Be Snow my Heart in Bulwer KZN

 

 

 

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Bulwer Mountain (1840m)

Snow is fairly common on the Southern Drakensberg mountains April to July. In 2017 we saw snow as late as November on Sani Pass (2873m above sea level), and most recently, Black Mountain (3240m) in neighbouring country Lesotho had snow on 10 December 2018!

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Bulwer Mountain at sunrise on the road to Cottage Imvana

But, snow is not-so-common at ground level in Bulwer, and occasional atop Bulwer mountain (1840m).

 

Bedtime on this Saturday night was as normal  any other; my parents comfortably settled in at Cottage Imvana on a 7 day visit from Cape Town to KwaZulu-Natal, the furkids and I just up the way.

I keep a firm and fascinated eye on the weather, and tonight seemed an ordinary winter’s night in sleepy little Bulwer: temperatures dropping close to zero degrees and no snow news. When I awoke, it was around 6:30 am on Sunday 09.09.18. In mandatory fashion, I headed for the kettle, taking an also mandatory glance through the un-curtained patio door and the always-open-curtains of the balcony window (a luxury of country life).

I didn’t make it to the kettle, or the pitstop to the bathroom. Instead I threw on a jacket and my trusty gumboots and dashed to Cottage Imvana, puppies in tow. The lounge light was on in the cottage, as usual mom had been praying from the early hours.

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Later, Mom said that she in turn could hear that I was not panicked but rather excited and she knew I was not in danger, but did not know why the urgency of my tone.

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Wintery view from the front door of Cottage Imvana

 

We woke Dad and for the next while there a was chorus of happy exclamation, “wow, amazing, incredible God” were some of repetitive lyrics. We then all danced around the garden with various forms of camera, then furious finger dance began, snowy joy being texted to family and friends across the world.

“Ma look, look” I tried not to scream as I hurled past the kitchen window and to the front door. “I’m coming, what, what?!” mom replied as she unlocked the door. I could hear the confusion in her voice, but I didn’t want to ruin the surprise.

 

Later, Mom said that she in turn could hear that I was not panicked but rather excited and she knew I was not in danger, but did not know why the urgency of my tone.

We woke Dad and for the next while there a was chorus of happy exclamation, “wow, amazing, incredible God” were some of repetitive lyrics. We then all danced around the garden with various forms of camera, then furious finger dance began, snowy joy being texted to family and friends across the world.

 

Before the parents arrived, I had said many a prayer for snow to fall during their visit, and God heard me. and what a gift it was! That look of completely happy surprise and joy on Mother’s face will stay with me forever, captured not by dslr or phone, but in the deeper place of my heart’s eye.

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Cottage Imvana

But perhaps more than that, it was the feeling of this shared wonder, a connection beyond normal experience that will forever be snow my heart.

Sani Pass snow squealing, Southern Drakensberg

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I’m sure I say the same thing every time I do Sani Pass; I vow to never to never scare myself mercilessly out of my wits by slipping and sliding up a mountain to 2873m above-sea-level.

And on this trip 18.8.18, I squealed the same words at one of the final corners on ascent. Myself, Wolfie and Craig (experienced Monique & 4×4 driver), were the first car going up the Pass on this snowy Saturday morning. The Southern Drakensberg peaks were already all dressed in white and it was snowing heavily most of the way.

You really need to experience big snowflakes tumbling from the sky and settling on your windscreen…with a backdrop of the Kwa Zulu Natal Drakensberg Mountains, of course.

Soon, the road up to the South African border control will be tarred the entire way (see below link for more), but on this day we navigated through wonderfully muddy road, skidding to the border at 08:30am. About 2 minutes later, we were through into the “no-man’s land” of Sani Pass, a stretch of about 8 kilometres ending at the Lesotho border. We were the first vehicle to go up the Pass and saw 2 vehicles descending, the whole time it snowed heavily.

The benefit of being early ascenders is the snow is not yet turned to mud, BUT you also cannot see a mapped out “safe way” to proceed.  Just note that at such an altitude (at this point we were roughly 2700m above sea-level) engines don’t function normally, so 4×4 driving experience is essential here.

