Recently we had the opportunity to go back to Antbear Eco Lodge to try out their new Giant’s Castle Slackpacking trail. What is slackpacking you may ask?
Well, do you consider yourself to be a true nature lover, at one with the wilderness, an expert hiker in fact? But at the end of the day, you would rather be feasting on a warm 3-course meal and climbing into a cosy bed? Maybe you would even like to hike without the giant rucksack… Well, there you have it. You’re a slackpacker. It is the chance to hike without the fuss, so immediately we said YES because…well…doesn’t that sound divine?
So, hang on tight and we will dive into the details of the Giant’s Castle Slackpacking Trail!
A Video Of The Giant’s Castle Slackpacking Trail
Let’s Discuss The Trail
The route itself consists of three days of hiking, three nights of accommodation and three nights of lovely three-course meals (that’s a lot of ‘threes’) – not to mention delicious breakfasts. We will walk you through our journey step-by-step, but feel free to ask us questions if we leave something out!
Day 0: The Journey To Antbear Eco Lodge
Consider day zero to be the journey down to Antbear Eco Lodge. Get yourself checked in, walk around the lodge, spend some time relaxing, or play a game of chess before you head to dinner and your first-ever briefing session with the team.
Antbear Eco Lodge is where you will be staying the first night and the point from which you will leave the next morning. It is really special and unique. They focus on living an eco-sustainable lifestyle, which is evident all the way from how the buildings were constructed to the way they make their food.
They have the most unique woodwork you have ever seen, with every detail so well thought out! We honestly love it there, we love visiting and love chatting it up with Andrew, the owner of the lodge. Every time we visit he has new interesting stories to share! We have a separate blog post up all about our stay there in November last year if you are interested.
Day 0: Timeline Recap
|15h00||Arrive at Antbear Lodge (you can arrive whenever you feel comfortable, but hey, the earlier the better)|
|15h30||Explore the lodge|
|18h00||Meet Deon, your guide, and find out everything you need to know|
|19h00||Indulge in a delicious dinner by chef Brad|
Then all you have to do is head back to your room, relax, get a good night’s sleep and prepare for tomorrow, your first full day of hiking.
Day 1: Hiking To Leopards Lair
After both a continental breakfast and hot English breakfast, you will depart through the Antbear gates with Deon, your trusty guide, and begin the journey along the Antbear Farm.
This hiking day is a little challenging and really does start your day with a bang. There are many uphills and downhills involved, but there are also some beautiful views awaiting you as a reward.
This trail is pretty colourful; we saw amazing vistas, varying landscapes, stunning wildflowers and we even passed some Antbear (aardvark) burrows.
We walked through a local community and eventually stopped off for lunch at a beautiful stream/river, where we all stripped down and swam in the icy cold water. It was a fabulous experience.
It was also the perfect time to pull out our already-made lunch-pack! Did we mention every day you get one of those? It had water, a sandwich, an apple, crisps, a bar of chocolate and a juice box. Ah, it was so exciting. Not to mention Deon pulled out Carrot Cake and Coffee… Talk about a great hiking meal!
By the end of the day, we were thoroughly pooped but were very excited to be warmly greeted and welcomed into Leopard’s Lair Lodge. We arrived to an ice-bucket filled with wine, beer, water and juice – not to mention a few delicious snacks. A lovely luxury to come home to! Slackpacking day one was complete on our Giant’s Castle trail and we felt a great sense of accomplishment.
Leopard’s Lair Lodge
Leopard’s Lair Lodge is where you will be spending your second evening. It is a family-run accommodation where you can get a true taste of the working farm life with its agritourism approach.
The Lair is run by the Buys family, who made every effort to make us feel like family. They also provided us with the most delicious food. Creamy butternut soup with feta and bacon, lamb potjie, malva pudding and milk tart – it was delicious. Needless to say, our stomachs were stuffed and we were worried they would have to roll us out of the door the next morning.
They also have some lovely farm animals, some more unique than others, like their tame eland called Lalie who is the sweetest thing. She came running to the farm gate to say hello to us when we arrived, staring at us so intently with her beautiful big eyes… or their cute little baby Egyptian goose that thinks it’s a human. *She/he doesn’t have a name yet, so we named it Fluffy or Hufflepuff… If you meet it in the future, let us know what they decided to call her/him.
Day 1: Timeline Recap – 13.6 km
|08h00||Meet for breakfast at Antbear Eco Lodge|
|09h00||Begin your hike|
|12h00||Stop for Lunch near the stream|
|15h00||Arrive at Leopard’s Lair Lodge|
Day 2: Hiking To Zulu Waters Game Reserve
We left Leopard’s Lair early that morning and began walking through their farm. We walked through some spectacular grasslands; the early morning light was shining down and reflecting off the dew on the grass. It was beautiful. This hike also came with some fascinating history. We walked through an old farmstead filled with old and broken down ruins and even stumbled across a grave that had been robbed.
