“Which places in South Africa do you regret not having seen?”
That’s the question our friends asked us one day over a glass of wine, after we had learned that we’d be moving soon.
It’s not an easy one to answer. There are a million things we would have liked to do before leaving Southern Africa.Taking the boys to Victoria Falls the right time of year and rafting down the rapids.
Taking pictures of the flowers in Namaqualand in spring.
Driving up that impossibly steep mountain pass in Lesotho.
Canoeing on the Orange River again. This time with friends. And with alcohol.
Going on a houseboat cruise on the Zambezi.
Hiking the Oystercatcher trail along the Garden Route. Or riding it on horses.
Going to Botswana again. This time with kids, so they can have the real life sex ed performance by the lions.
Looking into the Big Hole in Kimberley.
Riding the Blue Train or Premier Classe to Cape Town (guest blog post coming up on that!).
Going to Franschhoek at least five more times for fine dining and stocking up on our Chardonnays.
And taking a road trip to Cairo. At least that one sounded like a good idea after four glasses of the aforementioned Chardonnay.
But the first word that somehow popped into my mind was “Drakensberg.” I had heard so much about these fabled mountains. And I just love that word.
So it was decided by our friends that we’d all go to the Drakensberg for one last vacation together.
We booked family rooms at Champagne Sports Resort without any problems and at a reasonable price. We weren’t disappointed – it is the perfect place for a family vacation. Lots of activities on offer like squash, tennis, table tennis, a teenager room, some live music, good food. The only thing I did not care for was the poolside bingo, which you kind of had to suffer through if you just wanted to sit by the pool and read your book. (Please see my review on Tripadvisor for more on Champagne Sports).
Getting there is a matter of a road trip of about five hours if you factor in a lunch, mostly on the highway (the driving, not the lunch). Unless of course you are traveling with our friends who in typical South African fashion cannot be happy unless some kind of hardship is placed upon you and your car, most often in form of a dirt road. In this case it was actually a tar road, or at least something that had been a tar road perhaps fifty years ago but hadn’t been repaved since then, resulting in something far worse than a dirt road.
You might remember that after selling our car early we had a little rental Toyota to get around in, which gave us a wee bit of trouble keeping up with our friends and all their off-road prowess. I was just glad we weren’t swallowed up entirely by one of those potholes we had to negotiate.
On the way back we were smarter and took the highway detour instead. But what is the other hazard beside potholes lurking (specifically for me, I think) on South African roads? If you’re a faithful reader of this blog, you should know. I’ll pause quickly so you can search your brain…Yes, you got it: Cops, of course! Perhaps it was fitting that I should not be allowed to say goodbye to South Africa without one last traffic stop. I was waved over at the top of a fairly steep pass, after we had labored up with our undersized engine, and I am convinced there was no chance we could have topped eighty, but that is precisely what the guy informed us of having happened. And that he could “take me in” for that. It’s a good thing I was driving, because Noisette has been known to pay “fines” in such situations, something I am proud of never once having done. I can honestly say I’d rather go to jail.
But alas, jail eluded me once again – how I would have loved blogging about that as a final farewell! – and the cop and I parted ways with him just issuing a warning to me.
“What were you guys talking about?” Noisette wanted to know as soon as I got back in the car. “You and him were both smiling the entire time!
“Well, let’s keep that a secret, shall we? I just have a way with those South African traffic cops, don’t I.
But back to the Drakensberg: What a spectacular mountain range. When you see its spiky ridges you can easily understand how it got its name. What I wasn’t expecting was how green everything was. You could imagine being in Ireland or Scotland or even Hawaii, not somewhere in Africa. During winter of course everything turns brown, but when we were there, daily afternoon thunderstorms ensured the regular watering of those slopes.
And of the tennis courts.
Although we did get some doubles games in. Extending the girls’ lead to, I don’t know, nine sets to five. Just thought I should mention this here, for no particular reason. Although I should also mention that the guys did win the one set 6-0. Which they couldn’t stop mentioning the rest of the day.
This being partially the same group making up our Kili climb, it was decided we would go hiking on our first day. The kids were entirely opposed to any walking whatsoever, and only with a lot of prodding and pleading and promising an easy walk just up to the rock pool did we talk them into coming along. Which after about five minutes of walking uphill led to quick accusations being lobbed at us for totally lying about the easy walk. I won’t name any names, but maybe you can read the body language to figure out the culprit(s).
It took a little while, but in the end the rock pool made up for all the grudges held against lying parents. Or more likely it was the stack of chocolate bars a thoughtful parent had brought along. And no, I was not that parent. Although I have been known to pay bribes. To the kids, not the cops.It was as spectacular as it was cold. What I wouldn’t have given for one of those waterfalls with such delicious spring water on Kilimanjaro!
After the rock pool, some of us went back, taking the walking-challenged kids with them, while some of us pushed further up the mountain.The views were incredibly beautiful. Just seeing these pictures now makes me want to go back and try that multi-day hike some of us were already busy scheming about. A hike just like the Dainfern College kids get to do in their 10th grade year. Which makes me realize how much I miss Dainfern College, where a new school year is starting in just a few days.See for yourself the views you are treated to in the Drakensberg by scrolling through the remaining pictures. I can highly recommend Champagne Sports Resort as a good family destination, though the one drawback is that none of the hiking trails start there. If you want to hike straight from your room, Champagne Castle is a better option.