Sometimes there is a box to tick off on one’s bucket list and sometimes one needs to create a whole new item. That is exactly what we did on our safari to the Wild Side of the Drakensberg in the middle August this year.
The planning of this safari started a few months ago with the main purpose of finding snow in the Wartrail and Rhodes area of the Southern Drakensberg. The closer we got to the time, the more concerned I became that we were not going to find any snow. It was mid-winter and temperatures were unnaturally high for this time of year and no snow had fallen on the peaks of the Drakensberg yet.
The eight snow seekers met at the Mountain View Hotel in Lady Grey where we received the first weather forecast that a cold front was approaching the Western Cape but we were still not convinced that any snow would fall during the few days of our stay in the Southern Drakensberg.
The next morning the five car convoy departed on the first leg of our trip to Bidstone in the Wartrail Area. We took the gravel Road via Joubert’s Pass (2349 meters) to Lundin’s Nek. It was the first time that I included this gravel pass in the itinerary and it is undoubtedly in the same league as Lundin’s nek, Volunteershoek Pass, Carlisleshoekpass and the Naude’s Nek Pass regarding views of this magnificent mountains and water streams.
Lundin’s Nek is a much bigger pass than the others and is peppered with sharp corners, hairpin bends and steep un-railed cliffs. After a picnic lunch we continued our journey through the farms of the Wartrail and New England districts. On arrival at Bidstone Cottages, where we were booked in for the night, there was only one question on everyone’s lips: “Are we going to see snow?” Our host, Allan Isted, pointed to a small cloud bank on the western horizon and told us that the chances were good for snow if the cold front developed strongly enough. The weather forecast on Radio Algoa confirmed that snow was on its way and one could feel the excitement building in the group.
After a wonderful stay and a scrumptious breakfast we left via the Volunteershoek Pass for Tiffindell Ski Resort were we had steaming hot cappuccino and cheese cake. Tiffindell is at an altitude of 2720 m and situated on the slopes of Ben McDhui which is the highest peak (3100 m) in the old Cape Province. Although there was no snow on Ben McDhui, the ski slopes looked as if they were covered with a snow white blanket. Tiffindell’s modern and very efficient snowmaking machines provide artificial snow throughout the winter skiing season.
We descended the very scenic Carlisleshoekpass into the quaint little village of Rhodes with its interesting architecture and even more interesting residents. In 1997 the whole village was declared a South African National Monument. We slowly drove through the village to Walkerbouts Inn where we settled in for the next two nights, in anticipation of the snow to come. We had a very pleasant and interesting evening with the proprietor of Walkerbouts, Santa lookalike Dave Walker, in his characterful pub and he was cautiously optimistic that the snowfall may start that night.
Around midnight there was some light hail and drizzle and the next morning we woke up with the smell of fresh snow in the most beautiful white snow covered fairyland. It had started to snow not long after midnight and the flakes were still falling. Our vehicles were covered in at least 10 cm of snow. When the snow stopped at about nine o’clock, we strolled through the snow covered village before hopping into our cars to explore the snow covered area. There is nothing quite as serene as seeing the countryside covered in a fresh blanket of snow. We spent most of the day driving around before ending up at Bernies Brewery, a few kilometres out of town. There was excellent craft beer and a fire in the fireplace to compliment the most beautiful scenes and views through the big windows. When the snow started to fall again at three o’clock we just could not believe how lucky we were to be in the right place at the right time.
The next morning we left for Naude’s Nek, at 2588m, the highest public road pass in South Africa. We briefly stopped at the Naude’s Family Cemetery at the bottom of the pass, probably the only cemetery in the country that boasts braai facilities. What also makes this pass unique, is the fact that it was not built by civil engineers, but by two local farmers, Gabriel and Stefan Naude. Being the first vehicles on the pass after the snow fall was a wonderful experience. We were driving in the deep soft snow with no other tracks to be seen and everyone was in awe of the endless and enchanted black and white scenery that surrounded us.
We had a boerewors braai in the snow for lunch and spent some time having fun in the powder snow before heading for Tenahead Mountain Lodge for the final night of our, newly named, Snow Safari. Tenahead is situated on 3500 hectares of mountain land on top of Naude’s Nek with breathe taking views of the Drakensberg, Witteberg and the Maluti’s ………”a heavenly place between Sky and Earth”
10 of the best places to see snow in South Africa
(by Cape Union Mart Team | 14 July 201)
- Matroosberg, Western Cape
- Cederberg, Western Cape
- Sutherland, Northern Cape
- Rhodes, Eastern Cape
- Hogsback, Eastern Cape
- Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Free State
- Underberg and Sani Pass, KZN
- Mooi River, KZN
- Cathedral Peak, KZN
- Long Tom Pass, Mpumalanga