This time the hike, although far, was not as taxing on the body as the first day, as it was moderately level terrain. A good day to gain your energy back.
After lunchtime and the sad demise of the trekking pole that I had borrowed from Andrew, we eventually made it to the Zulu Waters Game Reserve gates. Upon arriving, we were met by Michael, the owner of the reserve and Mbuyiseni, Zulu Waters’ Head of Security. Mbuyiseni knows the reserve like the back of his hand and took us on a little detour through the reserve down to the Bushman’s River before heading up to the lodge.
Important to Note: On the way to or out of the lodge there is a river that you may have to cross. The day we were there, there had been plenty of rainfall and the river was pretty strong. I found this to be quite challenging as I’m not somebody who is used to outdoor activities like Byron. But, apparently, there is talk of building a bridge just over to the right of the river for those who are not too keen on crossing straight through. (Please don’t let me frighten you, it’s not a hectic river it’s only ankle deep, I’m just an anxious traveller overcoming my fears one watery step at a time…)
Zulu Waters Game Reserve
You will be staying at the Zulu Waters Shaka Lodge, which is like staying in your own private African Safari Lodge, plus you get your own private chef!
The lodge itself is absolutely stunning and packed with some very interesting history. They also have the most delightful pool overlooking the mountains in the distance. The very mountains that you will be hiking over the following day.
The rooms were very comfortable and each have their own en suite bathrooms, complete with Charlotte Rhys toiletries. At the end of the day, it was so nice to sit in the lounge and chat away with our hiking buddies.
But for now, relax, swim and indulge in the tastiest food!
Side Note: The coffee is really good…
Day 2: Timeline Recap – 13.6 km
|07h00||Have breakfast at Leopard’s Lair Lodge|
|08h30||Begin your hike|
|11h30||Stop for lunch at the river|
|12h30||Enter Zulu Waters Game Reserve|
|14h00||Arrive at Shaka Lodge|
Day 3: Back To Antbear Eco Lodge
Before you make your way back to Antbear Eco Lodge, you still have a whole day of exploring the game reserve ahead of you. You might even come across zebras, buffalo, ostriches, eland, waterbuck, wildebeest and so much more.
Mbuyiseni also showed us some of the best spots at Zulu Waters, like the abandoned water pump, the airstrip, the best viewpoint and even the waterfall. After lunch near the dam, we walked up and over to the watering hole where we witnessed lots of animals in their natural habitats. It was stunning!
Most of today’s hiking is within the game reserve, with the last leg being a short trek back up to Antbear. Remember that your Giant’s Castle Slackpacking trip ends today, so you could just go home after getting there – or you could do a little something extra (we talk about some of the added extras a little further down).
Day 3: Timeline Recap – 13.3 km
|07h00||Have breakfast at Zulu Waters Game Reserve|
|08h00||Hike through the reserve|
|12h00||Stop for lunch near the dam|
|13h30||Exit Zulu Waters|
|15h00||Arrive back at Antbear Eco Lodge|
Why Having A Guide is Super Important!
During this Giant’s Castle Slackpacking trip, we had Deon Small from Berg Adventures guiding us through the different landscapes. Boy did we find it super useful to have him near. We often hear people talking about self-guided hikes, but having a guide can be really beneficial. Here is why we think so:
1 – It is a good idea to have somebody around who knows the route.
If you are unfamiliar with a route, you risk taking the wrong path or ending up on the wrong farm. This can take a huge chunk out of your day and can be quite distressing.
2 – It is a plus to have somebody who is well versed in First Aid.
Anything can happen when hiking. You could fall down and cut yourself, break a leg, get a snake bite, have an allergic reaction etc. These may hardly ever happen, but we think it’s useful to have someone qualified with you for the slim chance that it does.
Deon even spent time binding up my feet because of bad shoe choices that I had made but I will talk about that in a moment.
3 – A hiking guide will arrange with the owners of the farms so that you can cross through their land.
Don’t forget that you can’t just go and hike on somebody’s land without getting permission first. Your guide will most likely already know the owners and be able to notify them as to where you are and this could even come in handy if you find you need help.
4 – You may not feel safe hiking on your own.
Whether its the rustle in the leaves that could be a snake or the darkness around your cave at night. Sometimes having a confident guide around can give you that extra peace of mind.
5 – You get to learn a whole bunch more.
Guides are well-versed in the area’s nature and wildlife. Whether you’d like to know the name of that bird or what kind of rock that is, they can usually give you some interesting insight. Moreover, they’re likely to know fun detours and secret spots that they can take you to – tailoring the hike to your style!
