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.

Go! Camp & Drive - - CONTENTS - Text and pho­tos He­lenus Kruger

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.

Clean­ing up

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 tourism@sa­

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.

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