On Monday morning 99 Grade 10s gathered on Top Field to begin, for what was for most of them, their first experience in the outdoors in the Southern Berg. Our destination was Khotso Horse Trails situated 12 km outside Underberg. This 1300 hectare working horse and sheep farm is nestled at the foot of this majestic mountain range and is only minutes away from the famous Sani Pass. Khotso is home to Steve Black,his wife Lulu and his stable of horses. For more than 15 years now Khotso has been responsible for taking travelers and adventurers into the heart of Lesotho’s magnificence, and is a regular base for the World Challenge group. The excitement was intense as these were the boys who made the commitment to making the Grade 10 excursion a success. Sadly a large number chose not to attend, hence the change in venue and content of the programme and this is something that I will address with the current Grade 9s when I brief them and their parents in the fourth term.
From the outset it was clear that these boys had put a lot of thought into their kit and had heeded the numerous briefings.
On arrival at the Drak Gardens road the boys unpacked their kit from the buses and started the 7km walk in along the very picturesque Mzimkhulu River. This proved challenging for some as they had filled their back packs to capacity.
On arrval at Khotso the boys were introduced to Steve Black who would facilitate the hike challenge aspect of the programme. After further briefing and “camp rules” the boys set up their tents and prepared meals. A few boys had clearly missed the briefing where “checking your tent” was discussed and two tents were erected without their fly sheets. This points to the importance of the planning phase. As 4 o’clock approached the temperature started to dip and the boys were very grateful for the hot showers and fire pit that is in the newly developed “Over Landers Camp Site” at Khotso.
As the sun set the boys were able to start the braais and really enjoyed a great meal. In some cases packs were lightened by a few kilos as vast quantities of meat were put on the braais.
That night the boys enjoyed a massive fire that really helped fuel the spirits as the cold of the night descended.
The next morning the boys woke to a temperature of zero degrees and were very keen to get on the move after a breakfast of braai leftovers and other hiking foods. At 8 they were divided into groups to begin the rotation through the various activities:
The Bamboo Mountain Leadership Challenge, Aspects of farm work, Horse riding, The Waterfall hike, Air rifle shooting.
The planned activity to Himeville Museum had to be shelved as logistically I had put too much into the programme for the week and we were pressed for time to get all of the activities completed.
The Bamboo Mountain Leadership Challenge was the highlight of the leadership aspect of the trip. Mvuleni (Bamboo) Mountain on the road to Drakensberg Gardens Hotel is the highest free standing peak in the ‘Berg at 2202m. Named after an indigenous bamboo species this peak overshadows the surrounding area. The hike is 14 km in length and involves the boys ascending the north face, summiting and then descending down the gulley adjacent to Drak Gardens Road. On this hike both staff and boys alike can face to face with their strengths and weaknesses. This is probably one of the hardest hikes I have completed in all my years being involved in outdoor activities. It was heartwarming to see how the boys banded together and helped each other cross this obstacle. The various groups took between 5 and 7 hours to complete this challenge and the Drak Gardens road and the school transport back to base was a welcome sight for all.
Many of the boys had never experienced farm life and were rapidly immersed in the daily activities that are necessary to make the farm a success. From mixing feed to clearing areas they soon realized that this was not for sissies at all. It was great to see how the boys interacted with the farm staff and the working animals on the farm. Smegal, the Anatolian shepherd dog, who is responsible for protecting the flock from the jackals whose calls punctuated the still of the night, was a firm favourite with the boys as was Borus and Karoo. These two dogs provided endless hours of entertainment with their inexhaustible energy for fetching sticks.
Every single boy took part in a two hour horse ride, even those who had to seriously overcome their fears of the fairly large horses on the horse trail. This trail involved either the ascent or descent route around the foothills of the farm.
For those who complete the Mvuleni Challenge earlier in the week were very glad to find out that the waterfall hike was a lot shorter and over flatter terrain. On this hike the Khotso team highlighted various environment aspects around the farm as well as showed the boys the impact of soil erosion in the area. The highlight of this was the polar bear Challenge – a six metre jump into an icy plunge pool. Again fears were overcome and the camaraderie that was growing in the groups was very evident.
Air rifle shooting, under the watchful gaze and instruction of Mr Girodo, was extremely popular and there are a number of crack shots in the grade. Again this was the first time that many of the boys had handled such a fire arm and learnt the most important life lesson – that of muzzle safety.
Here are a number of comments from boys on the excursion:
“It was one of the best experiences of my life. I loved most of the activities that we were given to do. I found the hike up Bamboo Mountain the hardest part of the entire trip. I had a lot of fun on the other activities and horse riding. Rifle shooting and the farming were also really enjoyable and very different to what I would normally do. The mornings were very cold with temperatures dropping to 0degres. I loved the three dogs on the farm but my favourite was Boris, the chocolate brown Labrador. The camp fire was a very social place and added to the calm and easy going nature of the camp site.” M Hendricks
“This trip was a lot of fun and taught us a number of important life lessons. I was really looking forward to this trip and I was not disappointed. My favourite part was the horse riding. The horses were extremely well trained and the views of the area from horseback were amazing. The hike up Bamboo Mountain was long and challenging but well worth it because when we reached the summit I really felt a sense of personal achievement. The camping aspect of the trip was very well organized. Overall this was the trip of a life time and I really want to go back to Khotso at some point.” Z Khan
“My experiences at Khotso Horse trails was definitely one of the greatest in my life so far. I liked all the activities we did, including the hike up the mountain which was extremely hard. My favourite part of the trip was being able to wake up in the morning and go warm myself by the camp fire which was always going. I enjoyed the farm life, especially the dogs. Boris was my favourite. I enjoyed the horse riding the most and overall it was a well organized and calm trip. The one thing I disliked was the creepy broken down cabin near the waterfall – it freaked me out.”
I would like to thank all the parents, boys and staff who supported this initiative, especially Messrs Wilkinson, Girodo, and Liddell, and Mrs Nagiah and Henley, and Ms Goring. The latter staff members really gave it their all during the week and it was a pleasure working with such a competent and supportive team. The interaction between the staff and boys was the best it has ever been – this may be attributed to the fact that they camped with the boys and took part in all of the activities.
A further thank you to Mr Wilkinson for his driving of the support vehicle whilst at Khotso. Thank you to Peppers & Pans for yet again supplying a sumptuous meal for my staff on night one, and also to Roselux Coaches for providing safe, affordable and efficient transport. A huge thank you also goes to Steve and Lulu of Khotso and their support staff who made sure that this was a meaningful, safe and enjoyable experience for our boys. Although this was a very different Berg experience for our boys it bodes well for the future – I am already planning new aspects for next year’s excursion.
Quote of the trip: “Sir, how do you use a can opener?”
Head: Leadership Activities