Anyone who has travelled within India would agree that long-ish road trips in India, while being fun, adventurous, exciting, etc..are unfortunately not the most comfortable or quick! Highways – where they exist – are riddled with potholes, excess traffic (and I don’t mean just automobiles) and lack basic amenities like toilets. The last being a major deterrent for female travellers.
Hence, my roads trips were few and far between.
But since having come to South Africa, the very definition of a holiday usually entails a road trip given the large network of well-planned motorways and roads with hardly any traffic (most locals would beg to disagree though!). Now you must remember that I come from India where the traffic is bumper-to-bumper anywhere you go!
So when a long weekend came about, hubby & I decided to check out what the South Africans call ‘The Berg’; in other words -the gorgeous Drakensberg mountains (Dragon mountain in Afrikaans). It is a 200km long range much of which lies in KwaZulu-Natal (a province of SA and the heart of Zululand). The Drakensberg is also a world heritage site as thousands of rocks depicting the daily activities of the San-people or bushmen who roamed these areas, have been found & preserved.
We decided to drive to Underberg and Himeville, which are in Southern Drakensberg – 600 km from Joburg. The northern & central parts of the Berg are much closer but being a long weekend and having made impromptu plans, we could only find accommodation in the south!
It was going to take us at least 7 hours to get to Himeville, including a rest-stop so we left at 6am, when it was still dark and traffic was just building up with holiday makers on their way to various destinations. Once out of Joburg, the 8-lane motoway changed to a 4-lane one and the traffic thinned out. It had begun to drizzle and we encountered some early morning fog which made the road look quite pretty. As if we were driving into the clouds.
For the first few hours, the scenery remained unchanged – with farmlands on either side of roads. Then the flatlands changed into rolling hills with the road meandering through them. By this time, we had covered half the distance and were ready for some much needed coffee and snacks. We stopped of at Harrismith and re-fueled the car as well as ourselves and were on the road again soon.
The last 100 km of the journey was via inner country roads. This became a little tricky as no sooner had we left the motorway, that it began to rain and we were engulfed in a dense fog. And as luck would have it, a part of the road was being repaired! this meant that we had to drive through a lot of slippery mush without really being able to see what was ahead of us. Thankfully there were not many cars on that road. So driving at a snail’s pace, which added almost an extra hour to our journey, we finally made it to Himeville and our hotel. What a sight for sore eyes it was – the Moorcroft Manor (you can read my Tripadvisor review here http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g1024771-d897032-r178630031-Moorcroft_Manor-Himeville_KwaZulu_Natal.html).
We were pleasantly surprised to learn that the hotel had been recently bought by a Swiss man & his Indian wife, who met us with much enthusiasm. She also introduced us to all her staff as the ‘real’ Indians from India as opposed to the the Durban Indians they meet so often! After several minutes of animated discussions on India and Bollywood (without which no conversation is complete), we headed for lunch which had been organised in front of a crackling fire. The rest of the day was spent indoors as the rain did not relent anytime soon.
Much to our delight, the next day was clear & sunny. Perfect for a short hike in the Cobham Nature Reserve – just a few kms from our resort. It was one of the best two hours I have spent outdoors. The scenery was simply breath- taking. And to top it all, we didn’t meet a soul. It was like we had the whole park to ourselves, for a private hike!
Happy & hungry, we left Cobham looking for a place to eat and found ourselves in a local deli – the name eludes me now – run by an old couple. The man was the chef while the wife helped with the billing and orders. Himeville & Underberg are very small towns and people are warm & friendly. We were warmly greeted and after a few niceties, we were served some excellent fish and steak.
The evening saw us at Himeville Arms because there is no better way to meet a few locals, than at the local pub. Located right on the main street, of which there is only one in Himeville, the pub, though a little dilapidated, exuded warmth and an old world charm. After a couple of beers and a hearty meal, we headed to the hotel for a good night’s rest as a long drive home awaited us the next day.
Now we are looking forward to the mother of all road trips – from Johannesburg to Cape Town this New Year! Yes indeed!! More on that soon……