After passing a herd of snow cows and a dog (much to my continued delight, I’ve been waiting for snow cows for 2 years in KZN), we began to ascend the very steep and twisted section of Sani Pass.

Near the top we came to halt on a particularly steep corner, wheels spinning in new snow and water-soaked sand, making a thick mush. We had to roll back a few times to re-attempt the corner in low range.

There is almost nothing more terrifying than looking behind you to a sheer drop, and rolling slowly towards it on slippery terrain (you can imagine the squealing and whimpering). I couldn’t look and had to fight the urge to spring from the vehicle with my Wolfie and leave Craig, with his calm disposition to his manly adventures.

Having freed ourselves from the sludge corner (yay for Toyota Fortuna once again), we proceeded up the pass reaching the Lesotho Border control at about 10am. We passed an abandoned bakkie, leaning dangerously over the edge, only saved by solidly wedged between some rocks (insert spine-chill).

As we arrived at the border crossing, a descending driver enquired as to the conditions of Sani Pass. He had the unfortunate job of assessing &/ retrieving a stuck vehicle near the top of the pass. Behind him on foot, the shrewd Basotho fellows rather take their chances walking behind the vehicle, instead of drive the treacherously steep & newly snowed section of the Southern Drakensberg Pass.

At the top, the best views down the pass are from Sani Mountain Lodge “The highest Pub (and accom) in Africa”. Wolfie’s joy at the thick blanket of untouched snow was only matched by my own excitement.

From the top we saw the predicted flow of snow-chasers ascending the pass, it was time to head down. In such situations, the ascending vehicles have right of way; simply put, because it is more difficult (if not impossible) to get started again once you are stopped on ascent. Therefore it often takes longer to get down a mountain pass than up. The current dirt road section of Sani Pass is about 22 kilometres (from Premier Resort Sani Pass to Sani Mountain Lodge); this took us 3.5 hrs to drive in the thick, newly settled snow. As time and fellow travellers pass, so does the stability of the newly fallen snow. Travellers reaching the top look more like muddy hippos and less like 4×4 vehicles.

I’ve only done it 3 times, 2015, 2017, 2018 and each time I do this Drakensberg mountain drive, I’m once again like a child, in every way. Each time I am more joyous yet more vulnerable, happier in my weakness and insignificance…and you can see it on my face.

Book a Sani Pass Tour: Roof of Africa Tours, Sani Pass Tours, Major Adventures

Some places to Stay on Sani Pass: Premier Resort Sani Pass, Sani Lodge Backpackers (4 star & Fair Trade Tourism Certified, Mkomazana Mountain Cottages, Seaforth Country Lodge, Sani Valley Lodge, Dieu Donne Cottage, Glencairn Farm. See additional places to stay near Sani Pass on SA Venues…and of course my Cottage Imvana (35 kms from Underberg)

Road development & more about Sani Pass from Umzimkulu River Lodge

Mountain Pass Driving from Arrive Alive

 

 

 

 

Round the benz on the KZN Midlands Meander

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🌂It was a brolliant start to the #iTopFormMeanderMotoring Day, the ominous weather could not dampen our high spirits as we gathered at Mercedes’ Garden City Motors in Pietermaritzburg (PMB).  The crowd that gathered were clearly hip people taking part in this bucolic happening, and I wondered if some were local celebrities. And yes, I wore my gumboots as usual, lol.

We completed the necessary paperwork to take million-rand Mercedes Benz vehicles on the iTopForm pitstop tour of the Midlands Meander, and set out armed with our brollies (umbrellas) as weapons against the wild Kwa Zulu Natal (KZN) weather.

First stop was breakfast at iLawu Boutique Hotel’s Botanic Restaurant in PMB, and my my, there was so much tech before breakfast! All kinds of media equipment and the tapping of phone screens was soon replaced by a sumptuous breakfast and excited chatter about the day’s events.

The next stop was something everyone should do in their lifetime, a visit to the Nelson Mandela Capture Site in Howick. A tour through the Apartheid Museum took our minds down a dark path of South African history, ending in a lifting-of-the-spirits at the sculpture of the face of our freedom, Nelson Mandela.

