Leaving the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains I head south, with the easily recognisable peaks of Giants Castle clearly in view. I have planned a cross country route, to my next destination, using some roads I have never driven before, heading generally south west. Just before the town of Howick on the edge of the midlands it’s a westerly turn to Bulwer. From here it’s into the unknown.
On a previous visit via Bulwer I had carried straight on to Underberg en-route to the land locked country of Lesotho. The scenery on the drive is big, with towering hills in the dry golden shades of winter. Evergreen forests provide splashes of green and deep black strips come from the burning of fire breaks. All colours contrasted the deep blue cloudless sky.
Next it’s Ixopo, and a check on directions from a local police officer, then all down hill on a variety of roads. From tar to gravel to what seemed like pure dust until getting onto the N2 highway. I get a huge amount of satisfaction from navigating my way to a new destination and it helps build the excitement and add to the adventure. I also knew that on arrival new adventures and challenges awaited me.
For the last leg of my journey I followed the life size carved eland antelope’s all the way to Lake Eland Game Reserve, situated at the spectacular Oribi Gorge. I was here for new experiences at the family oriented reserve. At reception the staff could not have been more helpful, passing on the relevant information, maps, directions to my chalet and vouchers for my pre-booked activities.
The chalets are all constructed from wood and finished to a high standard. The interiors are open plan with kitchen (all cooking utensils included), double bed, seating area, en-suite bathroom and wood burner for those chilly winter evenings. Verandas overhang the lakes they are built around and are cleverly laid out offering privacy from one another. There is an outdoor cooking area and a covered car port.
At the main reception is a restaurant that opens for breakfast and takes last orders at 4pm. There is a well stocked shop that carries a variety of supplies if you run short on anything. I stocked up with a few things including a braai pack and drinks for dinner to enjoy back at my chalet. The restaurant also made me a salad to go with my dinner. I cooked my excellent beef & venison mix over glowing coals with the planets of Mars, in front of me, and Venus shining down from behind.
I opted to ease my way in to what promised to be an adrenalin fuelled couple of days. I drove the first of two self drive game viewing routes. The views seemed to get better and better plus there was lots of grazing wildlife, including herds of blesbok, zebra, wildebeest and even a couple of springbok. There were lakes, with camp sites, where fishermen sat lines cast at the ready for that catch of the day. The second self drive game route took me to a car park. From here it was a short, not too steep a walk down, to ancient caves. I sat, as people had done over millennia, and took in the stunning views looking down on the Mzimkulwana river and across the mighty Oribi Gorge.
A few minutes drive away came my first real test. (I should point out at this stage that I am not good when it comes to heights) The Oribi Gorge suspension bridge spans a section of the gorge and commands views across and down, quite a long way down! Travelling alone means there is no one else to allocate for things like suspension bridge crossings. Feet first on the slats then hands gripping the rails, gripping so hard my knuckles glowed white, I took my first few steps. I was actually thinking: Breath deeply, breath deeply, don’t look down, focus on the finish. My progress was slow but steady and I did manage to take in some breath taking views. For me this was a real achievement that on completion produced a broad smile.
The build up to new challenges had come and gone. Next it was the zip-line. (I opted to miss the option of the zipxtreme) If you are nervous, who better than a wiseman to take you through the safety drills and equipment fitting. I was to be accompanied by my guides, Wiseman and his fiancé Nosphiwo. Their friendliness, patience and wealth of experience proved invaluable to me. I lost count of how many times I asked “is this line attached, is that line attached”.
So here I am, at the top of Oribi Gorge, harnesses and helmet on, and only 4.5kms of zip-lines and platforms in front of me! It took a while to shake the nerves and fully appreciate the amazing experience, views, and adrenalin filled fun. Yes, that’s right, fun! I had my moments where my breathing stopped only to let out a string of expletive comments. Nobody heard them over the noise of the block travelling at, what felt like, the speed of sound itself. You do gather some serious speed, that would break the highway speed limit, as your soar over the gorge, rivers, lakes, forest’s and even the odd giraffe below. Would my fear of heights prevent me from doing this again? Certainly not!
My adrenalin filled finale was a scooter tour, again accompanied by Wiseman & Nosphiwo. This is 5kms of downhill tracks on a ‘scooter’. The scooters here are adult size, push along, with off road tyres and brakes. If you have a sense of balance you can ride a scooter. We rode, at times quickly, taking in more big views, scattering herds of grazing antelope as we travelled down the man made dirt tracks. To my amazement and probably good fortune I managed to stay upright and `thoroughly enjoyed the buzz. I can’t forget to mention Zamile, our driver, as without him it’s a long walk back from the end of both the zip line & scooter track.
Lake Eland Game Reserve has something for all the family to keep them occupied, smiling and full of adrenalin. If you want something a little different I suggest you get the whole family down there.