DRAGON’S LAND

South Africa’s most fa­mous moun­tain range is one of the world’s great­est des­ti­na­tions. Paul Ash ex­plores the best of the ’Berg

Sunday Times - - THE BIG READ -

THE HO­TEL Drak­ens­berg Sun

This classy ho­tel near Win­ter­ton sits like a fine manor house on lush wide lawns that give way to some of the most as­tound­ing peaks in the ’Berg, in­clud­ing Cham­pagne Cas­tle, South Africa’s sec­ond-high­est moun­tain. The re­cently up­graded Lake­view Restau­rant is the heart of the ho­tel. Break­fast is the usual bo­nanza of eggs and ba­con or pan­cakes or waf­fles or, go on, just have a bit of ev­ery­thing be­cause you’ll be need­ing that en­ergy for all the day’s ac­tiv­i­ties. There is a tree-top canopy tour — soar over the Blue Grotto for­est on lines that get pro­gres­sively more hair-rais­ing — moun­tain­bik­ing, horse-rid­ing, fish­ing, ca­noe­ing and, of course, hik­ing. This is a year-round desti­na­tion but in win­ter you should find snow on the moun­tains, a roar­ing fire in the foyer and hot choco­late on tap.

Rates: The ho­tel is run­ning a spe­cial valid for stays be­tween June 1 and Au­gust 31: R2 250 per fam­ily room per day on a din­ner, B&B ba­sis (two adults and two chil­dren un­der 18, kids’ din­ner not in­cluded). They are also of­fer­ing 30% off on Canopy Tours; 20% off on hot­stone mas­sage (1 treat­ment per room per stay) and 20% off horse rid­ing.

Con­tact: 036 468 1000, e-mail drak­ens­bergsun.reser­va­[email protected]­go­sun.com or see tso­go­sun­ho­tels.com.

THE CAMPSITE Ma­hai at Royal Natal Na­tional Park

This is the campsite in which I fell to­tally and ir­re­vo­ca­bly in love with the ’Berg. Green lawns spread­ing out un­der stands of whis­per­ing pine trees, ex­cel­lent ablu­tion blocks, a view of the moun­tains that will leave your breath­less and the sound of red-chested cuck­oos shout­ing “pietmy-vrou” as the ris­ing sun gilds the flanks of the Am­phithe­atre — who could not love that?

Rates: High-sea­son rates ap­ply over school hol­i­days and pub­lic hol­i­days. From June 16-July 24, the rate is R420 for three peo­ple in a campsite. Any ad­di­tional campers pay R140 per per­son (camp­sites ac­com­mo­date up to six). Out-of-sea­son, it’s R120 per per­son.

Con­tact: 036 438 6310, see kzn­wildlife.com or e-mail book­[email protected]­wildlife.com.

THE DRIVE Bergville to Un­der­berg and Sani Pass

There is a magic drive on a se­ries of tarred and gravel roads along the foothills, from Bergville over the Umko­maas River and south along the con­tours to Un­der­berg, with a de­tour up Sani Pass. Parts of the route are ut­terly lonely where you will see few other ve­hi­cles and will have the spec­ta­cle of the ‘Berg all to your­self. It is best in win­ter when the moun­tains are cov­ered in snow and the air is crisp and clean, like it prob­a­bly was at the be­gin­ning of time. Road con­di­tions can can vary widely — ask for lo­cal ad­vice be­fore set­ting out.

Rates: Sani Moun­tain Lodge has ron­dav­els, sleep­ing from two to six peo­ple, at R1 260 per per­son shar­ing, din­ner, B&B. Re­duced rates for chil­dren. Rates higher in peak sea­son.

Back­packer ac­com­mo­da­tion (three pri­vate rooms and two dorm rooms) from R275 pp self-cater­ing.

There is also a toll fee payable at the Le­sotho border post (R60 for larger 4x4s, R30 for small).

Meals are served in the high­est pub in Africa, with an à la carte pub menu avail­able 9.30am-6pm.

Con­tact: 078 634 7496 or visit san­i­moun­tain.co.za.

THE HIKE Royal Natal Na­tional Park

Any­one who spends time in the ’Berg will ar­gue un­til the cows come home over the best day hikes, the best trails, the best peaks, the best rock pools to the point of te­dium. For my money, the best hik­ing is on the net­work of trails lead­ing up from Ma­hai campsite into the vast shadow of the Am­phithe­atre in the Royal Natal Na­tional Park. Trails lead up the slopes to the foot of the Tugela Falls or loop around the sand­stone but­tresses and out­crops near the campsite. To com­plete the cir­cle, you should also do the hike from Wit­sieshoek to the top of the Am­phithe­atre, where you will stand in slack-jawed won­der be­fore one of the best views in the world.

Rates: En­trance to the park is R40 per per­son. Oth­er­wise hik­ing is free.

Con­tact: 036 438 6310, see kzn­wildlife.com or e-mail book­[email protected]­wildlife.com

THE EPIC AD­VEN­TURE Drak­ens­berg Grand Tra­verse

If you have a high pain thresh­old and the de­ter­mi­na­tion of a hob­bit, then the Drak­ens­berg Grand Tra­verse awaits. A 230km hike, you start at Wit­sieshoek, near Mount aux Sources, and pick your way over peaks and val­leys, to Bush­man’s Nek in the south­ern ’Berg. Out­side On­line once listed it as one of the world’s 10 most dan­ger­ous hikes. Some peo­ple race it, some do shorter sec­tions, but all agree the Tra­verse is one of the coun­try’s great chal­lenges in which you will be alone for much of the way. If you do the full hike at a nor­mal pace, ex­pect to be on the trail for roughly 12 nights.

Rates: Sev­eral tour op­er­a­tors will hold your hand through it — or plan it your­self. Con­tact: Find tour op­er­a­tors on­line or see

kzn­wildlife.com or phone 036 438 6310.

UP AND AWAY: June Fabian tack­les the chain lad­ders at the start of the Drak­ens­berg Grand Tra­verse

MAR­I­ANNE SCHWANKHART

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