Mariepskop – the summit

For this outing we headed to the top of this mountain.  Can you see the red beacon/tower.  That’s where we were going.  You may ask “How the heck do you get up there?”

By car…. right around the back of the mountain and up some very steep and windy roads.

On the eastern side of the Drakensberg Escarpment, facing away from the Blyde River Canyon, is  Mariepskop, a mountain of endemism of unsurpassed beauty. You can ascend to the top where, at 1,945m above sea level, you can see the Indian Ocean and Maputo on a clear day. Mariepskop is the highest peak in the northern Drakensberg Escarpment. The view is fantastic.

Ironically, its height has led to the presence of the military radar equipment on the top of the mountain that has caused its preservation. Development has been restricted and a natural wilderness has resulted. This hardware (along with its attendant masts) is visible from the local area, and helps to identify the location of the mountain.

Mariepskop Mountain is unique in its floral diversity. The foothills are in the Savannah. It is the source of the Klaserie River. On the slopes and in the kloofs and crags, montane forest species can be found. The semi-detached grassland hilltops are poorly studied, but are represented by grassland species and highly protected cycads species. The top of the mountain is a combination of tropical mist forest and ‘fynbos’ species.

Mariepskop contains well over 2,000 plant species, greater than the whole of Kruger Park and far exceeding Table Mountain’s plant diversity. There are over 1,400 floral species.

The diverse conditions also give rise to 905 vertebrate species.  Both the Mariepskop Dwarf Chameleon  and Three Rondawels Flat Gecko  appear to have been isolated locally through natural island biogeography. Unusual local mammals include the Samango monkey.

This is a place of wonderful solitude.

In the 1950’s, the planning and development of Mariepskop Radar Station started.  In 1954, Capt Cockbain and Cpl Franke ventured through the forest in order to reach the mountaintop of Mariepskop to access the site for radio communication.

1955  saw the start of construction of the road to Mariepskop, which was deemed impossible by both civilian and provincial contractors. They spent a year extending the forest road by five kilometres to the proposed domestic site, so as to use it as a base of operations. The basic road, to carry up equipment with which to establish the planned radio repeater site, was finally completed in February 1957. On 21 March 1957, the first radar radiation tests from Mariepskop took place and  proved so successful that the decision was taken to go ahead with plans to establish a radar station there. The station opened in 1965.

Fog-harvesting for water – clouds on tap

The first fog collection installation in South Africa was at Mariepskop in 1969/70. It was used as an interim measure to supply water to the South African Air Force personnel manning the Mariepskop radar station. Two large fog screens, constructed from plastic mesh and measuring about 28m x 3,5 m each, were erected at right angles to each other and to the fog and cloud-bearing winds. These yielded more than 11 l of water per square meter of collecting surface, per day. Unfortunately, the project was terminated once an alternative water source was found.