For repeat clients to South Africa, it could be time to suggest the lesser known coastal city of Durban (an hour’s flight from Johannesberg) and surrounding KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province. As well as offering wildlife experiences of its own, and poignant historical sites of Zulu-British battles, in KwaZulu-Natal’s interior is part of the continent’s Great Escarpment, the Drakensberg (Dragon’s Mountain) that separates KZN from Lesotho. Among the peaks and escarpments is Champagne Castle, a mountain resort where a group of New Zealand and Australian travel agents spent a couple Riding the Dragon in KwaZulu-Natal of days recently while on a KZN road trip. R&R can easily be had at the resort – by the pool and in the spa – but it’s the outdoor activities that really shine here. And they suit all fitness levels. The hiking interested Jill Grant of A Walker’s World who rated the scenery as ‘spectacular’.
‘You can self guide, or the walks can be enhanced with a knowledgeable guide who can interpret all the flora and fauna according to their indigenous tribes’ uses,’ she says. The Drakensburg has a ‘Big 5’ series of mountain hikes to five of the highest ‘bergs’ which range in height from 1995m to 3377m. ‘With regard to grading, Champagne Castle (the peak, not the resort) at 3377m is a multi-day hike and is very demanding, however there are a couple of nice day hikes amongst them that are moderate,’ says Grant. ‘Walking is on narrow tracks that climb through forest and across grasslands. The terrain is uneven and often rocky so a good pair of ankle support boots is essential.’ A less strenuous option to get close to the peaks is a helicopter ride with nearby Westline Aviation. Hard-to-beat outings at 7000 feet range from 15-minute rides to romantic picnics, heli-biking and game park excursions.
Or, there’s horse riding. The around two-hour Champagne Sundowner ride took the group into grassy meadows to view the sun setting behind the peaks. For those who like to keep their feet on flat ground, within strolling distance is trout fishing – there’s three well-stocked damns on the resort. Permits and rods are available for hire from the resort shop and, although catch and release is encouraged, there is a bag limit of two fish per day and, for in-house guests, the catch can be prepared for dinner by the resort’s chef. Also within walking distance is Falcon Ridge Bird of Prey Centre. Falcon Ridge rehabilitates large birds from injury, and visitors see the sky warriors in action. Daily shows start at 10:30 (except Fridays and weather permitting) and include informative introductions of each bird before they are released and then called to return. There’s even ancient rock art on the Champagne Castle property and surrounds with the Drakensberg offering some of the best examples of Bushman rock art in South Africa.
– Trish Freeman