From the N3 highway the distant views of the snow topped Drakensberg Mountains are some of the best I have seen. But this is winter, and I had been told this is the best time of year to see the mountain range at its best. My wife’s grandfather’s slides had given me a good idea of what to expect. However the real thing just got better and better.
Off the highway and after passing through Winterton I decided to stop and take a few photographs. Again just after Bergville I did the same. From the last of the tar road I took the opportunity to stop again. You never know, this might be the best view of the Amphitheatre I might get?
I was wrong, very wrong. On reaching my destination the view was simply stunning. The Drakensberg Mountain Retreat looks across at over 120 kilometres of the mighty Drakensberg range. Cathkin Peak to my left, and Retiefklip to my right, running from KwaZulu Natal and beyond into the neighbouring Free State.
Situated within its own 852 hectares and sitting on an escarpment at just over 1700 meters above sea level I should not have been surprised by the view. The dining room, the lounges and even my spacious bedroom all looked across at ‘the view’.
I became a little obsessed as I sat just looking. There was the Amphitheatre almost opposite. The Sentinel to its right and Eastern Buttress to the left. All of a sudden I wanted to know the name of every peak. A copy of RO Pearses ‘Barrier of Spears’ sat well placed in the lounge. Amongst the text and images there were photographs of Godfrey Symons, my wife’s grandfather, climbing the very mountains I was looking at.
During the late afternoon Sean, my host, accompanied by Dixie his 11 week old dog took me on one of the Retreats nine walks. A short stroll was a good choice. The cold mountain air at altitude is thin. And with darkness fast approaching it was time to be back by one of the hotel fires. If you are keen hiker the Retreat can arrange a guide, Zee, who is best known for taking Julia Bradbury on one of her ‘South African Walks’.
The Drakensberg Mountain Retreat became my mountain observatory. Sitting on comfy leather couches behind huge glass windows I watched the basalt rock change colour as the sun began to move cross the sky. The wood burners kept the chilled mountain air at bay and soon after darkness fell the Southern Cross constellation rose above the peaks.
Drakensberg Mountain RetreatMy bedroom became my view point at first light. The mountains began to turn pink as the sun slowly climbed. Below my window the straw coloured grass was white with frost. And there frozen to the mountain opposite me were the Tugela Falls. The second highest waterfall in the world.
This short break had once again opened my eyes to the immense natural beauty of the Drakensberg. And there cannot be many better places to observe it from. The Retreat itself is spacious and homely. There are corridors and rooms acting as conservatories with patio furniture and plants. Within these, even in winter, it felt like summer. In between walks, and relaxing, there is also an indoor swimming pool.
All meals are of course served with a view. Three course dinners also come with stars and the glow of candles and the flames of fires. Breakfast is hearty and traditional and a perfect start to any day in the mountains.
As vultures rose on the warm mid morning thermals my time at the Retreat was at an end. I headed down, passing troops of baboons, as the vultures climbed to views I could now imagine.