Back on the Midlands Meander road, seven cars snaked along in luxury to the third stop of the day: Chocolate Heaven at the Junction Village Centre (exit 132 from N3). And what a sweet stop indeed! Trays and trays of delights to every taste with over 40 combinations to dip in a swirling pool of melted Belgian chocolate. Needless-to-say everyone had a smile almost all the while 😊

The last leg on our tour was lunch at the Bend Country House, where my eye spied only the glorious curves and serene luxury that is the Midlands Meander.  A place rich in history, the 1400 hectares of pristine Nature Estate and the hotel’s elegant architecture and décor were a breath-taking sight.

Our hearts full with the comradery of the iTopForm experience, we filled our bellies with a hearty three course meal as the rain poured over the moody countryside. When we rolled out of the dining room, our highly-polished Benz vehicles had received an aesthetic make-over, courtesy of the stormy KZN sky.

Out came many forms of camera, the cold and raindrops forgotten in the heat of the moment. Now all that was left was to meander the road back home, perusing opulent files that will remain forever in the memory banks.

Up High in the Sky: Bulwer Mountain Paragliding

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Let’s face it, jumping off mountains is not everyone’s thing, and I have yet to decide if it’s mine; so I was more than happy to live vicariously through two paragliders-in-training with Wildsky Paragliding.

Less than 2 minutes’ drive from my house, Wildsky Paragliding is a school and lodge at the foot of Bulwer Mountain. Operated by partners Hans and Ria, Hans established Wildsky in 1996 after giving up corporate engineering for his love of the outdoors and extreme sport. Hans is a South African National Paragliding Instructor, has flown for Team South Africa and has Springbok colours in paragliding.

As Hans drove myself and the two trainees through Bulwer Biosphere to the jump site called the 1000 (1000 ft high), he related interesting facts about the area and paragliding, the different heights the trainees jump from and the impact of the weather and wind. I looked up at a darkening sky and wondered how long we had before the rain let loose over the autumn landscape of the Southern Kwa Zulu Natal (KZN) Midlands.

As we climbed higher, a solitary silence settled over the 4×4, as if a war between head-fear and heart-desire raged inside the trainees. There was a palpable sense of anticipation, adrenaline, and sheer want for bragging rights.

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At a precariously steep part of our ascent, my blood ran cold looking out of the window, we were so close to the edge! But in my morbid curiosity I asked, “Hans, has anybody ever fallen off the mountain here?”

“There have a been a couple.” Hans went on to explain how, out of fear of the edge, drivers had perhaps over-compensated and gone too far right, driving on the unstable ground where mountain becomes road. The correct way is to drive nearer to the edge (shock horror), to get the required traction and angle to ascend this part of Bulwer Mountain.

From the jump site you look directly down on my little Bulwer, and I excitedly ran to the edge and said out loud to no-one in particular “Look, I can see my house from here!” I scampered to each vantage point, taking in the northern & Southern Drakensberg and the KZN Midlands. I was in awe of the vast landscape peppered by the colourful Zulu huts that burst with beautiful ethnic character. And then of course I found selfie-perfect high-up spot with Bulwer Village in the background below.

All the while the two-way radio crackled through the pristine silence; down below at the landing site Ria kept in constant contact with Hans on current conditions and other need-to-knows. The aim of the game was to get as many jumps in that day, so the trainees could proceed to the next level.

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The first trainee confidently galloped off Bulwer Mountain and was guided down by Ria, while the second and more intrepid of the two, followed and did just as well. It was around this time that Hans dropped the bombshell and asked me “Do you want to *jump?” (*tandem flight with Hans as I have not completed the training to jump solo.)

My heart was in the air and on the floor, but then my practical mind found two worthwhile reasons to procrastinate: 1) I was wearing a strapless bra that had the tendency to become misplaced. 2) Out of excitement I’d forgotten to eat breakfast and it was 1pm. I sheepishly explained the latter of the reasons to Hans, and the wardrobe malfunction to Ria later, both I’m sure recognised how welcome the excuses were (face palm).

The trainees each jumped once more before the weather put a stop to our adrenaline antics. As we descended, the rain and wind swooped upon us and I pondered how fragile we are as humans afore the forces of Creation.

