Road trip from Joburg to Durban via The Berg ....The Drakensberg that is!

Published: May 17th 2012
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Amphitheatre BackpackersAmphitheatre BackpackersAmphitheatre Backpackers

What a lovely pool - pity no time to make use of it!
2012 Indaba Road Trip

Jonny took me to the airport at 11 am and dropped me off at the car hire offices. Hannes was there but in the airport getting a good map. Our car was ready I showed my drivers license we re- checked scratches and off we went. I drove the first bit out of town and then we started looking for the great new map – we could not find it anywhere! Oh dear we had to wing it as I could not find the pocket where I had left the instructions! No problem for us we followed our nose down the M3 toward Durban. I had no idea that we were going to go through Mpumalanga, and the Free State before arriving in the Drakensburg. So with Gauteng firmly under our belt I had been in 4 Provinces in one day and Hannes in 5! We stopped off at a quaint roadside stop- Reitz Farm stall and Art Gallery which consisted of rondawels – literally round houses which contained a shop and also a restaurant where we could order Moer Koffie or as the English translation – murdered coffee. R10 a cup. I loved
Inkosana LodgeInkosana LodgeInkosana Lodge

This is the iconic picture of Ed's place in the lounge the wall hanging painted by him. The whole place is lovely - really recommend it if you are in the area
the rusty enamel crockery on display on the walls and fences the ostriches made from tin, the art gallery along curved walls joining the shop to the restaurant and the ou tannies and ooms having their Sunday Buffet lunch all dressed up in the middle of nowhere.

We had to push on and I found directions and had bought a new map – not as fancy as the first one but it did the trick. We left the instructions in the bag and headed off the highway as soon as possible and turned off the good road onto the one full of potholes and road works. As good citizens we duly stopped when told to and while waiting patiently we were passed by taxi’s and other vehicles?/ but hey what is going on?? There is a queue here?? Our turn came to go and we followed behind the 3 cars in front of us when oops here comes a car towards us. Is anyone obeying these stop go controls????? Only in South Africa!. The scenery suddenly became magic so different from the savannahs we had just passed. Mountains popped up Mesa’s Butts and spitskoppies abound. We took
Sunset over the dam at InkosanaSunset over the dam at InkosanaSunset over the dam at Inkosana

Magical evenings at sunset over the dam. Clouds make for an interesting reflection
a detour to where we saw the name on the side of the mountain and it was an old battle site……. the road was bad but we soldiered on. A little further along a bakkie comes past and we got stopped by a Farmer’s wife with a Chihuahua on her lap – she wound down her window and we did likewise Hannes greeted her politely. Where are you going??? Well if you think this part of the road is bad don’t go any further its hectic around the corner, so we turned our car around and went back to the main road – we had been warned. The road continued passed awesome dams and then we stopped at the Coyote (are we in SA) Café where the lemon cheesecake was sublime and so was the Mozart cake with real good coffee and views. That was our lunch at 4 o clock or should I say high tea as we were so high up. Not in any other way believe me!!! It was downhill after that into the valley and we easily found Amphitheatre Backpackers and what a treat that has turned out to be. Its 5 star and you
Champainge castle Champainge castle Champainge castle

A hike to the Bushman rock paintings is very rewarding
can clearly see why. Ilse and Linda have done an awesome job at every turn. Its all so classy and hip with awesome views of the Berg (that’s the Drakensburg for all my overseas readers) Our room was so cute a small self catering room which had everything.

We had dinner in the restaurant there was a salad starter you could choose a main – vegetarian Moroccan chick pea curry with cous-cous which is what we had or chops and chip followed by either ice cream and chocolate sauce which would have been my brothers choice but I went for the Margerita which was a great way to end the day. We watched slides of the area and the backpackers on the big screen in the bar- the younger set were sitting in the Jacuzzi it was most pleasant. After a good nights sleep we met with the girls over breakfast and saw the bits we had missed. The lovely upstairs verandah overlooking the Amphitheatre is a great place to chill and enjoy the view.

