What a week. Possibly one of the best of my entire life, and a perfect reminder of why Clarens is such a perfect place to be, not just for itself, but as a jumping off platform to visit some of the best parts of SA if not the world. My brother came up for the weekend, to celebrate my birthday with me (hardly a day over 97 I hear you ask…) and we did it in style. Saturday sparrows saw us on our way to Lesotho, to have breakfast and lunch at the 5 Star Maliba Hotel in the middle of the mountains. You drive for an hour and a bit over the border, and bang, the people and houses give way to rolling majestic mountains, curtaining a glorious boma, filled with art all the trappings of a luxury destination, with rock pools down below and pony rides along a crisp mountain stream. A very filling 3 course lunch would have been an elephant sufficiency, but then Dean from Maluti Tours had to go and surprise us with a decadent chocolate cake bigger than my head, with roses on top…
And later the Sharks won!
Sunday was my turn to treat the family to a new experience, and I drove them down to Meiringskloof. Where is that you may ask, you may well keep on asking, because unless you know I shouldn’t really tell you how to find that green mossy overhanging piece of sacred earth and crystal strewn pools (hint, the Skoorsteen was started there, when the women and children hid during the Anglo war, and it is the old Free State capital’s original waterworks). We left feeling blessed and blissed.
Finally on Monday I secured the precious time of the Painted Lady, and we set off on an adventure through the Golden Gate Park, ignoring the official routes (after a brief detour past the vulture restaurant) and turned left onto a dirt road that took us into the heart of the park, on the road to Kestell. We explored the abandoned Raath family house and graveyard (I would love to know more about them if anyone can shed light) with gravestones dating back to 1850, discovered a seam of amazing (really amazing) crystals, and pushed on to explore Kestell itself.
Not much to say about the little town itself, but we were drawn to visit Karma Backpackers, where we met practicing Buddhist Vera-Anne, the owner, who let us into her getaway secret – Incosana Backpackers, in the Drakensberg – Monk’s Cowl and Champagne Castle area. Since we had procured a bottle of bubbly from the Old Stone a little earlier, it sounded appropriate, and off we went, allowing Karma to direct our path down a sunset Oliviershoek Pass and into the Central Berg. Along the way a porcupine couple graced us by stopping us in the road and slightly further on an owl sat quietly on the warm tar, awaiting our arrival, looked at us as dispassionately for over a minute, and flew over our car. Somewhere on the journey (a bit before Bergville) we had a feast of a dinner at Bingelela lodge, a sumptuous must for anyone en route to the Berg, and a destination in itself.
Next morning we awoke in our cosy little rondhavel, with the mountains looking down beneficially from above, twinkling waterfalls glittering and sparkling through rock teeth of dark basalt and grins cut by sandstone layered erosion. A brief chat to Eddie, our host (and resident climbing lodge owner for the last 30 years), and off we went in search of Nandi (very nice in Zulu) waterfall. Let me not mislead you, 8km of mountain side in the hot sun left us dizzy and slightly exhausted, cursing the man who had said the whole route was 9km, and then we discovered the Hlatizana forest. Faerie land couldn’t be a better description of the twisted roots, creeping greens and dangling lianas that cooled our weary bones, and we almost collapsed then and there at the first sign of shade. Instead, bloody mindedness ensured that we must push on, to find these bloody falls that we had heard about, and as we stepped under a canopy of green, it all made sudden sense. A glorious curtain fell at least 3 stories from a sheer cliff face, and there, next to this torrential downpour was a path!
Up we went and sat in perfect dry, looking out over what we came to feel was our forest and the berg beyond, popped the bubbly (star picked grapes and crisp chill air drops rising through space), and felt the grace of the world upon us, and the realization that great rewards come only after great effort became a lesson to take home.
Yes, that’s right, we came back to Clarens for the night, rested aching muscles in a hot bath, checked emails the next day, and then it was time to head back to the Berg for a fire show at Alpine Heath luxury lodge, this time in the Northern Drakensberg, for GlaxoSmithKline – multinational pharmaceutical company – with top SA fire crew, Dreams of Fire. It turned out we were the prelude to a corporate fire walking event, courtesy of Ken Andersson, and he didn’t mind in the least that the Painted Lady and I joined in. An hour later and the key word  ”HASHIBI” hoarsening our throats we had both fulfilled a life long dream of strolling delicately down a path of red hot coals. Fantastic!
A good dinner later, we awoke to different mountains in the same range (our peaks from – was it only the day before? – looked tiny in the distance). A full buffet breakfast first thing, and we were off into the Berg for another trail. This time to Tiger Falls past the stunning Cascades – a series of pools separated by waterfalls of gentle disposition – through under bellies of rock and under icy mountain showers. Straight up a 45 degree path for a couple of km (puffing and panting like steam trains) and we were sitting behind the second most beautiful waterfall I’ve ever witnessed, looking down into another jungle…
We dried ourselves briefly in the sun, filled a water bottle with pure waterfall energy, and raced a storm back down to the car park, before taking the hour and a half trek back up Oliviershoek, past the immense Sterkfontein Dam, through the Golden Gate park, and back to the little village we call home.
So, I know this is no excuse for the lateness of the News, at least 12 hours after its normal release time on a Thursday, but thank you dear reader for sharing in an epic journey of a week, which I would not have imagined possible this time last week, and one which is certainly not conceivable from many other places than Clarens. I realized then that we live in a destination, and that to visit Clarens is to stand on the edge of a springboard to the imagination. Don’t come for a weekend, come for a week, or a month, or, what the hey, where else would you rather live?