 2012 at 12:31 pm - Reply

    @Italian Notes. Me too and I was there in Fall (May), so I can only imagine how green they would be in Spring, very surreal and a beautiful place for hiking.

  3. Michael July 25, 2012 at 12:41 pm - Reply

    Sounds like a satisfying hike, with that view as a reward.

  4. Laurel July 25, 2012 at 12:43 pm - Reply

    @Michael – The view almost always makes up for the effort, doesn’t it?

  5. D.J. - The World of Deej July 25, 2012 at 1:10 pm - Reply

    Epic doesn’t begin to describe it…awesome pics and hike!

  6. Leigh July 25, 2012 at 1:44 pm - Reply

    What a hike. What grand scenery and what a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. I love the odd epic day. Although they’re hard they tend to be memorable. Your photos make me want to go!

  7. The cobras may have made me turn back! It is an accomplishment to push through a hard task and I love that feeling too. I especially loved the color of the grass. What a beautiful golden color it is!

  8. Laurel July 25, 2012 at 8:01 pm - Reply

    @DJ – Thank you!

    @Leigh – Agreed. We were also hiking the next day at which the very thought exhausted me, fortunately it was a much easier hike, but still beautiful. I love the Drakensberg and highly recommend it, especially for hikers.

    @Debbie – I’m surprised that I didn’t run at the first cobra I saw either, but I almost got used to them by the end of the hike – a huge accomplishment for me since I used to be absolutely petrified of them.

  9. Crystal @ Little Sightseers July 25, 2012 at 10:02 pm - Reply

    Amazing photos. I have to say the cobra would have probably done me in, I just don’t do snakes! This post is a great reminder, no pain no great view! 🙂

  10. Christy @ Technosyncratic July 25, 2012 at 10:59 pm - Reply

    Ha, this is perfect for your blog’s name! Those monkeys are so cute; it’s nice to see them actually out in the wild instead of being used as a tourist prop (which is how most of the monkeys I’ve seen are kept).

  11. Nate July 26, 2012 at 1:54 am - Reply

    That scenery is enough to make me pack my bags and head to South Africa…

    Great photos, Laurel.

  12. Steve Juba July 26, 2012 at 2:29 am - Reply

    Love the first picture! Stunning!

  13. Zhu July 26, 2012 at 2:31 am - Reply

    Oh so green! And again, you found the best viewpoint 🙂

  14. InsideJourneys July 26, 2012 at 3:30 am - Reply

    That sense of accomplishment really does last. I’m sure it comes right back when you think of the mountain. Sadly, we didn’t have time for a hike, we drove up the Sani Pass instead. It really is a beautiful mountain range.

  15. InsideJourneys July 26, 2012 at 3:32 am - Reply

    PS: Love the new look!

  16. Bret @ Green Global Travel July 26, 2012 at 4:12 am - Reply

    The Drakensbergs were one of my favorite places on the South African trip that inspired us to start GGT. I had a beautiful house rental with a spectacular view of the surrounding hillsides, and I remember it being a refreshing break from the intensity of the wildlife safaris and the hustle and bustle of Jo’burg and Durban.

  17. Jeremy Branham July 26, 2012 at 5:39 am - Reply

    Like you, I don’t like snakes either. However, I also LOVE hiking!! I would love to hike the Drakensberg. If I make it to Africa, will definitely be on my list. I will keep an eye out for the snakes though 🙂

  18. Mary @ The World Is A Book July 26, 2012 at 6:41 am - Reply

    Drakensberg looks breathtaking. I can imagine how incredible it looks in person. I would have turn back when I saw those cobras and just the thought of this strenuous hike. Congratulations for getting through it and being rewarded with that gorgeous view and the monkeys. Love the new look too especially the header.

  19. Ali July 26, 2012 at 1:32 pm - Reply

    Sounds like such an incredible day! Although if you struggled on that hike, I would’ve needed a stretcher. Seeing the monkeys sounds really awesome!

  20. Scott - Quirky Travel Guy July 26, 2012 at 5:44 pm - Reply

    I’d join you for some primate-watching. They fascinate me too!

  21. Sophie July 26, 2012 at 9:16 pm - Reply

    What a fab day that must have been! Wouldn’t mind being in South Africa right now, with the weather we’ve been having here this summer.

  22. jade July 27, 2012 at 6:58 pm - Reply

    This was an epic day! I love your zest for life- you are always finding some new adventure!

  23. Andrew July 28, 2012 at 8:15 am - Reply

    The view is indeed pretty amazing, but I would definitely have not gotten past the snakes. My epic days usually involve trains. Although if you count a day as being from one bed to the next, I did a single day in Hong Kong and two flights on either night which ended up being pretty long and equally pretty awesome.

  24. Angela July 28, 2012 at 9:31 pm - Reply

    Wow, wonderful views!

  25. Cathy Sweeney July 29, 2012 at 9:35 pm - Reply

    An amazing hike with amazing rewards! I would have watched the baboons with you. I know just about nothing about them, but I’m sure you could fill me in. I don’t think I could ever get used to cobras, however.

  26. Abby August 1, 2012 at 8:04 pm - Reply

    Gorgeous!!! I always drool over South Africa photos… I’ve always wanted to go!

  27. Turtle August 7, 2012 at 12:44 pm - Reply

    Glad you stuck with it – hikes are always worth it! And the hard work to get to the top always makes the views even better! 🙂

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