For this most recent trip we pre-selected a few places, in stunning locations with a great choice of activities to suit the whole family, where you can base yourself and explore. I am very familiar with the Drakensberg Mountains and surrounding region, but especially the Central section of the mountain range. I have stayed at several places here and am spoiled as we have family not too far from the area.
I looked at many options, concentrating on Champagne Valley, and decided to stay at the Gooderson Monks Cowl Golf Resort. There were several reasons for this, perfect location, loads to do within the resort and just beyond, plus I have had two previous excellent stays in Gooderson hotels in Durban.
Making my way down from the northern Drakensberg Mountains the scenery is simply stunning. I took my time and set a gentle pace so as I could take my surroundings in. No rushing, and enjoying as many of the spectacular views as possible. I stopped at Sterkfontein Dam and stretched my legs. This is third largest dam in South Africa and it’s scale made me think it was more like a calm ocean scene in front of me rather than a huge man-made body of water. From here I descended Oliviershoek Pass before passing the turn off to Royal Natal National Park. The mighty and imposing Amphitheatre, with its distinctive sheer rock cliff face and mountain peaks, situated in the park is almost visible to your right for the whole journey. At the small town of Bergville, I filled up with fuel and then headed onto the next town, Winterton. If you like avocados look out for the stall, it is a converted lorry, on the edge of town that sells ‘avos’ from Swaziland. If you are lucky there may be oranges or mangoes for sale here too. Turning into Champagne Valley I stopped one last time at Thokozisa, a small complex, where you will find a restaurant, delicatessen, various curio shops and a tourist information centre. From here I looked through flowering aloes down into Champagne Valley and up onto the mighty mountain peaks of Champagne Castle, Cathkin and Monks Cowl.
I followed the signs to my destination and base for exploring the valley. (there are many signs here for many activity centres that are dotted in and around the valley) On arrival I headed towards reception, with fairways to my left and right. Very appropriate as here I was at Gooderson Monks Cowl Golf Resort. My modern room was perfect for my stay. Very spacious, with good size beds, desk, coffee table & chairs and a well-appointed en-suite bathroom. Through my large sliding patio doors there was a private seating area and just beyond the well-kept flower beds was the golf course. The course, although very dry from a rainless winter, looked great and for a moment I contemplated coming out of golf retirement. A short walk from my room I found a course that may now be best suited to me, adventure golf or as some know it crazy golf.
There were families playing adventure golf and there were families enjoying the rock swimming pool. The pool has a natural look and comes complete with ledges, overhangs and flowing water. The warm mid-winter temperature made the water feel quite pleasant and the younger family members were making the most of it. Next to the pool there is a play area containing jungle gyms, swings, slides, trampolines and outdoor table tennis tables. A kiddies purpose built bike track and tennis courts are both located in the same area. Located next to the resort’s bar and restaurant is another pool, surrounded by patios and decks complete with sun loungers. To complete things there is the La Vita Spa, where you can choose a treatment and be pampered in the mountain air. This really is a place for the whole family.
The bar and restaurant were friendly and welcoming with a great atmosphere and superb food. Alongside the printed menu there was a specials board. Torn between choices I opted for a starter of Calamari and a main of mutton curry, I was surprised here, pleasantly, by the diverse mix of nationalities I could hear accents of South Africans, fellow British, Australians, Dutch and German. The drinks being ordered were also very diverse. Along with a variety of draft and bottled beers there were orders of exotic cocktails and even a bottle of champagne. The latter I guess was very appropriate, after all we were in the Champagne Valley. Breakfast was also taken in the dining room, a freshly cooked feast, in front of a roaring open fire. I took the ‘mountain view’ breakfast which again felt like the appropriate choice based on my location.
Beyond the resort within a short driving distance there is a plethora of things to do and activities to choose from. The Monks Cowl conservation area is part of the 260 000-hectare Maloti-Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site and offers a selection of trails, hikes and magnificent views. For the more active there is horse riding, mountain biking, white water rafting and a zip-line canopy tour. The Drakensberg Boys Choir perform every Wednesday afternoon, but I would suggest you pre-book tickets through the school’s website if you wish to attend a concert. Family and friends have told me that Falcon Ridge Raptor Centre is well worth a visit, but it is somewhere I am yet to get to. So many places, so many options and so little time on this visit.