A fishy tale....
By Neil Prior
Some of the fondest memories of my dad hark back to what felt like the previous century when we lived in Malawi. Once a year, normally at Christmas time, Dad would pack Mom and I into the old Wolseley and we would head to the Nyika Plateau up north for a week or two of trout fishing. Beautiful days, and nights around the roaring fire was the order of the day, and there was normally a fresh trout to chuck in the pan for supper.
Fast forward to the 21st Century, and Underberg evokes those same kind of emotions. Underberg sits at 1500m above sea level, slightly lower than the Nyika (which is mostly above 2000m), but is none the less beautiful with it's pristine mountain streams and a plethora of stillwater trout fishing opportunities.
Rolling lands and cultivated pastures, interspersed with patterned fence lines, lead the eye eventually to the Drakensberg Frontier, the uKahlamba (barrier of spears) as the Zulu people so aptly named it - and to the majestic Malutis of Lesotho and beyond. But therein lies a story for another day ... just another day for you and me, in paradise.
Country Road, take me...
By Neil Prior
Almost heaven... R617, southern berg mountains, umzimkulu river!
Music and driving, I'm sure, have a symbiotic alliance. Often, on the open road in pursuit of landscapes, a song comes to mind. (Apologies to John Denver on this one).
The long winding road from Underberg to Kokstad via Swartberg known as the R617, for me, could well be a bucket list road to be more travelled.
The one hundred and ten kilometer odd journey can make for a visual feast; a Sunday drive with a difference; a traveller's dream; a nature lover's respite; a photographer's smorgasbord.
The differing seasons offer varying colour sensations, a swathe of emerald greens in Summer, a warm range of browns and reds in Winter, and everything in between during Autumn and Spring. A swatch that not even Dulux could replicate.
Pull off and stop on the roadside: the quiet is almost deafening at first, the solitude unnerving. Traffic is seldom an issue and the views are to infinity. Then slowly the land starts talking to you. The eerie giggle of a Jackal, or the whistle of a reedbuck munching on some farmer's lush winter feed. The distressed bay of a calf searching for its mother, or the drone of a combine harvester bringing in the silage. If one is very fortunate the cry of a fish eagle, reminding one in an instant of the reason we continue to live here, the call of Africa in four shrill notes.
On your way back, take a short detour on the Drakensberg Gardens Road and stop at The Olde Duck for lunch.
The UHTFC (Underberg Himeville Trout Fishing Club) controls 20 still waters and 14 river beats with over 60km of the Umzimkulu and Polela Rivers. Stocking takes place regularly but the equilibrium in the rivers and dams has been maintained so essentially one would be hunting wild spawned trout. The river is closed from 31 May to 31 August, (which can change subject to river water levels). Dams are open throughout the year. Some very decent fish have been caught this year (catch and release) thus far, with biggest still water fish being 57cm and the largest river fish weighing in at 1.5 lbs. These are predominantly Rainbow Trout with about 10% Browns's coming out of the dams. Many of the dams have boats available at no extra cost. Details for booking dams or a river beat can be found on the clubs website www.uhtfc.co.za.
Spring is imminent so why not start planning a fishing trip in the mountains? Great for family time... and Underberg has some super accommodation options #goxhilltroutlodge.co.za, #house@the stables or even some "glamping" at #ngunimoontepees.co.za. The biggest plus is that, as far as i'm aware, no one has got around to installing smart phone holders on trout rods, so an escape from technology will be as welcome as an evening rise. Those fishy stories at the end of the day are the best.
A couple of pointers on the fishing etiquette: leave gates as you found them, no fires, no pets, leave only your gumboot prints!
For the non-fisher people there is ample to do, whether it be sporting, shopping, hiking or just being. Let www.underbergatttractions.co.za guide you on the way.
Find your accommodation here
By Neil Prior
No.10 has a sort of regal and powerful ring to it, conjuring thoughts of a Winston, Ted, John, Maggie or even Theresa (hopefully not BoJo). But at No.10 Riverside we find Me Nkhuni, the matriarch of a unique B&B, and any aspirations for political power she may have will, I'm sure, remain firmly on her little patch of Lesotho, governing her able helpers, most of whom are family. Running water, flush loos and electricity are non-existent, but then again, this is a B&B with a difference.
Our No. 10 is situated alongside the Sehonghong River in the eastern highlands of Lesotho, approximately 50kms from the legendary Sani Pass. No.10 Riverside is a cultural experience, or shock for the uninitiated, depending on your point of view, providing an insight into the day to day routine of rural life in one of Southern Africa's remotest destinations.
