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.

George The Chicken

For the last year and a bit, George the chicken has been living on this corner.

I have passed him on a bi-daily basis since he arrived there, and affectionately call him George.

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The corner of Umhlanga Rocks Drive and Westridge Road is where he makes his home, the kind man in that corner residence feeds him.

Around Christmas 2013, George vanished from his traffic light.

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After a few weeks, the story came out.

The kindly man of the corner house, had taken George and relocated him to a residential complex, where he is well looked after.

It was sad, but better for George.

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Then, yesterday, I spotted him. He has obviously broken free of the secure complex, and made him way back to the traffic light.