The vast Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa stretches around 150kms along the escarpment and Lesotho border. It can be divided into four sections – Bergville and the northern Drakensberg; Winterton and the central Drakensberg; Himeville, Underberg and the southern Drakensberg and East Griqualand and Umzimkhulu.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilised people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity…” ~John Muir

This post is the first of two sharing some of the images and scenes we were privileged to see in mid-May. We were fortunate to visit Montusi Mountain Lodge for a long weekend break. It is a family lodge situated in the northern Drakensberg in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. The lodge is located in the lower berg in full view of the amphitheatre with the Royal Natal National Park just below it. This is one of the most iconic parts of the Drakensberg. It must be one of the most striking cliff faces in the world as this amphitheatre is over 5 kilometres wide and has cliffs of around 1220 metres in height.

From the valley floor to the highest point in the amphitheatre it is over 1830 metres. The highest point of the amphitheatre is 3050 metres above sea level. The grandeur of this scene is mesmerising and creates a sense of longevity and permanence.

The Royal Natal National Park is situated on the South African side of the Drakensberg escarpment with the Golden Gate National Park to the north near Clarens, and the Giants Castle Game Reserve  in the central and southern Drakensberg. Royal Natal National Park in KwaZulu-Natal is located at the base of the amphithreatre, is incredibly scenic, and perfect for photography. It offers the towering peaks, the majestic amphitheatre and rolling high altitude grasslands, the Tugela Falls and picturesque foothills. Each aspect changes with the seasons and time of day creating wonderful photographic opportunities. UKhahlamba means the barrier of spears in Zulu language. When viewed from the higher reaches the peaks often protrude above the clouds. These jagged peaks look like spears, a barrier of spears.

“No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied – it speaks in silence to the very core of your being” ~Ansel Adams

At the Montusi Mountain Lodge we found many sunbirds. There were numerous large clusters of  candelabra aloes, many of which were in flower. The nectar in these aloe flowers is a powerful magnet for the nectar feeders in the area.

One of the surprises at Montusi was to find so many candelabra aloe (Aloe arborescens ) clusters. These are large multi-headed sprawling succulents. This aloe’s flowers are arranged in an inflorescence called a raceme. The flowers progressively open from the bottom upwards.

The male Malachite sunbird is highly territorial and chases off any visiting sunbirds. It cannot chase off weavers, blackeyed bulbuls or Gurney Sugarbirds. In the breeding season, the male Malachite has iridescent metallic green plumage and is stunningly beautiful. Outside the breeding season the male loses its iridescent green plumage on its body.

On the smaller candelabra aloes, we found many Greater double-collared sunbirds. They appear to be less territorial but are also prone to chasing each around.

Although able to hover for short periods, most of the time the Malachite and Greater double-collared sunbirds tend to perch to feed .

The Greater double-collared sunbird is more often seen than its southern or lesser double-collared cousin. The two collars comprise a thin iridescent metallic blue-collar above and a broad scarlet collar below extending onto its belly.

The greater double-collared sunbird has a cousin, the southern or lesser collared sunbird which has a similar two coloured collar but the scarlet collar is much thinner. The lesser double-collared sunbird is found in over lapping geographic areas with the greater double-collared, but tends to be more often seen in the coastal and Cape regions. 

In the sunbird family, the females are not nearly as glamorous as the males and usually have plumage which is brown and dull yellow in colour.

This greater double-collared sunbird was perched on a candelabra aloe raceme which had not yet begun to bloom.

The fact that the aloe’s raceme opens over an extended period provides sustenance for these nectar feeders for an extended period in late autumn and early winter when many other plants no longer provide food.

“If you cannot fly then run, if you cannot run then walk, if you cannot walk the crawl but whatever you do keep moving forward.”~ Martin Luther King Jr

The male Malachite sunbird has a stunning vibrant metallic green plumage with blackish-green primary and secondary wing feathers. This male Malachite sunbird was guarding his territory. Malachites can be found from Ethiopia to the Cape.

This male Malachite sunbird is moulting and losing his breeding plumage. The non-breeding plumage on its upper parts and belly are a yellow and greyish-brown while the wings retain their metallic green colouring.

The Malachite sunbird is nectivorous feeding mainly on nectar though we watched them catching small flying insects when possible.

This sunbird is found mainly in cool montane and coastal scrub.

“Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” ~John Muir

In the grasslands below the mountain lodge there are babbling mountain streams where the water is icey cold but crystal clear.


Being late autumn, many of the aloe racemes had not fully opened and provided good sentry posts.

“May your dreams be larger than mountains and may you have the courage to scale their summits.” ~ Harley King

There is colour and beauty to be found wherever you look.

The weather was mostly sunny, but this huge mountain range stirs up the clouds adding more photographic interest. It was warmer than we expected as we were hoping for some snow, but there was nothing, not even on the mountain peaks.

“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we could ever learn from books.” ~ John Lubbock

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be,

Have fun,


2 thoughts on “Montusi

  1. The Drakensberg used to be a favourite haunt of ours when we lived in KwaZulu-Natal. I hope you went for some walks in the foothills too, where there is a plethora of interesting birds, insects and flowers to be seen. Beautiful photographs as always.

    • Hi Anne, Thanks for your comment. No hikes unfortunately. I broke my ankle when at Blyde river canyon so am still on crutches. We plan to go to Giant’s Castle in late July when I should be bipedal again. Best wishes Mike

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