Set up as an eco-tourism venture along with Sani Lodge Backpackers and Drakensberg Adventures about 10 years ago, No 10 has had many an enlightened traveller pass through its rickety doors.
Typically visitors will arrive early afternoon and can undertake some of the mountain trails on horseback or a visit to the traditional healer for the more sedentary, or both should one choose. Early evening entertainment is provided by Basotho ladies doing their traditional dances followed by the local shepherds pounding out their rhythmic gumboot dance to the beat of rubber velar coated oil drums with bottle tops on a string that serve as cymbals, all keeping the beat for the monotone Leribe traditional stringed instrument.
After the festivities follows supper. Don't think 3 course; but rather a hearty round of Me Nthabalengs' spiced mutton with pap, spicy tomato sauce, cabbage or morokho, (a type of spinach), mashed potato and creamed carrots. Enough to l fill any hungry tummy. Served under a stuttering fluorescent solar light, diners are often tentative at first but are back for seconds before it has even touched sides.
The Shepherd school is about 1 km from No.10 and after supper guests are loaded up into the Landies and shipped up to the single room facility. This is a type of night school for young boys and men who tend their livestock during the day and then come and get basic education at night. The curriculum typically consists of maths, basic English, the writing of their own language of Sesotho and making of handcrafts. Me Mphine initiated this and started it in her own home before moving to a more formal facility. Classes run from about 5.30pm to 8pm, Mon to Friday all year round with some of her students having to undertake a one hour walk back to their dwellings after school, often in sub-zero temperatures during the winter months (and sometimes even in summer!)
While these young men routinely go through their ones, twos, threes and ABC's I cannot help but think that the real lesson here is for you and for me. Many of the groups I have been with are young scholars from France and Holland and although some, sadly, go through the experience with their noses stuck in their iPhones, most appreciate and learn from the simplicity of it all, a way of life that hasn't changed, aside from solar panels to charge cell phones,.....in the 100 years past, Perhaps then....less is more!
Yes, a highway the Chinese have built, but it's utilised more by horses, cattle and sheep than by cars, buses and Jeeps.
To lift one’s eyes to a moon or star-lit night, totally unsullied by artificial light, where the only traffic is shooting stars and satellites; and the silence is like music that any ear would appreciate. You decide which belongs and which is the illusion.
After the excitement of an ascent of the Sani Pass and an active day spent at mostly well above 2500m; a full tummy and the reality check of a completely different existence for most, a mattress on the floor or a rickety bunk bed while tucked up in a few of the legendary Basotho blankets; it leaves one with almost no need for a prayer... because heaven is upon you.
Holiday planning is a co-ordinated process....., we'll supply the co-ordinates - you go on vacation.
So 29deg 27' 27.45" S 29deg39' 28.33" E, Underberg here you come. And have we got stuff for you to do!! Your starting point could well be
www.underbergattractions.co.za your user friendly, mobile friendly website to get info on the fly!
Whether you are a duracell bunny or a couch potato there is sweat to be shed and places to see. Mountain bike tracks, horse trails, hiking trails, river rafting, archery or leisurely walks along hill and dale. Historical sites to be visited, missions to explore, a museum to tantalise the learned andall manner of activities like birding or fishing. And don't forget a trip up the legendary Sani Pass - 4x4's and passports essential. If it's beating that little white ball around some of the best scenery available in our country, look no further!...from a boutique 9 hole course at the Underberg Country Club to the pristine 18 hole Glengarry Club at the Drakensberg Gardens Hotel, your only handicap will be deciding which drink to throw back while being mesmerised by the setting sun!
If just the thought of all this is enough to bring on hunger pangs, fear not....we have got you covered. Eateries abound from 5 star cuisine to good old pub food; and of course a braai tucked away on your own little hideaway is hard to beat
Christmas shopping?.....you've guessed it....got you covered again, in fact we're better than an insurance policy, we cover everything at no extra cost. Retail therapy..... wwwunderbergattractions.co.za has got a page just for you. Original gifts available from a number of outlets, plus the Himeville Museum will be having their annual fete on Sat 14 December and the #TheStablesMarketPlace in Himeville will be hosting three Fab Fairs on the 7th, 21st and 28th December. Arrive empty handed and fill your Christmas stockings with mountain magic!!
Conventional wisdom has it that Central is best, but real wisdom says that Southern is better, that's the
Southern Drakensberg.... of course! It's the best kept secret, the hidden gem of the
uKahlamba World Heritage Park.
