Karaoke and the Drakensberg mountains are not the most likely coupling. But, singing Britney’s I Love Rock ‘n Roll at the top of my lungs with two of my girlfriends for moral support and a bunch of tipsy, middle-aged South African holidaymakers doubling as our backup singers and audience, was tantamount to my first experience of this sheer, rugged terrain.
“The Berg”, as it’s affectionately known by regulars, is a stretch of escarpment that forms the barrier between the landlocked Kingdom of Lesotho and the coastal province of KwaZulu-Natal – my starting point for this adventure. The word ‘Drakensberg’ translates from Afrikaans to ‘Dragon Mountains’, named for the jagged, fearsome shapes of the peaks and plateaus that comprise this region. In Zulu, they’re known as uKhahlamba, an even more expressive title meaning ‘barrier of spears’. Having never been to the Berg before, but having consumed countless magazine and blog articles about the destination over the years, I knew these dramatic vistas to be a paradise for the adventurous, nature-loving soul. Camera and hiking boots in tow, I was gearing myself up for a weekend of exploration amidst the unspoilt and unparalleled scenery that has South Africans returning to the Drakensberg year upon year.
But, as we hit the highways at lunchtime on the Friday and hightailed it out of Durban towards the Southern Drakensberg, it appeared my plans for an outdoorsy weekend would be thwarted. Dark, heavy-looking rain clouds loomed overhead. They only got darker and more menacing as we began the ascent through the mountains, loaded up in my friend’s little Ford Fiesta. I was sat in the backseat with my nose against the glass (not unlike a kid eye-to-eye with a glass display filled with donuts in every imaginable flavor combination). I could hardly take my eyes off the impenetrable walls of pine forests, the open stretches of field dotted by farmhouses or goats or just nothing and the green mountains with their impossibly pointed, almost mythical peaks. The dark grey clouds might have cast some appealing photographic light on the subjects before me, but I was willing the rain to disappear.
Alas, the clouds burst moments after we arrived at the Drakensberg Gardens Golf and Spa Resort and had unloaded our things (and by “things” I mostly mean food lezbehonest. Oh, and also wine). It continued to bucket merrily (or, in my case, not so merrily) down overnight and then well into the following morning. I sat glaring at the grey deluge outside, framed by the big bay window of our chalet’s lounge, willing once more for it to cease. In an instant, I was broken out of my little one-woman pity party by three juvenile baboons clattering down, one by one, onto the outside table. And also by my lovely friend offering me a lovely cup of coffee.
As I sat there curled up in the warmth of the couch, sipping on my coffee and catching up with the girls (mostly about our recent travels vs the perils of the 9 to 5 working life) I thought how nothing says, “Girls weekend away done right” quite like lazing a morning away guilt-free, all thoughts of hiking mostly forgotten, drinking coffee and chatting. Oh, and eating, of course.
The first time we stirred that morning was at the sound of some hungry bellies (as if we hadn’t been happily snacking on chocolate peanuts between meals…or maybe that was just me). With its humble but fully-equipped kitchen set-up, our cottage at the Drakensberg Gardens was perfect for a bunch of girls who not only love to eat, but who also love to cook. We chose to stay at one of the self-catering Riverbed Chalets (which can sleep up to 6 people), but one could also stay in one of the standard, superior or deluxe rooms at the hotel, or even get involved in some camping.
Our cottage was so cozy, comfortable and unpretentious (which is always my style) and the service at the resort was even more friendly and congenial – from the little glass of heart-warming sherry we received upon arrival at the check-in desk (so needed after tackling the shady highways between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, and one too many potholes on the mountain roads), to the turn-down service in the evening (including little blocks of dark chocolate placed on our pillows). The Sunday newspaper was even delivered straight into my startled hands the following morning, while I was sitting outside on the balcony with another cup of coffee and a slightly better attitude towards the weather. The rain had momentarily abated, allowing for the sun to cast its light on the mountains surrounding me.
