If you’ve been reading the previous chapters, you will have read how we are on our way into the Drakensberg range which, translated into English, means Dragon’s Mountains. If you’re feeling a little linguistically adventurous, you may wish to use the Sotho name, uQuathlamba. Read on Macduff….
Two things became apparent as we drove through Kokstad, Howick, Mooi [pretty or beautiful] River, and Escourt. One was the change in climate (and thus vegetation) and the other was that this part of the trip was taking a lot longer than we’d planned. Although the distance was approximately 650km, the poor quality roads, thick mist and the incessant slowing for stray animals and brainless pedestrians caused us to arrive at Cathedral Peak after a marathon 11 hour drive.
Darkness fell just after Winterton, but it was too heavy to lift again so we just drove on in the dark (anyone actually catching that joke is asked to contact their local therapist immediately).
But seriously, the headlights’ beams tried bravely to push the blackness back but it seemed as if they were strangely less successful than other evenings. It was as if the rest of the countryside didn’t exist. Occasionally however tendrils of lightning from a thunderstorm pulsed across the heavens bathing the surrounding hills in an eerie light for a brief, ghostly moment and then it was black again. Coming round one of the hairpin bends, concentration focused on the potholes and crumbling tar of the road’s edge, a bolt of lightning struck the earth a few hundred metres to my right. And in that split second, the bolt illuminated a huge Nguni bull standing in the road facing us, less than 50 metres away. The Steven King-type image made more terrifying by the simultaneous clap of thunder. In that space of time, the image of the backlit bull with my headlights catching his eyes and face will remain with me for quite some time.
By Divine inspiration and good fortune, I sent the bakkie onto the right side of the road, round the bull and back onto the left just in time to dodge another massive pothole.
Glancing to my left, Mrs Chips’ knuckles almost glowed white in the dark, but she stared stoically forward.
“Tell you what,” I offered cheerily. “When we get to the hotel we can have a nice cup of tea and a change of underwear.”
“We were incredibly lucky, and it’s a good job you were going slowly.” She whispered with quiet relief.
“Ja,” I agreed. “There’s something to be said for those advanced driving courses hey.”
With impeccable timing, we pulled up at the hotel as the thunderstorm broke overhead. Covering the short distance twixt vehicle and reception desk was enough to give us the appearance of bedraggled, half-drowned explorers rather than two love struck honeymooners.
Carrying the bits of our luggage not entrusted to the porter (i.e. all camera kit and laptops), generated enough heat to dry us off a bit and we swept into the dining room in a cloud of steam and fatigue, twenty minutes before they stopped serving supper.
Some of you dear readers may remember the holidays of old that were enjoyed in an atmosphere of convivial but relaxed elegance. There seemed to be (in the brochures anyway) a happy cohabitation of various groups of holidaymakers. The energy filled hikers/tennis players/horse riders etc. who were out and about at the first signs of dawn cracking, waved friendly greetings at those somnolent souls lying by the pool or perambulating thoughtfully through the spectacular gardens. Inclement weather sparked the creative genius of the hotel’s entertainment staff and indoor fun and games were enjoyed while the less energetic guests stared sleepily at books while the mist covered mountains stood sentinel in the distance. As always, neat, discreet and efficient hotel staff members were on hand to serve sustenance to those who had built up a thirst or appetite.
I am humbly and profoundly grateful for my parents’ fiscal discipline which enabled us to enjoy such privileges for a few days each year. During the year, our frugal family made the necessary sacrifices and at year end, we all looked forward to ‘The Holidays’. But even then, self control was the order of the day and while my parents were generous, excesses were not tolerated. Could be the Scot’s heritage.
The reason for this little retrospective digression is to paint a little of the atmosphere of Cathedral Peak. I am of the opinion that this is one of the few holiday resorts left in South Africa, where an ‘old fashioned’ holiday, as described above, can still be enjoyed. We certainly did and our happy experience started with the booking process.
When I phoned the booking person at the hotel and told her we would be spending some of our honeymoon at Cathedral Peak, she was delighted and massaged the bookings to accommodate us in one of the two honeymoon suites. She also presented several offerings to enhance the romance of our experience, some of which I will describe in these posts.
The view through the suite’s picture windows the next morning took our breath away and we stood still for a few silent moments to let our eyes travel upwards over a nearby hill, through a winding ravine into the distant blue-grey haze, to rest our gaze upon the majestic Cathedral Peak. In the distant heights, a pair of Fish Eagles appeared as tiny black dots as they soared and circled against the slopes. At a lower altitude; to wit, in the abdominal region, ominous intestinal rumblings indicated that supper was long forgotten and it was now time to break the fast.
On the subject of comestibles, the food was mostly pretty good. I felt that, at times, the meals did not justify the hotel’s four stars, but the quality is generally above that of the family eatery in town. I did have occasion to send back a cremated meat patty and the ‘repaired’ one was only marginally better. When staying at Cathedral Peak, your tariff normally includes dinner, bed and breakfast. However, lunches and snacks can be ordered throughout the day, until about 9pm. In addition, morning and afternoon teas are served in the garden and by the pool, and these are accompanied by biscuits or cookies.
Breakfast and suppers are served ‘en buffet’, but suppers were generally something to look forward to and contained a most impressive variety of items. There were generally one or more hors d’oeuvres to whet the appetite. This paved the way for your choice of salads, roast meat and vegetables, a curry or pasta dish. Alternatively, you could select from the wide variety of ingredients for your stir fry which was prepared while you waited. There was generally an intimidating array of desserts waiting to fill the smallest of spaces left in the tummy. However, I personally felt that the accent was more on quantity than quality.
Chapter Six to follow shortly…