David and I had a “get away” weekend in the northern Drakensberg area. We stayed at the Wild Horses Guest Lodge near Harrismith and although we saw beautiful scenery, staying at the lodge was the highlight of my weekend.
We left around 9:30 from Joburg….traffic was still pretty steady, even at that hour. It is just amazing the contrast in traffic from just a couple of weeks ago over the holiday season. People really do make a huge exodus from the city to the coast. Well, now, everyone is back and traffic is back to the normal, horrible beast that it has always been. I really did enjoy the holiday respite!
We drove south for about 3 1/2 hours on the N3. This highway is good but once you cross over to the Free State province, there is no medium strip between the four lanes. I really disliked this because I always fear that an accident may occur on the opposite traffic and push a car into our lanes. I just “canceled” any negative thoughts and prayed for a pyramid of protection around us.
It was a pleasant day and we passed cattle farms and lots of corn fields. The highway was bordered with sweet pink and white wildflowers that are even seen along Maine’s highways. Seeing those pretty flowers, I was feeling right at home!
After driving on the outskirts of Harrismith, we turned onto a dirt road that was the entrance to the Sterkfontein Nature Reserve centered around the lake created by the Sterkfontein Dam. The sign for Wild Horses Guest Lodge said it was 10 miles or 17 kilometers. We were excited about arriving at our destination. Well, what the sign didn’t tell us is that the next 10 miles was going to seem more like 30 miles because the road was so poor. Our first hint was the group of men working on the road with pick-axes and shovels filling in the pot holes with dirt at the road’s entrance! After traveling the road a couple of times and seeing what a beautiful treasure our lodge was, I equated the road to a dragon protecting the “pot of gold”. We conquered the dragon and were greatly rewarded at the end!
We arrived at the gate and Leah, the manager, opened it for us. We were the first of the four weekend couples to arrive. The lodge only has four rooms. Our room was The Sunset Room and even though it only had a partial view of the lake, it was still very, very charming.
I have to say that this lodge is by far my new favorite place to stay in the world! There was a sense of calm that surrounded the whole hotel and we just felt so relaxed. I mentioned this to Leah and she said that when building the place, the owner consulted with a world renown feng-shui expert. I have never really had much interest or belief in feng-shui but I think I might be a believer!
I loved the little decorating touches that were added to the lodge:
After unpacking, David and I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting on the deck, overlooking the lake, reading books. We had a late afternoon snack of dried fruit, nuts and biltong (the South African answer to our jerky).
In the late afternoon, we walked around the property and saw the wild horses. I understand that five of them are tame enough to ride but they do not stay in a barn….just wander the land.
Dinner was served at 7:30 and we had arranged to have a private meal in the Wine Room.It was so very nice and romantic….right down to the fresh flower petals strewn around the room and in the background was soft music.
The meal was three courses and we started with gazpacho soup with a small side salad. The main course was trout flavored with a tasty spicy rub, potatoes and steamed veggies. Desert was cheesecake….yum, yum, yum. All was washed down with a bottle of a South African blended red wine, Kanonkop Kadette.
Before returning to our rooms, we enjoyed looking at the stars. Returning to our room, we discovered that our bed covers had been turned down. On the bedstead was a small wine decanter of port wine and chocolates. This was just one of many small details that made our stay so pleasant.
After breakfast, armed with the information of which roads to take to get to a variety of destinations, we were in the car and on our way.
I forgot to mention that it was very cloudy when we got up and although the clouds were clearing around the lodge, as we headed south towards the Royal Natal National Park in the Drakensberg Mountains, they got thicker and thicker. It was our hope to go to the Royal Natal (translated National) Park on Saturday and then visit Clarens on Sunday before heading back to Joburg.
We had to travel to Bergville to get to Royal Natal, which was about a 2 hour drive. This is the road to Bergville….and this was the better part.
Part of the road that we drove over was just a one-lane dirt road. As I said earlier, the clouds were getting thicker as we passed along this road. David and I decided to turn around and head towards Clarens, where the weather was better. We didn’t want to drive two hours – especially on this road, only to have the mountains so covered with clouds that we couldn’t see them. That would be just too disappointing.
It was a good call to go to Clarens. By the time we got on the main road, the clouds were clearing and we saw blue sky. To get to Clarens, we had to pass through the Golden Gate Highland National Park. This park got its name because as the sun is setting, the sandstone rocks reflect a golden glow. It would have been lovely to experience that but we didn’t want to have to travel any of these roads in the dark. As it was, we saw some beautiful scenery….especially at the end of the day, on our way back. We took a couple of the scenic loop drives and the views that we saw were really inspiring.
I do not believe that the Golden Gate Highland National Park is part of the Drakensberg Range. That is what I was really hoping to see but the weather and roads just didn’t permit it. The Drakensberg forms the boundary between South Africa and the small country of Lesotho. It is translated to Dragons Mountain because it resembles a dragon’s back. Another and possibly better description to get a better visual image is the Zulu tribe translation as Battlement of the Spears because of the long, steep slopes of the mountain. The uKhalamba-Drakensberg Park was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in November of 2000. This area would have been lovely to experience but it wasn’t meant to be for us this weekend.
We had tried to go to Clarens back in May but didn’t make it. So, I was grateful that we were able to visit Clarens on this trip. This town is exactly how I pictured Parys, that we visited last week, was going to be. It is nestled in the mountains so everywhere you turned, you saw these majestic peaks towering over us.
The center of the town was a lush, green park bordered by trees. Situated around the park, were gift shops, restaurants and art galleries.
We spent the afternoon meandering through the stores and galleries. Lunch was at the Posthouse Restaurant . It is in the building that served as the town of Clarens post office for 73 years starting as far back when the mail was delivered by riders on horses!!! The building was built in 1921 with the local Rooiberg Sandstone. Since the weather had cooperated and was sunny with a nice breeze, we sat outside and ordered vegetarian sandwiches on homemade pita bread. It was good but not great in my opinion. The bread was delicious but the sandwich lacked something. That said, the atmosphere was great, the service exceptional and our sandwich was alright so I would recommend this place if you are ever in Clarnes.
Some of the animals we saw in our travels were:
We arrived back at the lodge around 6:00 PM, it had been a full day. Dinner was served at 7:30 in the dining room. Tonight’s menu was a delicious salad of greens, peanuts, quinoa and tomatoes. Fish with veggies was the main course and desert was a fruit tart with chocolate mousse.
Sunday was our last day in “Shangri-La”. It was sad to say good-bye. I so loved it here. If you are planning a trip to South Africa, you need to put the Drakensberg area on your list of places to visit and make certain that you spend at least one night at Wild Horses Guest Lodge on your way through!