Extend your booking ahead of time by a day or two, Merry Pebbles and the Sabie area have so much to offer, a weekend is hopelessly too short to do it all.
The Sabie area is synonymous with mountain passes, natural forests, fog and plantations. The village is nestled in a valley in the hills of Mpumalanga’s Drakensberg. It doesn’t matter from which direction you approach the town, you have to drive over some kind of pass to get there. And you are likely to get some mist, sometimes so thick that you can hardly see a few steps ahead and will have to progress at a snail’s pace.
The Merry Pebbles caravan park is located next to the Sabie River at the end of the town (as you travel towards Graskop). When you enter the resort, it’s immediately clear that kids rule the roost here. Everywhere you look it’s just bikes, trikes and push bikes.
But it also gets calm. In the middle of the day, the camp is empty as everyone decamps to explore the area with its many tourist attractions.
If you’re lucky enough to camp along the river, you can sit next to the water with a book all day long, while the trout drift around just as quietly in the water.
Late afternoon things start stirring again... and you see smoke rising above the caravans as campfires are lit.
Choose your spot
Merry Pebble’s 200 numbered stands are grouped into four blocks (A to D), with paved paths running between the blocks. The sites are, on average, 12 x 12 steps.
Block A is the furthest from the river and block D is the closest. The 20 riverside sites of block D are the most sought after in the camp and you’ll need to arrive early to pitch your tent here – spots aren’t pre-booked. The last five places in this row (the furthest from reception) are the largest and offer the most privacy. But you’re a walk away from the bathrooms and, because the electric boxes are far
away, you’ll need to remember an extra extension cord. In the rest of the camp, a 15 m cord will do.
The whole camp is covered in kikuyu grass, which is green even in winter. The camp is also tree-lined – in summer, the deciduous trees provide great shade, while the winter sun warms up your caravan when the trees have thrown off their leaves.
Stands share rubbish bins and the taps are along the three main roads that run through the camp parallel to the river. So, if you camp in the middle of the blocks, you’ll be some distance from the nearest faucet.
Concrete storm-water pipes are planted in the soil and filled with sand to serve as braais, but there are no grids. Bring your own braai if you want to make a fire closer to your tent.
The camp lights are just off the streets; so, bring your headlamp if you’re likely to take a shortcut to the bathroom after the sun goes down.
If there were a competition for the cleanest camping ablution facilities, Merry Pebbles would be able to lay claim on the trophy. The cleaning staff are on duty throughout the day until late at night, and the facilities shine from top to bottom.
The resort’s three ablution blocks, one in block B and two in block C, are placed in the middle of the sites. Inside, all three are pretty much the same and equally clean. Water is heated with solar energy.
There are tiled floors and walls, mirrors above the sinks, coat hooks, hand soap, air dryers, power points and rubbish bins, and soap holders, benches and coat hooks in the showers.
The men and women’s facilities are more or less mirror images of each other, with small differences such as an extra table top for the women.
Block B’s ablution facilities look to be the newest of the three. This block has the largest common area with plenty of space. The four marble washbasins are part >
of the countertop and you can easily imagine that you’re in a luxury hotel. These are also the only facilities in the resort that are wheelchair friendly.
The other two ablution blocks are in block C, a few metres from each other. The larger one of the two is the oldest, but old doesn’t mean cold, because it’s just as neat as the others. There’s only a small amount of space for movement and you take up one third of the width of the hallway when you wash your face at the sink. It’s got 11 showers and eight toilets, but only four ordinary sinks.
Outside, on either side of the building are two spots where you can wash dishes, each with four sinks. The cassette toilets’ emptying point is behind this building.
Next to the big ablution block, there’s a separate building with open sides – here you’ll find laundry sinks, washing lines, ironing boards and three more dishwashing sinks. There’s a laundry room with automatic washing machines and tumble dryers in the main building next to the liquor store.
The third ablution block, which is also the closest to the river, looks like the one in block B but without the wheelchairfriendly bathroom.
Stuff to do
Merry Pebbles has an impressive list of activities that will have the kids almost as excited as when Santa Claus hands out presents. All activities start or happen in the vicinity of the main building at the entrance gate.