When you’re not in the mood to cook, there are also a couple restaurants at the resort and, currently more pertinent to our girls’ weekend agenda, there are plenty bars too. When it starts to feel like the cold is seeping into your bones (the Southern Drakensberg is one of the best sections of the Berg for snow, and there was a considerable dusting forecast for the coming week), the tip of your nose is going pink, but you just about can’t stand to be indoors anymore, it’s time for only one thing – Cocktail Hour. We donned our K-Way down jackets like the good South Africans that we are, and headed towards the Buck and Trout Bar for R30 mojitos.
Next thing I knew, I found myself having worked up enough liquid courage to belt out cringe-worthy karaoke songs at the Wildcat (how apt) Sports Bar. We sampled some of the bar’s inventive shooters (like the Nutty Angel, an equally aptly named sweet and creamy combination of Amarula, Kahlua and Frangelico) and sang along with friendly strangers to a couple more Afrikaans one hit wonders and 90s classics. It was so cheesy, but even more hysterical, and my stomach muscles hurt from laughing so much. No one felt themselves too cool to get involved. Because, it seems, getting involved in some Saturday night singing is just as much a part of the Drakensberg experience as hiking through the mountains and swimming in rivers. It eventually came time to retire to the warmth of a bonfire outside, before properly retiring to the warmth of our cottage and our turned-down beds.
The following morning, bless Mother Nature (#WhatABabe), the rain clouds cleared, the sun came out and I was able to drag the gals out for a little meander. I mean, is it even a girls’ getaway if there isn’t at least one team member that’s always wanting to get involved in some exercise-y activity? I’m always designated this person #ProblemChild. We simply strolled along an MTB route rather than committing to a full-on hike, stopping to fill up our bottles with fresh mountain water at the Hippo Pools. I was forced to cast away my Birkenstocks for a moment and dip my feet in as part of a “Welcome to the Berg” tradition. If there wasn’t snow forecast in the next few days, I might’ve been made to take a swim in my bikini. The water was crispy cold, but also so rejuvenating on my feet, worn from my recent adventures in the Seychelles (it’s a tough life, I know). I was so enjoying wading through the water and being out in the fresh mountain air, but the weather started turning once again (worse than me trying to decide what to have for lunch, it could not make up its mind), and we still needed to get all our things packed up and head back to Durban before another week began.
But! The adventure didn’t quite end there. We took a sneaky detour home via the Midlands Meander, with the sole purpose of dropping in at Terbodore for coffee and lunch. And to cuddle Sultan the Great Dane doggo (and his other giant four-legged friends), the inspiration behind Terbodore’s branding and their approach to coffee. They pride themselves on using excellent quality beans, and on putting the utmost care and patience into the roasting process. This results in a consistently delicious cup of coffee, that’s rich in flavour and caffeine-y goodness, and served with a dog-bone-shaped biscuit at their farm-style restaurant in KZN. I couldn’t resist buying a couple bags of coffee beans as gifts for the fam (mostly because I wanted them to enjoy the experience too, but also because the Terbodore packaging is so aesthetically pleasing). It was so worth extending our journey home, and I love making an event of a road trip, eking out every last possible drop of adventure.
Just as the toll gate before Durban rolled into vision, heavy rain droplets started smacking against the windshield and lightning forked across the afternoon sky, made purple by the impending storm. Our girls’ weekend away was coming to an end. This also meant it was almost time for me to hop on another flight and head back home to Cape Town and bid farewell to my friends after four incredible weeks of travel, adventure, spontaneity, and many an unexpected experience – including butchering Britney Spears songs with my lack of vocal talent, and still laughing and smiling and jumping up and down like I was about to win a Grammy Award. But, the best thing about going on holiday with your girls is that you can be your silly self, and they still have to love you.
What’s your favourite destination for a getaway with friends/family?
Hope you enjoyed this post! Until next time. xx