Contact Deon if you’re looking for the best Drakensberg guide! He organises day trips, multi-day treks, mountain activities and more! We had an absolute blast with him. Simply pop him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Importance Of Wearing The Right Shoes
When venturing out on this journey, I took the term Slackpacking a little too lightly. I imagined a short and easy stroll, instead of an actual hike. So be warned… this is an actual hike. It’s beautiful, challenging and fun. You will be walking around 13km a day, so it is essential to pack and bring the right things with you.
Comfortable Hiking Shoes – This was something I did not bring and my feet absolutely suffered for it! I will spare you the gruesome details but highly recommend you take shoes that have a good tread as well as good ankle support! I have definitely learnt my lesson.
What Else Should I Pack?
“But it’s a slackpack, I thought I didn’t need anything?” Well, this is what else we suggest you bring on the Giant’s Castle Slackpacking Trail:
A Small Hiking Bag (Day Pack) – You will not need a massive hiking bag, but we suggest a small, comfortable one in order to pack the following essentials – plus your delicious lunch.
Woollen Hiking Socks – To go along with those clever hiking shoes, you will need good quality, thick socks to stop you from getting blisters and protect your ankles while hiking.
Trekking Pole – This was something I found super helpful and handy to have. It is great to help maintain balance and give you that extra support when climbing up a mountain or crossing a river.
Sunscreen – This may seem totally self-explanatory but make sure to protect yourself from the sun! You don’t want to get sunburnt on the first day and then add to it throughout the hike.
Hat – Again to protect yourself from the sun.
Rain Jacket – While we are discussing the weather, the Drakensberg can be a very fickle place. One moment sunny and next rainy. Bring a small jacket to cover up in case the heavens open.
Swimming Costume + Microfibre Towel – There are a few places to swim along the hike, especially the lunch spot on the first day of hiking. So this will come in handy if you don’t want to hike in wet clothes… or you could just strip down (not fully, of course, it’s not that kind of hike…)
Camera – My word, don’t forget to bring your camera! You will be hiking through three very beautiful and different landscapes and a picture is worth a thousand words.
What Does It Cost?
*Currently, the Giant’s Castle Slackpacking trail costs R7900 per person which is inclusive of accommodation, all meals, luggage transfer, registered guide & conservancy fees.
*As of mid 2020
Other Experiences You Can Include
There are so many other experiences to be had at these lodges besides the actual slackpacking trail. Why not consider adding on one extra night when you arrive or before you leave?
Antbear Eco Lodge
- Listen to African Folk Tales while relaxing in a hammock at the Stargazing Hammock Camp. *Highly recommended
- Go on a Hot Air Balloon ride.
- Go Abseiling with Deon from Berg Adventures.
- Try your hand at Horse Riding.
Leopard’s Lair Lodge
- Visit the Giant’s Castle Vulture Hide.
- Take the canoe out on the dam.
- Spend the afternoon fishing.
- Take part in some farming activities, like picking fresh fruit and vegetables, collecting freshly laid eggs or just petting the animals.
Zulu Waters Private Game Reserve
- Go on a game drive through the Zulu Waters Private Nature Reserve.
- Spend the day fly fishing.
- Walk around the reserve with a personal guide.
- Go on a beautiful horse riding trail.
We opted to stay on an extra night, so that we could do the Stargazing Hammock Camp. We really wanted to do it the last time we visited, but were rained out.
If you’d like to enquire about or book any of these added extras, simply mention that in your booking enquiry below!
Our Overall Experience
We had a wonderful time doing the Giant’s Castle Slackpacking trail! It was the perfect balance of adventure and luxury. If you love to hike, then this is a wonderful must-do experience for you. The views and scenery are amazing, but where you spend your nights is a massive part of the adventure too.
From a distinctive hand-crafted eco-lodge, to a homely farm-styled stay and on to a private game reserve… Whether you are a seasoned hiker looking for a luxury getaway or a newbie testing out your hiking disposition, this could be the trip for you!
We would definitely do this again in a heartbeat!– Dear Travallure
Book Or Enquire For Your Slackpacking Adventure Now!
What Else Can I Do In The Area?
A lot! So to keep it short, here are our top picks.
Firstly, if you’ve only started planning your getaway, let’s get you started with some of the best things you can do on a road trip through the Drakensberg.
From there, you’d probably want to continue on through the Midlands Meander.
Now we ended our road trip off with something truly unique…
Of course, we do understand that the Drakensberg and Midlands Meander might not be your speed, in which case, we have something special for you. Inspiration. We’re not going to tell you where this link will take you. So if you’re looking to get inspired, look no further!
The Complete Video Guide To The Drakensberg And Midlands Meander
I mean, the heading pretty much says it all. This is just our entire road trip; all the attractions, the order, the directions and the times in a nice and fun package. The idea is that we do all of the planning so that you don’t have to!
❀ PIN FOR LATER ❀