The Drakensberg | Travel Blog

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Published: September 26th 2023

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View from our roomView from our roomView from our room

Friday was never going to be a great day. We had to drive to Port Elizabeth airport, drop off the car, fly to Durban then drive to our overnight hotel.

The only good bit of the day was straight after breakfast, when we returned to the whale lookout point in front of the hotel and saw a pod of at least five or maybe six whales, who moved ever closer to us until they were only about 200 yards away. We never saw one jump out of the water, but we saw plenty of tail fins and backs, and blows. A local resident who was there with his binoculars told us they were humpbacks with at least one calf.

The drive to Port Elizabeth airport was dreary, with constant rain obscuring the views and making driving tiring. We discovered that South Africa is very badly supplied with motorway service stations. Having passed one after an hour, it was another hour and half before the next one, by which time we were truly desperate to stop!

Once in Port Elizabeth, Google Maps told us to go one way to the airport and the road signs another. We opted for

Cleopatra Mountain FarmhouseCleopatra Mountain FarmhouseCleopatra Mountain Farmhouse

the latter which proved a mistake, taking us along smaller roads with a lower speed limit and interminable traffic lights. The latter were made all the more painful by the fact our parking control system, with handy camera and bleeps if you get too close to something, had malfunctioned and emitted endless bleeps every time our speed fell below 10km/hour, with no way of stopping it. We still made it to the airport in good time, though by now more tense than we’d have chosen, and checked in for our flight to Durban. At both airports we could just walk from the terminal to the car rental offices, which made a pleasant change from Europe or the USA. By the time we left, it was already dark, with no road lighting, and we were very thankful once more for Google Maps to guide us to our location. We were less pleased about the numerous savage speed bumps on the lesser roads, which were all but invisible in the dark. When we arrived at the hotel, Sara ventured in and found someone who said he would park the car for us, as by this time David decided his night vision was

Dairy farming in the DrakensbergDairy farming in the DrakensbergDairy farming in the Drakensberg

shot!

Next morning we drove to Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse, at the foot of the Drakensberg mountains. After getting off the main highway we drove through the area known as the Midlands, which in rolling cattle country, looking very much as if it was somewhere in the western USA. We thought we were making quite good progress until the end of the journey. The instructions said, innocuously, ‘take the tar road for 30km then turn right onto the dirt road for 5km’. The tar road turned out to be more pothole than tar, causing us to have to swerve endlessly to avoid the worst of the holes and cutting our average speed drastically. That last 35km took about 75 minutes! Efforts had been made to fill the potholes in places, and at one point we saw workmen continuing the job. However, the ‘repair’ was rather cursory consisting of nothing more than flinging a shovelful of mixed sand and stones into the holes, meaning that it did little more than provide a visual warning of the hole ahead. The dirt road was positively relaxing by comparison!

The Farmhouse was worth the journey. It is in the Kamberg valley and has

Foothills of the DrakensbergFoothills of the DrakensbergFoothills of the Drakensberg

been owned by the same family for generations, and there are photographs, memorabilia and artefacts everywhere. The family also owns a number of farms nearby. Staying there is like being house guests rather than staying in a hotel. It sits in spectacular scenery, again amongst ranch type farms, and our room had a sitting room at the front with a view out over the gardens and the mountain beyond. David was not feeling well and took to bed, finished off by his heroic driving, but Sara went for an exploratory walk before settling down with her book. After an excellent dinner it was time for an early night.

Next morning was much cooler than the previous day, and cloudy. We had thought we’d take a walk after breakfast, but the rain began and kept up for most of the day. We found ourselves a comfy sofa in front of a newly lit log fire in the main lodge and enjoyed a relaxing morning of reading our books and generally taking it easy. In the afternoon, as the weather had eased a little, we went off on one of the walks starting from the hotel, along the river and in

Weaver bird nest buildingWeaver bird nest buildingWeaver bird nest building

front of the mountain opposite. We rounded off the day with an excellent dinner, that left us far too full to go to bed at our usual time.

Mercifully the overnight rain cleared up so we were able to walk on our final day. We climbed up the hill for an hour and a half, enjoying the ever improving views. We returned for a cup of tea only from Brian, one of the staff, to ask if we’d seen the troupe of baboons that had been raiding the lemon trees just 10 minutes earlier. Damn, we hadn’t!

Later that afternoon David spent some time trying to photograph the weaver birds which were busy nest building. They are very noisy while about their business, and the juveniles are far less skilled than the old hands. The quality of your nest determines whether you attract a mate. They fly back and forth to the reed beds gathering thin strands of reed to weave in. Sometimes an interloping sparrow would try and squat in a nest but he would get quickly chased out.

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