James Bainbridge
United Kingdom UK
May 10, 2014 May 10, 2014

James is a travel writer and author of many Lonely Planet guides, including senior author of the guide to South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.

Category: Travel Disaster Worth Sharing

When smoke pours from your car’s engine in a remote corner of the Drakensberg Mountains, keep calm and abandon your hiking plans.

On my first trip to South Africa’s Drakensberg range, my wife and I were planning to tackle the awesome Sentinel Hiking Trail. The 10km trail starts at about 2,500km and climbs to the top of the Drakensberg plateau, with a chain ladder en route and views of Lesotho.

We set off early from our campsite in the Royal Natal National Park. It was a two-hour drive to the trailhead, but that was nothing for our trusty 2006 Opel Corsa Lite, which had already conveyed us 2000km from Cape Town. We reached the gate, and the guard pointed at the car’s bonnet.

Smoke was pouring out: so much for our trusty Corsa Lite. We waited for two hours for the breakdown truck, while eager hikers streamed past and rubbernecked our roadside drama and my wife shed a few tears. The breakdown truck, driven by a Zulu guy who said his name was Michael, took us to the town of Harrismith, where an Afrikaner mechanic fixed a minor problem with the thermometer.

Breakdown Drakensberg

It took just half an hour and cost about US$20, but undid our plan to conquer the Sentinel trail. The following day, we had to continue our journey back to Cape Town, leaving one of Africa’s greatest day-walks at the top of our wish list.