The Smoking Dragon Adrenalin Festival - It's more than just a festival

My Smoking Dragon Adrenalin Festival Experience 

By Ayanda Mabanga

I had never been to Northern Drakensberg until this past weekend (May 22 – 24), and I must admit that the Smoking Dragon Adrenalin Festival was a perfect way to be introduced to this part of KwaZulu-Natal’s magnificent world heritage site.

The festival, which was hosted by the Amphitheatre Backpakers and Lodge is a unique event that merged music with adrenalin packed activities such as sky-diving, mountain biking and hiking to the highest waterfall in Africa.

Mornings are not everyone’s friend, especially me! But on Saturday, I had to dust myself up early before sunrise. From Durban to Drakensberg I took what is known as the Bazbus, a mini bus tailored for backpackers that want to explore our beautiful country. Oh boy! did I feel like royalty since I was the only passenger on that day. The 2 hours spent on the bus gave me rare moments for introspection, living in a bustling city, I hardly get to do that.

It was my first experience being at a backpackers and Amphitheatre was quite impressive with its friendly staff and grand facilities. I had the opportunity to meet people from different parts of the world.  Stefan, a twenty-two year old from Germany was on his way to Durban when he caught the festival. “I wish this experience could go on for another week,” he said. Boutie and Margie a couple from Midlands near Pietermaritzburg attended the festival in celebration for their fifteenth year annivesary over the weekend and they couldn’t find a better place to do so.

I was a lone traveller with a book to keep me company, just in case nobody wanted to talk to me. Well, I forgot about my book the moment I stepped out of the bus. I was allocated to a dorm[SV1]  , sharing it with a few other people, I murmured a short prayer. “At least I am not in a tent, I am a city girl afterall,” I thought to myself.  “Hey buddy, welcome to the jollers heaven,” were the first words I heard when I met my dorm mates. The flamboyant Dr Pachanga with the chilled out Reece and quirky Lisa were an interesting bunch to be bunking with I joined them on the lawn as they recovered from the previous night’s activities.

Later in the day the music started. I plunged myself onto a comfy couch, just to take in the scene. While the music pumped, a bonfire gleamed in the middle of the camp site, kids lined up excitedly to ride an automatic bull and people kept dropping from the sky. I was in ore of their daring nature and thought I would summon up my courage for later.

Earlier in the day the ‘jollers’ and I went on a drive to the nearest town. With the hippies I was with, we stuck out like a sore thumb. My most memorable moment was when we drove to a supermarket that was blasting music and we just started dancing on the road. The town was at a stand still for a few minutes and then it was back to the festival.

In the midst of adrenalin pumped festivities I bumped into Hezron Chetty. Born in Durban and based in Cape Town, Hezron is a violinist and a member of The Accidentals. “I have been coming to the Smoking Dragon New Year’s festival for the past few years, I just can’t get enough of it,” said Hezron. Other performances included the soulful Stelth Ulvang of The Lumineers, melodic sounds of Tidal Waves and The Meditators. DJ Invisible with his band had everyone in a trance with their captivating performance.

The morning after was like no other. I woke up early, with coffee on one hand and my book in the other while watching the sun rise over the eye-catching foothills,  I could have locked myself forever in that moment of that scene. 

It was fascinating to see people jumping out of planes, running around mountains while others simply relaxed by the pool with kids playing games. It is not often that we get to witness such a combo of fun. Lisa from Durban said she came up to the Drakensberg to enjoy nature. “This is my way of reconnecting with nature and rejuvenating my spirit. The music and outdoor activities are icing on the cake,” Lisa said.  

The diversity that was represented in the contained space of Amphitheatre was simply amazing and showed a glimpse of how people can coexist peacefully. I look forward to attending the festival again next year, and maybe I will venture to tandem jump….or hot air balloon…or quad bike…or maybe just maybe I will attempt the hike to the Tugela Falls the highest falls in Africa, right here on our doorstep. Now that will be after I have finished my book!

Photo credits: Alastair Fraser