We said our goodbyes and took our very local instructions from the girls and set of down the road. The first town, Bergville, which we had told was not very nice was for us treat and real Africa. The best bit was the taxi rank. Ladies with ochre coloured faces, old ladies selling herbs, sacks of potatoes, maize and packets of sugar beans piled in front of small stalls. Lots of shwe-shwe (local material) made into pinafores and overalls and food –braaied meat and mielies - we bought some boiled white corn on the cob which we took with us for our lunch. Oh that was so exciting.

The back roads to Cathedral Peak were breathtaking. The mountains seem at one point to be so far and then before you know it they are above you. Hannes said:’It’s like living in a postcard!’ and I totally agree with him. We paid our entrance fee of R30 each and then a little bit further down the road there was a R20 fee for getting into the grounds of the Cathedral Peak Hotel. Quite and institution and it did have a lot of old world charm with great views and fresh, fresh air. We sat on the lawn and looked at the mountains and ate our corn
Shepherd in LesothoShepherd in LesothoShepherd in Lesotho

this was the picture of my travels!
serenaded by the large variety of birds. Then it was off to Winterton but we went via Thokazane and a weaving centre where you can see the women making the most lovely carpets and rugs. I definitely need to come up here with a huge car!!! At Thokazane a craft village we made a few purchases and had some tea and scones and then went off in search of Inkosana. It was closer than we thought but we did have to make one u turn as we were going in the wrong direction. We arrived at sunset and were shown to our rondavels. They are so lovely and cosy and it feels like we are in the bush here.

Ed made us a great dinner and we sat in his lovely lounge/dining room to eat. After dessert in his house which is attached we retired to our rooms and left him to watch the telly.

After a breakfast of mielie pap (maize porridge) home-made whole wheat bread and jam we set off to see the Birds of Prey show further up into the Cathedral Peak valley. We were so surprised at how many people
Ardmore ceramicsArdmore ceramicsArdmore ceramics

Just loved this place.
there were at the show and the view was breathtaking with the valley in front of us and mountains surrounding us. It was a very informative show and the birds – owls, black eagle, harris eagle and peregrine falcon all performed like the pro’s they are. How they get to their heights, how they hunt and how they got to be there were all explained so well. We learnt so much. When the show was over we continued up the valley until the end and went into Cathedral Peak proper where we did a short walk to Stirklands Falls. It was only an hour but all we could fit in. We felt we deserved lunch after that and met Ed at The Bakery for a quiche and salad. The Ardmore Museum was next on the list but that was a huge disappointment – not in the works they are as beautiful as ever but the space was not cleaned and loved. Next door they were weaving the most beautiful colourful cloth but the shop also had an air of neglect about it. The end products except for the hammocks were very uninspiring. Hannes needed a massage and I am always
Hannes'es cheese muffinHannes'es cheese muffinHannes'es cheese muffin

The Pickle Pot a delightful stop for refreshments halfway between Underberg and Durban
a slut for a massage so we went to the Resort to their spa. On arrival there was hardly a place to park the car – a medical conference was in progress and you could not get a massage booked for the next 2 days - unlucky for us,

We drove past the Drakensberg Boys School we are not very lucky with that either as there is a performance tomorrow afternoon and we will be on our way to Sani Lodge so will have to keep that experience for next time.

We came back home to Inkosana and made ourselves a cuppa and sat by the dam and watched the sunset. It was wonderful. Ed made us a braai and after dinner we watched Master Chef South Africa. I know 3 contestants and two of them had to do a challenge together – they just made it – it really was touch and go that they got through the challenge and I was so on tenterhooks for them!

After breakfast we set off for Giants Castle to see some Bushmen rock paintings. We got there just in time to do the hike 45 minutes to the cave and I was not disappointed at all even though we had a large group of school children on the tour. I was so happy to see them out and about learning about their culture. The only thing was the noise on the walk – it was not bad noise but not the quiet you expect on a hike where you just want to hear the birds and the bees and the river flowing.

We left there at 2 and took the back roads. Not back road enough as we did make one small mistake which took us out of our way but as it was all so pretty along the way it was fine. The last section of the road was really the back unsealed one and luckily for me Hannes was driving. The views were incredible up, up, up and then down into the valleys. We gave a lady a lift for about the last 20 Kilometers to Underberg which looks like a really bustling town. We bought a couple of bottles of wine for our host and ourselves and as the sun was setting we drove into Sani Lodge. We booked on the tour up the pass tomorrow. Dinner was in their café at the front of the property. It’s a shop too and as its on the road to the pass I am sure they do well. For me it lacks style totally and could be made so nice. The dinner was delicious – a hearty beef stew with rice, beans and butternut followed by chocolate cake and cream. We ended up back in the lounge/kitchen for a cup of tea and made our way to bed. I did get a little sidetracked speaking to some Israelie guests – Tony they are related to the guy who makes chocolate on your Moshav! How about that??? Now its to sleep in my very little rondawel.

