Smoking Dragon Festival in Drakensberg, South Africa Guide

Yohhh… What a time.

I had never been to a festival before and following the aftermath of Smoking Dragon, I might never go to another one again. According to my much more festival-seasoned friends, it doesn’t get much better than that. There is a sincere fear within me that all future festivals are going to be ruined. I could not have asked for a better first festival. The mountainous backdrop was majestic, the performances were fun, and the good vibes were endlessly flowing throughout.

There’s a part of me and probably every other Smoking Dragon alumni that feels torn about whether to recommend Smoking Dragon or not. On one hand, it is an amazing experience that everyone would be lucky to be a part of. On the other hand, part of what made the experience so fantastic is that it was not overcommercialized, chaotic, or crowded. It felt like everyone was there just for a good time and to share in positivity and love to welcome the New Year.

Hardly anyone was ever on their phones. The aggressive hookup culture was almost nonexistent. People were dancing in the rain and rolling in the grass and there was absolutely no judgment for it. It never felt crowded but there were always new friends to be made. The festival was pure euphoria. Smoking Dragon did it right.

Alright, I can hype it up nonstop but let me give you a rundown on the logistics since that’s probably what you’re here for. If you were wondering whether you should go or not, then yes, yes, a hundred times, yes.

One of the appeals of Smoking Dragon is that it isn’t a particularly large festival. The way everything is laid out, you’re never more than 15 minutes away from whatever you need to walk to. You don’t really ever have to carry anything on you at any time. You can load up your wristband with money throughout the festival so you never have to carry your wallet or any cash around with you. If you lose your friends, don’t worry about trying to contact them. There is like maybe a total of five possible different locations they can be at.

There are a few different options for where to stay or how to camp at the festival. There is a backpackers lodge right next to the festival called Amphitheatre Backpackers. Unless you contact them well in advance of the festival, it can get pretty hectic trying to arrange everything last minute. I tried to contact them a few times about two weeks before the festival and never heard back ever.

There is a VIP camping section that is right next to all of the action and gives you access to some perks like a pool, jacuzzi, and proper bathrooms. However, I don’t know if it was entirely worth the extra R700 ($50US) that you would have to pay to upgrade from general. The general admission camping area is at most just another five minutes walk away from the action.

If you don’t have a tent, like myself, you can opt to book one of the tents that is already set up. It saves a bit of hassle but it is a bit more expensive. They call it glamping but I’d hardly call it glamping. Luckily, I ended up with a big group of awesome people and had plenty of tents willing to take an orphan like me in.

There were five stages when I went. Aside from the Electro Jungle, the tents never really had a theme or consistent type of music playing. The Mainstream stage had most of the big acts. The Ripple tent by the river was always pretty mellow. The Fringe tent wasn’t big enough to really be considered a tent but it always had some surprisingly great performances. And it’s the only tent with a bar at the back. The Pink Stage is right in the food court and had the only proper dance floor. It is where our entire squad boogied down to welcome in the New Year to some bangin’ tunes.

Oh, there’s also a dam that everyone spends pretty much the entire day in or next to. It is one of the best parts of the festival, not going to lie. No matter how late you stayed up the night before, the sweltering sun will wake you up promptly at 7 AM. Try as you might, you will not be able to fall back asleep. Just get up, take a dive in the dam to cool off, and then take a nap on the riverside as the early morning mellow tunes lull you to sleep. Seriously, this dam was a lifesaver. Beautiful, too.

Smoking Dragon Drakensberg

I didn’t take too many actual pictures during the festival action, so enjoy these very low-effort and subpar images.

Smoking Dragon Drakensberg

Smoking Dragon Festival

Grab your best festival crew and start planning, fam. This was unexpectedly one of the best ways I’ve ever rang in the New Year. I went from having no idea what I would do for New Year’s Eve to squadding up with some of the coolest, welcoming, and genuine people I’ve ever met. There was so much love and positivity going on throughout the festival. If you’re looking to continue that amazing tradition, go ahead and book now. If you’re going to spoil it in any way, then all I have to say is the festival sucked you should just stay home and save yourself the trouble.

Quick shout to my unbelievable festival crew, and the other forty of you that aren’t pictured below. Thank you guys for adopting me as one of your own and helping me ring in the New Year in one of the most epic ways possible.

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