The timeshare Merle and Alastair have is on Champagne Lane, within spitting distance of Champagne Valley Resort golf club which we ventured onto a couple of times. First time I have stayed in a timeshare and this was much better than I expected. It was a small secluded development. The houses were well spaced out, very large, lovely gardens and a great view across the the Drakensberg. If we lived permanently in SA I would think about investing in one, as it is one can also rent them in low season.

We arrived at dusk, as we had payed golf at Clarens in the morning and the drive took us a bit longer than expected. Glad we arrived before dark as the last section to the cottages is along a dirt road. Was happy that our first day was chilled after 3 days of driving. Did some laundry (hand washing in the bathtub), and then we drove up to Champagne Castle hotel for morning coffee accompanied by scones and cream. Very indulgent. Sat on the terrace admiring the mountain range. Alastair pointed out a hike he had previously done up to the contour path which inspired us to do the same.

That afternoon I felt the need for a run, in this case it was defiantly a slow shuffle as the altitude took its toll and my legs felt very heavy. A few uphill sections also took their toll. Felt better for it though.

Sunday we ventured round to Cathedral Peak golf resort (60km north of our resort) which gave us a different perspective and view of the Drakensberg range.  Although a Sunday women were still heading to the — river to do their washing and many more in their Sunday best heading to church.  The drive down to Cathedral Peak resort was delightful as we crossed a pass and looked down onto a lush valley dotted with villages, livestock and well tended gardens.  The local rondavel was in much evidence standing alongside the more angular western style houses.

Cathedral Peak 9 hole golf course was great fun.  By no means an easy course with plenty of impenetrable rough, blind shots and stunning drop holes.  We decided to walk and found it tough going. Fortunately we only played 15 holes as we had spent so much time admiring the views and looking for balls and we did not want to miss lunch!

Link to detailed route page and map click on route title. 

Monks Cowl

  • Distance 22.84 km
  • Time 5 h 42 min
  • Speed 4.0 km/h
  • Min altitude 1485 m
  • Peak 2125 m
  • Climb 1900 m
  • Descent 0 m
December 18, 2019
Time taken: 8 hours inc breaks, QR code scan to access route in the View Ranger app. This can be downloaded as a .GPX file

Monday morning we set off very early from Monks Cowl gate on our hike up to the Contour Path and Nek via the Sphinx and Blindmans Corner. The trail was very well trodden and easy to follow. Glad we had an early start as we completed our climbing (~450m) in the cool. Interesting that we both felt on the hike up to Blindmans Corner that the Range was very impressive, however as we made our way under the escarpment cliffs along the Contour Path to the Nek the magnificence of the mountains was diminished as we were too close to fully appreciate them. On the other hand we had lovely views across the the rolling foothills and passed through tree lined kloofs.

Decided to extend our hike beyond the Nek, which was our original turning back point as we had made good time. Very happy was we found a koppie to sit on for lunch with fantastic views up the eMhlwazini River valley (a good spot for wild camping on future trips) and to the right iNtunja / Gatberg (the mountain with a hole (9m diameter) in it) whilst to the left great views of the Dragons Back. I have a real desire to come back to this area.

We took a slightly different path back from Blindmans Corner to Monks Cowl – Keartlands Pass. It was much steeper than our way up following the Sterkspruit gorge down. Glad we did it this way round and we enjoyed our ice cream at the cafe where we parked. A very rewarding first hike in the Drakensberg.

Boot camp continued the next day as we headed off to the Champagne Valley Resort for golf. Much to Merle and Alastair’s surprise I chose to walk and carry as it is quite a long and hilly course. Did get the odd lift from Mike which was very welcome. A beautiful parkland course especially in Autumn with the fairways lined with large golden trees and lakes / rivers running through the course on several holes. It was a challenging course to play especially for  the first time. So we opted to revisit it on our last day when I found it easier from a course management perspective. Sat on the terrace after our round soaking up the views. The course reminded me of those that we played in New England when we lived there back in the 90s.

Link to detailed route page and map click on route title. 

Blue Groto & Fern Forest

  • Distance 7.64 km
  • Time 1 h 54 min
  • Speed 4.0 km/h
  • Min altitude 1273 m
  • Peak 1500 m
  • Climb 525 m
  • Descent 0 m
December 18, 2019
I have not given a time taken, this is because the route does not include a route back but does include a side trail which I think most people won’t want to do. QR code scan to access route in the View Ranger app. This can be downloaded as a .GPX file

In between our 2 games of golf we had another hike. Very different to our first hike as we hiked up through a wooded river valley from the Drakensberg Sun Hotel to the Blue Grotto. The woods were really beautiful with sunlight filtering through the canopy, birds twittering in the background and the odd monkey jumping through the trees. Our Cicero hiking guide details a hike up to Van Damm’s Cascades via an unmaintained trail passing through the Park boundary. Well we found the trail and got as far as the boundary fence but were thwarted at that point. Neither of us felt like trying to clamber over a very sturdy barbed wire fence and then bushwhack to try and get to the cascades. A hike better done from Monks Cowl gate.

We made our way back to the Blue Grotto pools and then climbed up the other side of the wooded river valley to the Fern Forest trail leading us back to the hotel. The trail was very aptly named after all the ferns lining both sides of the path! A relaxing thoroughly enjoyable hike. Pleasantly surprised that there was no trail fee to pay, just a R50 deposit to encourage visitors to sign in and out for their own safety. 

Both of us really enjoyed our time in the Drakensberg and I can imagine that we will visit again but the next time a slightly longer trip so we can get some backpacking in and tackle the iconic trails / peaks.