The aroma of fresh rain on untouched foliage washed over me, I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, appreciating this natural experience. And when I opened them, before me was a beautiful sight of two cows lazily watching me from a hill in Bulwer Biosphere; the ultimate ending as I love almost all things bovine, you could say I have a permanent case of moo-derlust 😊

I have an open invitation to hurl myself off Bulwer Mountain with Wildsky Paragliding, and one day I shall trick myself into it; but until then I shall continue to live vicariously through pictures, parables and posts. On the day I conquer my fear, my body shall join my soul at the height of happiness over BulwerKZN.

How did You Sleep at Brahman Hills?

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“How did you sleep” is a phrase you hear often at Brahman Hills, both in the real world and online. This was something different, it gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside, like they were close friends or even family.

Although this sentence spoken by the all these voices creates a homely atmosphere, the resort is bold and fashionable. The architecture is a beautiful integration between classic and modern design; like the clean lines of the wedding chapel and conference venue offset by the country manor house.

After exploring the wilderness side of the KwazuluNatal (KZN) Midlands Meander and lunch at The Midlands Kitchen, we arrived at Brahman Hills at about 3pm. We received a fond aloe from everyone, a warm welcome from team members Melusi and Ayanda. After signing in, Melusi took us on a short tour of the beautiful hotel and sprawling spotless grounds at Brahman Hills.

He pointed to the left of the wedding chapel and said, “Your cottage is just over that hill, less than 1km.” I didn’t see the faint smile that flashed to his lips as he added, “but watch out for the lions!” My eyes widened before I realised he was joking and I felt like a real tourist (face palm).

I didn’t wait long to see the real Brahman Hills wildlife; on the first drive to the cottage and less than 100m from the road, I hollered my partner to a halt when I saw zebra and buck. At the sound of the shutter they stopped bucking about and turned looked right at me, ears on alert; a wonderful welcome indeed.

And then, when I thought I had experienced the best of the wonderment at Brahman Hills, I arrived at my overnight dwelling: the eco-friendly Impala Cottage. Solar geysers power the dual showers and basins and an unobtrusive cast iron fireplace assist the environment; while the delicious and large bed and couch plus the fully functional kitchen assist the guest.

And the cherry on top: I knew there were jacuzzis at Brahman Hills but I wasn’t aware that each self-catering cottage comes with a private deck and hot tub with breath-taking views. I have never in my life woken up and got straight into a jacuzzi – this is a memory I shall cherish.

Having dinner underground at 89 on Copper in a converted cellar is what you call an experience. Without windows, the natural light is substituted by a stunning array of different level hanging lights, wall light-boxes (actually circles), and table candles. It’s incredibly cosy and copper figurines and trims give it an elegant finish. Copper piping was discovered in while building the restaurant, inspiring the name & theme. Now the conduits shine elegantly along the corridors, lighting the way to experience.

The attention to detail in the a la carte menu is phenomenal, both in taste and presentation. In a sentence: shooting stars on the palate and robust symphony of flavours.

Aperitif: seared tuna

Starter: butternut soup with bacon, beetroot & saffron butter

Main: Green Thai Chicken & Prawn curry

Dessert: Lemon Cheesecake with carrot & mixed berry

From my younger days of silver-service waitering, I was delighted that our waiter, Joshua, checked all the boxes, giving right amount of attention and conversation while executing prompt, beautifully delicate, and efficient service.

The breakfast menu at Brahman Café has a lovely array of hot and cold, sweet and savoury style meals, and I loved the many windows and high ceilings in the room. My muesli came with a wonderful homemade Bulgarian yogurt, and I have made a note to next time try the option of the yogurt plus a veg/fruit of the day. And of course, my partner enjoyed his manly breakfast with incredible vigour! And the large size coffee is just what I am used to – a boat for a cup!

Another highlight of my experience of Brahman Hills was my favourites: the cows! I did not capture the living specimens themselves, but the artwork and sculptures captured me. Their sweet faces made me smile, like I did when I read the closing remark on my welcoming email from Brahman Hills: “we look forward to welcoming you in the herd!”