Well the day dawned in all its splendor. A crisp autumn day greeted us and put us in a good mood for our ride up Sani Pass. This was one of those things on my bucket list so after breakfast our group which had grown overnight from 4 to 9 set off with our guide Stuey. Hannes and I got front seats so I was really going to face my fear of heights but was all up for the challenge. I must say I felt a little safer being in the middle. You can only go up Sani Pass if you have a real 4x4 – my Subaru Impreza wouldn’t make the first bend!!! It was slow going but boy words cannot describe how beautiful these mountains are, how rough the road was or how delighted we were to see quite a few things in the way of wildlife and birds. As Stuey was a qualified ranger and his specialty was birds we got to see the most amazing things that quite frankly we would have missed if we were on our own. The border post was quick and efficient and we were forever upwards on our journey – slowly. We made it to the top with some breathtaking picture stops along the way and cleared the next border crossing just as efficiently. The terrain changed from mountain to plains and one could imagine how cold the winds screaming across them could be. We went to see how they sheared the angora goats (no sheep at this time of the year) and we felt so sorry for them as they would have to spend at least this night out in the cold with no hair to keep them warm. The shepherds take them down to the lower plains as quickly as they can but I am sure this would take awhile. You could see the experienced shearers who gave their goats a much more even cut – personally if I was a goat I would want the inexperienced ones who left a bit of wool on! After this it was off to the edge to eat our packed lunch. Wow we had such awesome views. We stopped at a very small village to visit a home and see what it was like – neat as a pin I would say with a fire going in the middle where the lady was making bread and you could try some local beer – I gave that a miss. This lady was a trader and lives here on her own. Her partner off working somewhere else her children at school in a town 60 kilometers away in distance but very long to get there on these roads. I think she makes good money from us tourists which is great as the lodge pays her for hosting us and I bought some things she had for sale as did others in the group.

We said our goodbyes as a shepherd was sitting outside her door playing his tin can guitar and went for a drink at the highest pub in Africa. After that is was the decent which was the real test of nerves but Stuey handled it all so well though we did see a few casualties today along the way both on the way up and down. I can honestly say it’s the most hectic road I have ever been on and I have been to some wild places.

Once again we had a great dinner chicken stew with carrots, squash and rice followed by home-made icecream and stewed peaches. Simone makes home made ice-cream from cream from their own cows and Russell makes his own jams and I believe the stewed fruit.

Its off to Durban tomorrow to Indaba

Our last morning was started with a full tour of Sani Lodge with Russell looking at his camping areas and other rondawels. The road was wonderful and the country side green. Up hills and down dales. We stopped off at the Pickle Pot which was recommended to us for brunch. A melt in the moujth scone with clotted cream and 2 baskets of pickles and jams to try. We were in heaven. I had to hold myself back and only buy one small pot of apple and ginger jam which I thought was so yummy.

Howick falls was not on my list but it is so accessible right in the middle of town and we had to go past it anyway. I was so happy to be able to get a great view without any effort as time was against us and there was a place I really wanted to go to and that was Ardmore which is a ceramic studio that creates wonders of animals and plants and people all in porcelain clay. These fantasies are done in 3 D so the animals might be on the edge of a bowl or part of the handle. There was one bowl in particular that had birds surrounding it but that was way out of my league. I did think I would like to buy a piece just a small egg cup but that too was about R1000.00 yes there are 3 zero’s in there! Would be too scared to eat my egg in that! And the very simple guinea fowl were not exciting enough for me.But so happy I could introduce Hannes to this.

That was really our last stop as we headed to Durban and Indaba. The whole journey from Amphitheatre to Underberg you are travelling up, down alongside these Dragon Mountains they are majestic and mystical shrouded in cloud or bathed in sunlight you are in the presence of these awesome mountains.


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