Since moving to South Africa, a three-day weekend almost always spells – a ROAD TRIP!! So this Youth Day (a day that commemorates the Soweto Uprising of 1976), we decided to head to the small town of Graskop, in the Mpumalanga province. Graskop is ideally located, a mere 400kms from Joburg, and is the gateway to what is known as the ‘ Panorama Trail’.
To be very honest, this time around I had left the entire trip planning to my friends and hence I hadn’t a clue about what to expect. Now this is a very rare occurrence for a person who usually plans every holiday to the very T! So inhibitions aside, off we went, bag, baggage and DOG!
The drive from Joburg would normally take a little over 4 hours but we took a little longer as we decided to halt twice – once for breakfast and the second to visit the Sudwala Caves that fell enroute. It was a last minute decision to take the short detour to the caves and it was well worth the visit. Since we were travelling with Mia, our dog (for those who don’t already know her), we were prepared for the wait – K and I would wait with Mia whilst our friends visited the caves and then we would go, whilst they stayed with Mia. But to our amazement and utter delight, she was allowed in!! Not something that I would expect anywhere in the world but anything is possible in SA! The lady at the ticket counter told us that they have dogs too and they don’t mind them going inside. The only thing we needed to do was let her know in case Mia pooped inside – so that they could clean it up! She didn’t even ask us to clean up although we were well equipped. But eventually no one needed to clean up as Mia didn’t poop!
The caves offer a 30minute tour, every 10 minutes so after a very short wait we were off with Mia on a tight leash as several kids on the tour were more intrigued by her than the rock formations. The Sudwala Caves are apparently the oldest known in the world and home to some very interesting stalactite, stalagmite and flow stone formations that date back millions of years. These caves were used for shelter in prehistoric times and they even had their own version of BBMs (keep guessing!). Whilst on the tour, we came across some nuns, a husband and a wife, a king cobra, the devil, and several other interesting beings. To know more, you must visit Sudwala at the earliest.
After spending an interesting hour, we continued on our journey. In the last 50kms or so, the landscape changed dramatically. The road became windy and gentle, rolling hills gave way to steep gorges. Being winter in this side of the hemisphere, there wasn’t a lot of greenery around but that did not lessen the exquisiteness of the area. It just meant that we would need to come back again in summer!
Soon we entered the small but busy town of Graskop. Most tourists were taking a mid-morning break and all the eateries, located primarily on the main street, looked full. After making a mental note as to which restaurant we wanted to return to later, we carried on towards the Thaba Tsweni Lodge, one of the few pet friendly accommodations in the area. The self catering lodge, located about 10kms away from the main town and just a stone’s throw from the Berlin Waterfalls, offered one or two bedroom chalets, each equipped with a fully functional kitchen and huge lawns for dogs to romp around in. After being cooped up in the car for over 5 hours, Mia was thrilled to have such a large place to run around in.
After lolling around in the sun for a bit, we headed into town to satisfy our growling stomachs. There wasn’t a huge choice really, and to find a pet friendly place looked a little daunting. After a little walking around, we zeroed in on the Loco Pub and Coachman Grill, a small dilapidated looking place that looked like it had seen better days. We did not have much choice so we decided to give it a try nevertheless. As expected, the food was nothing to write home about and we needed to find some other options.Thankfully, two places agreed to allow Mia in, but only if we sat outside. That was fine in the day but to sit outside in the wintery evening, would be a different challenge altogether.We decided to worry about that later.
After a less-than-satifying meal, we drove to Lisbon Falls, one of the several waterfalls in the area. Its also supposed to be one of the highest in the area. You can’t really walk down to the falls, but can only observe it from the viewing area. Next, we headed to the Berlin Falls, located just down the road from our chalet. The names of these falls are derived from some of the European gold miners who flocked to this area in the late 1800s after gold was discovered in the area.
The early morning drive had tired us all and we decided to retire to the chalet for an evening of braai and games in front of the telly. This would also save us from freezing to death whilst trying to eat dinner outside.