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KwaZulu-Natal Midlands

Text and photographs David Allardice If you have more than a few hours to spare and want to take time out in a truly special place, where you have a chance to check back in with yourself, removed from your perception of the ‘away’ norm, distant from dreary luxury game drives, dismal spa breaks and gluttonous foodie weekends – do as I did. Set in the Kamberg, in the rolling foothills of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site, Allendale Mountain Reserve is a unique place filled with history, magic and legend, and where I recently managed to spend quality time reconnecting with my KwaZulu-Natal past. Assuming all goes well, and excluding the obligatory stop at the Nottingham Road Brewing Company en route, a mere hour and 45 minutes’ scenic drive from Durban (and four hours,15 minutes from Johannesburg) will get you to one of the most exceptional destinations in the Drakensberg mountain range. Offering complete solitude, privacy and comfort, Allendale is found in a largely untouched and sheltered valley that thrives with game, including herds of up to 300 eland and mountain reedbuck. It’s also home to a vast range of native and migratory birdlife, crystal-clear rivers, waterfalls and San rock art. I walked up mountains and swam in those sparkling rivers, rode Allendale’s Appaloosa horses, stalked antelope and spied the great lammergeier (bearded vulture). We used the area as a base from which to explore the famous rock paintings of Game Pass Shelter, the ‘Rosetta Stone’ of San rock art at Kamberg Reserve, only 15 minutes away, and those at Giant’s Castle (a 43km drive along the most glorious tar road). We built roaring log fires and had starlit braais, night walks and electric thunderstorms. And I won’t forget when, after setting out in the cold dawn, we crested a ridge and could see for miles into the clear blue, green and gold of some of the finest mountains in the world. The farm, Allendale, was purchased with a view to creating a unique destination celebrating the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site, one of the world’s great wilderness areas, in a historic setting. Allendale is, in fact, the only private Drakensberg reserve to be physically included into the World Heritage Site, which was inscribed by UNESCO in 2000. The 1 900ha farm comprises an entire valley of the ‘Little Berg’, offering absolute seclusion from the surrounding Midlands farmlands and a foot in two worlds, so to speak – the Midlands and the Drakensberg proper. It has exceptional topography, dominated by the sandstone features of Ntabanyama (Black Rock) and Gladstone’s Nose, and is criss-crossed by numerous streams and rivers including the Reekie Lynn, a tributary of the nearby Mooi River. It also has views of the main escarpment as you climb out of the valley towards its eastern boundary. Allendale’s lodgings fit right in. An authentic c1870s farmhouse and its garden have been lovingly restored, offering all the modern comforts without sacrificing authenticity or a sense of place. Less than a kilometre from the main homestead, the picture-perfect Entabeni Cottage up on the hill offers dramatic sweeping vistas and exceptional game viewing from its front lawn over the valley of the Reekie Lynn and up into the mountain. There are spectacular walks, such as one along an especially historical road that ends near Sinclair’s Cave, an enchanting spot to overnight. That the Drakensberg range occupies such a powerful place in our national psyche is no surprise. Its soaring peaks, deep indigenous forested valleys, tumbling waterfalls and endless grasslands are all supported by a remarkable network of trails and diverse lodgings that allow the intrepid explorer easy access to one of the world’s great eco-tourist destinations. From the spine-chilling crack of lightning on a mountain trail to its moments of complete solitude, uKhahlamba, or ‘The Barrier of Spears’ as it is known in isiZulu, offers visitors ample opportunities for reflection, inspiration and absolute elation. The countless written, scientific and pictorial biographies are testament to the imaginative hold it has on people: its San and subsequent Bantu, Boer, colonial and more recent contemporary histories provide nothing short of a profound journey into the soul of a nation. While the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands have long been famous for their farming heritage and private schools, the nearby Midlands Meander route includes arts and crafts, restaurants, spas, and myriad accommodation choices. One golden oldie that deserves mention, and which recently has had a remarkable face-lift, is Granny Mouse Country House & Spa, a short drive south to Balgowan. An institution in its own right, it continues to be a welcome retreat with its old-world charm, picturesque setting and up-to-date amenities, serving up delicious country fare in its bistro and new fine-dining restaurant, matched by a truly world-class cellar. Despite all the activities on offer, a weekend in the foothills of the ‘berg is a restful experience, and the power, drama, beauty and historical narrative of the uKhahlamba is deeply felt. I can’t help recalling a quote from the book by RO Pearse, The Barrier of Spears: Drama of the Drakensberg, where Xameb the Bushman says to Prof PJ Schoeman, no doubt with smiling eyes, ‘I am as old as my disappointments in life, and as young as my naughtiest thought.’ Likewise, time spent here will put you in touch with the ancient mountains, and leave you feeling as rejuvenated as a new morning. Allendale Mountain Reserve, Kamberg, KwaZulu-Natal. For more information contact Frank Reardon, owner and proprietor, 083-284-9119, email frank@allendale.co.za, or visit allendale.co.za. Granny Mouse Country House & Spa, Balgowan, Midlands, KwaZulu-Natal. For more information call 033-234-4071, email reservations@grannymouse.co.za, or visit grannymouse.co.za. This article was originally featured in the July 2012 issue of House and Leisure.