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Roses, majesty, choristers and falcons in the Drakensberg

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Words and photography Ros Grieve

Our roving reporter, Ros Grieve, recently spent a few weeks touring the KwaZulu-Natal highlands. During her travels she got to experience three of her favourite camping destinations, which should certainly be on your travel agenda if you’re ever in the area.

An unexpected opportunity to escape for a couple of weeks had us debating where to go. The season, being early summer, brought roses to mind. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to slip up to Drakensville to see their magnificent roses in full bloom? An ATKV resort, Drakensville is situated just beyond Bergville. There’s something pleasing about this resort, which offers a village-like setting in a congenial atmosphere with many appealing activities, including a wonderful hot indoor pool and supertube.
When we first visited this park I was fascinated by the thousands of rose bushes which, at that time, had been carefully pruned. I met gardener Thomas Hlongwane, who takes great pride in his roses and believes the secret of their success is the pruning, which happens on a certain day in the month of July when all Drakensville staff take up secateurs in a mass pruning exercise.
The Drakensberg
Well, we weren’t disappointed. In fact, I’d say we were pretty much awed by the show of scented colour – absolutely splendid! What we hadn’t counted on was the heatwave we experienced as the Berg wind sapped our holiday energy with heavy, hot waves of humid air. Under these conditions the hot pool offered no relief – and the cold pool was being repaired!
If you are visiting for a few days, including a Friday, we recommend that you visit the nearby hydroelectric scheme at Sterkfontein Dam. You’ll need to book to do this tour, so enquire at Drakensville reception. Do check for special offers here, and at other ATKV resorts – they really want to please their guests.

Next stop

With a few days still in hand we decided to head up the road to the Royal Natal National Park. As we neared the mighty amphitheatre, we reflected on how fortunate we were to live in the KZN Midlands and have such a varied choice of caravan parks and campsites within an hour’s drive, both in the mountains and by the sea.

At Royal Natal we found what we absolutely love – a quiet camp! Mahai Camp, nestling under the Berg, has all the sounds, sights, smells and heady clear air associated with a mountain retreat. This camp, with 120 sites, mostly electrified, fills up alarmingly during holiday seasons, so our few nights there in this special, peaceful ambience were very special. Watch out for baboons, though: I got a huge fright when Big Brother casually strolled from the back of Bigaben (our Gypsey 4B caravan) onto the veranda – he’d obviously seen Ian head off to the ablution block – and took the rusk container off the table. Whether it was because I’d personally baked those rusks, I don’t know, but I was so incensed I threw my freshly brewed hot tea into his face. He made a rather undignified exit and, with my precious baking retrieved, I sat back and made myself another cuppa!

The weather remained hot, but the many pine trees in the camp made good shade, and there was a flutter of a breeze. We went for gentle strolls, stopping frequently to sit and soak up the magnificent mountain scenery. A drive to the hutted camp at Tendele offered even more awesome views and a pleasant picnic at the dam, which is stocked with bass, adding yet another facet to this lovely park.

Last resort

We decided to spend the last two nights of our little holiday at Dragon Peaks, a resort in the Champagne Valley some 50 km away. Besides being very pretty, Dragon Peaks offers visitors lots of activities including horse riding, mountain bike trails, adventure sports and all the usual facilities. There’s also a picturesque lake where you can fish or canoe. There’s a chapel on an island in the lake, as this is a popular wedding venue. Caravan sites here are electrified and have TV connections.

There are a couple of big added attractions just outside the resort too. The Drakensberg Boys Choir School is literally next door – so do yourselves a favour and plan to be at Dragon Peaks on a Wednesday during the school term, because that’s when the school opens its theatre to showcase this worldrenowned choir. I promise you, this is spine-tingling stuff!

The other attraction is a few kilometres along the road. Falcon Ridge is well worth a visit and the handsome raptors quite a sight to see. Take along sun cream and hats if you visit – there’s no shade!

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