Last December during the slightly more relaxed lockdown restrictions we took a much needed breather away from home. A different view was needed from the claustrophobia of 9 months at home and the Drakensberg was calling.
Being only three and a half hours away from Johannesburg and a destination I had always wanted to visit, it was simply a no brainer when friends from Cape Town told us they would be going too.
Once you hit the N3 out of Johannesburg it is one long road straight to the Drakensberg. You’ll need to stock up on halaal meat because there is very little halaal options in the Drakensberg. A handful of home cooks are able to provide meals but there are no restaurants in the immediate vicinity. The last spot after Joburg is the Heidelberg Mall where you could still stop for a halaal meal at one of the fast food outlets.
There are a few farm stalls on the route where you can stretch your legs and buy some coffee, preserves and the like. We found an interesting stop in Monte Vista just before Harrismith. A Caltex Garage Stop with a Fresh Stop and a Jamaat khanna with ladies and mens facilities. The Fresh Stop had a Chicken Grill takeaway inside and I was excited as they also had a Seattle Coffee. Considering there was namaaz facilities I found it quite odd that none of the food places were halaal.
However, the N3 redeemed itself because less than 20 minutes further we discovered the Bergview 1 Stop in Harrismith with the halaal Wrap it Up Café. It’s a convenient stop with lots of halaal food options including a @mcdonalds_za and @kfcsouthafrica. This stir fry served on a pita was tasty but missed the vegetables mentioned on the menu. Chips was good though. The stop was busy even for a Sunday afternoon. Looked like the whole of Harrismith was there. I got further info about it from Chef Zana on Instagram:
“By the way, that Wrap it up is there for over 20 years. The first one opened in Durban in the 90’s, and the one in Harrismith was so welcome, cos up until that point, there was no halaal kos anywhere on the N3 to Durban. We often stop there because its so convenient and pretty! The Wrap It Up also has Salaah and Wudhu facilities. The pizza and biltong place next door to it is also halaal. You should see how busy it is the evening before Eid. Half of Joburg goes down for Eid and the whole world is there for iftaar!!! Its an awesome atmosphere. You just have to call and order at least an hour ahead and tell them its for your iftaar, otherwise if you order when you arrive and its hectic busy… you’ll be breaking your fast at Esha time (I’m speaking from experience!!!) The place is called the Bergview 1 Stop. The Nandos is not halaal though, neither is the Wimpy. They do have a Seattle Coffee shop that opened recently. And the plaas kombuis shop has things like fudge, honey, tuisgemaak confectionery, jams etc. Lekker little pitstop. Theres also a tourist info office with maps for the hikes in the area and hotels etc.”
We would be meeting with our friends at the ATKV Drakensville which is one of the sister resorts of Goudini Spa, ATKV Mosselbay and a few others. It is one of the cheaper resort destinations you can choose but it is fantastic when you have young children in tow who love the water. There is a large indoor hot pool, a slightly cooler outside pool and a Super Tube that the kids loved. There is a second cold pool in a different part of the resort and mini golf, outdoor chess and a pretty decent spa where I got a great massage.
The chalets look recently refurbished. While a little small, they were neat, clean and had all the basics. I did miss my dishwasher though… sigh. However, chalets are serviced daily. What’s nice about self catering is that you can effectively social distance. Masks were required at all public spaces except when swimming.
About 20 minutes away was a very picturesque coffee shop (not halaal). It had outside seating with a wide open play area for the kids and views of the rolling green hills as you sipped a really decent cap.
Thirty minutes from the resort we also visited the Royal Natal Nature Reserve. Oh, did I mention, you get to cross 3 provinces on this trip. Part of the route takes you through a section of the Free State before you end up in KZN. The lush mountains and vegetation was everything I had heard of this region and more. There is a refined rural beauty about the Drakensberg. Rough and natural but with a certain elegance.
At the reserve we took an easy hike up to the Cascades Waterfalls. After about 20 minutes the terrain gets a bit rougher and you may think it’s the end of the line. But keep going for another 5 minutes because what awaits is like finding a lost treasure. The Cascades is a waterfall over several levels of rock formations. Each level with pools you could swim in. It takes some careful climbing to get up the levels but we managed it even with small kids. If you can, take a light picnic with you. It’s the most beautiful spot to stop for a few hours.
The Drakensberg is literally 3 hours away from Durban and we were very tempted to continue our journey there for a few days. But the subsequent 6 hour trip back to Johannesburg that we would eventually have to undertake was enough to dissuade us… this time… 😉