The cold-water pools are behind the main building, next to the playground. The two rectangular pools have a slide each, but don’t expect too much. They’re not very high or steep and the children slide slowly to the bottom. Very good for the little ones.
Next to the pool are the tennis courts (R100 deposit for a racket plus R20 per hour – and bring your own tennis balls) and a playground with a trampoline, two jungle gyms and a swing.
Not too far from here are the two warmwater pools where the water is heated to a comfortable 30 ºC. These swimming pools are only open from 1 May to 31 August, between 9 am and 4.30 pm.
Next to the swimming pools is the outdoor chess and mini-golf courses (R50 deposit for the stick and ball plus R10 per hour).
At reception, there are four-wheeled bikes for making your way through the camp to rent (R100 deposit plus R50 for 30 minutes) and to the left of the office is the relaxation room where you can watch DStv, play pool (R50 deposit plus R5 per game) or see if you can master the video games on machines from the eighties (R2 per game). Inner tubes to float in on the river are available for purchase from reception.
You could also try to catch dinner. Fishing is free and, while you can keep the rainbow trout, you have to throw back the brown trout.
For those fit enough, there are a number of mountain bike trails that all start at the
camp gate. Remember to get your permit (R30 for 2 days) at the office, because you can’t cycle on the trails in the forestry areas without it. You can also arrange at reception for an experienced bike guide that will show you the area.
The Loerie hiking trail (14 km) that starts at the gate, takes six hours to complete and you must also have a permit (R20 p.p.).
And, if all that isn’t enough to keep the kids busy, they can pick up their phones and tablets: the resort has free Wi-Fi.
How can we help?
Merry Pebbles’ camp shop, liquor store and restaurant are all in the main building at the entrance.
The camp shop is big and boasts a wide variety of groceries – those with a sweet tooth will be happy with all the different treats. You’ll also find the three items that always tend to run out on a camping weekend: wood, firelighters and ice cream. Inside the store is an ATM where you can use most types of bank cards.
The restaurant has an à la carte menu with a variety of dishes. Confirm their open times at reception.
Explore the Sabie area
If you don’t want to hang out in camp all day, you can explore the town and surroundings.
The Sabie Brewing Company in Main Street brews beer on the premises and you can try ones with interesting >
names, including Glynn’s Gold, Cockney Liz and Wheelbarrow Weiss at R70 for seven beers (100ml each). Hungry? Then order something to eat here.
In the area around Sabie, less than an hour’s drive from the town, you can pan for gold in the historic village of Pilgrim’s Rest (36 km), explore caves at the Sudwala Caves (49 km), stand amazed at the view from God’s Window (39 km) or descend 51 m with the Graskop Gorge Lift Co. and wander over suspended bridges and wooden paths to discover the forest below you.
For more information on these and all the other attractions and activities on offer in this beautiful part of South Africa, visit the Sabie Information Office where Heather Berry will send you in the right direction.
013 590 5452 email@example.com
EARLY BIRDS GET THE WATER. Specific stands aren’t booked in advance, and the ones along the river bank are arguably the pick of the bunch. To ensure you set up on of these you’ll have to arrive at the campsite nice and early.
CLINICALLY CLEAN. The ablution facilities are neat and clean, and people in wheelchairs have also been accommodated. An early morning camp fire not only adds atmosphere to the stand, but also serves to chase away the last traces of winter chill.
PEDAL, DIVE, CLIMB AND KICK. With the wide variety of activities here for children and adults, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would easily get bored at Merry Pebbles.
The kids enjoyed the tennis court and heated pool. Mia was especially pleased when she saw the store selling ice cream! We like to camp on the grass and the view over the river towards the mountain is very beautiful. The ablution facilities are very tidy and always clean. Johan and Salóme Scheepers of Pretoria and their children, Mia (12) and Justin (14), brought along grandmother Ria Beukes for a camping weekend. They camp with a 2013 Gypsey Regal that gets towed with a 2017 Ford Ranger 3.2.
In the afternoon, things start to stir in the campsite... and you see smoke rising above caravans as campfires are lit.