If you're looking for greener, cooler, shadier and more fun, then visit the Underberg/Himeville/Sani region. A little over 2.5 hours south of Central it's a little less commercial, a little more farm and fishing, and a great deal more enticing for those looking for a touch of everything.
If you want extreme we have miles of it. If you want to tube or canoe on a pristine stream we have that covered too. You can stay in luxury in one of the many B&B's, or Glamp in luxury at Nguni Moon Tepees. You can experience life on a working dairy farm, or test your casting arm in pursuit of that elusive trout.
You can go gliding with the vultures, or paraglide from a mountain top. If golf is your poison, then fairways we have, and a bit of rough too, just waiting for you to show us your stuff.
Two legs or four, there are hiking trails, extreme trails, horse trails galore! History there is in abundance: rock art, a museum, a library and several Trappist Monasteries, not to mention our icon, our prize, the majestic feather in our collective caps...... the
If your search is simple, the solace of peace and quiet, then consider a day (or a week) at Dharmagiri Sacred Mountain Retreat. Or maybe your taste is some Dimple, a few beers with mates and a fillet on the coals, or a well strummed chord around a family fire. Look no further. We have it all, everything a holiday heart could want or desire.
Come and join us, come enjoy our relaxed outdoor lifestyle, surrounded by stunning mountain scenery, come have a blast!
THE ARMCHAIR TRAVELLER’S GUIDE TO THE SOUTHERN BERG
EPISODE 1: SANI PASS - HIMEVILLE TO THE S A BORDER POST.
So here we are, well into week three of the lock down, dreaming of things to do and places to go. We’re going to do a limited series of blogs to help you make plans for the future. Yes we will have one! This is our first...
Sadly the S A Border half way up the pass is closed, but through wonders of technology, we can take you on a “virtual tour”….
From Himeville to the SA Border is only 26 k’s but there is plenty to take in before getting there. First up is the Himeville museum, rated as one of the top country museums in South Africa. History abounds in Himeville and the surrounding district, and what better way is there to gather some local knowledge than to spend an hour or so browsing through this amazing collection?
Next stop has got to be a mid-morning snack and a cup of coffee at Coleen’s Cafe at the Stables Marketplace. You can browse through repurposed bric-a-brac at Fab Alley, or latch on to that painting for the hallway back home.
While the ladies engage in retail therapy, perhaps Dad and the boys can sneak off to the nearby Goxhill Trout Lodge, one of the finest trout fishing venues in the district. If fishing’s not your bag, a visit to the modern dairy facility on the farm can be arranged.
En route to the border beauty abounds and if matrimony is on the cards, Glencairn Farm and Wedding venue is conveniently situated on a working farm with beautiful mountain vistas and facilities second to none. This is also home to the famous #Sani2C (postponed to December), as well as regular trail runs and yoga retreats, to name but a few.
As you drive closer to the foot of the pass, take in the beautiful lakes surrounding Dieu Donne farm and cottages. A little further on is the 5 star #SanilodgeBackpackers, one of the country’s top facilities of this nature. Or if luxury is your scene there’s the recently revamped #PremierSaniPassHotel. Even closer still is the picturesque #MkomozanaMountainCottages nestled alongside the mountain and the pristine Umkomozana River.
At the foot of the pass lie the ruins of the Good Hope Trading Centre. Used nowadays as a makeshift “ticket office” for special 4X4 taxis ferrying people up the pass, the ruins have many a juicy story locked away in their weathered and dilapidated walls. Established by John White Smith in the early 1900’s as a trade link between the then Basutoland and SA. White Smith was sent to South Africa from the UK on a one year sabbatical for health reasons and never returned. Good Hope continued trading until long after his death in 1958.
The Sani Pass area is acknowledged as one of the best birding areas in Southern Africa, and animal and bird sightings are the order of the day on the slopes of the pass. Visitors (accompanied by expert guides) are regularly treated to sightings of Bush Blackcap, Barret’s Warbler, Gurneys Sugar Bird and Ground Woodpecker to name a few.
There is many a question asked about the road upgrade, and yes, it is a work in progress with about a 4 km section already surfaced, and the second phase planned to take one to the SA Border.
The start to the Giants Cup Trail is found just where the current new surface ends, so access to those 3 and 5 day hikes is even easier. Just a drive along this lower section will take in amazing vistas, wild flowers and waterfalls (seasonal) enough to feed any soul. Hiking from the SA border to Sani Top is very much an option but that’s a story for another day.
So what happens after the SA Border…. patience, it’s up next! Stay tuned in the next few days for Episode Two: S A Border to Sani Top!
Read more about Sani Pass
Places to see
What to do