If your 4×4 is feeling neglected, and you’re going stir crazy in Durbs, here’s a good way to get high. The Sani Mountain Lodge is a great place perched right up at the top of the Sani Pass. The views over the Mkomazana Valley are amazing, there is fab rock art, wonderful hikes – including one to the highest peaks south of Kilimanjaro – and classic pony treks, for just an hour or the whole day – or even longer. And, hardly surprisingly, it’s MTB heaven, but it’s pretty high so be prepared for a bit of puffing if you’re not used to the altitude. And you can have a drink at the highest pub in Africa.
Sani Top is an awesome spot but this is one place where the journey truly is the destination. It’s only about two-and-a-half hours’ drive from Durban to the bottom of Sani Pass, and the next 22km will take you about an hour. It’s definitely 4×4 territory. The first bit is relatively easy – on a beautiful sunny day – but then it gets steep, and in winter there may be snow, and some of the super-steep, super-sharp hairpin bends are permanently iced over. So, no, your Polo won’t make it. You may just encounter some Basotho ambling down (or up) the pass with a few mules, or a couple of mountain bikers hurtling downhill. If you’d rather not drive it, or you don’t have a 4×4, you can leave your car in Himeville and get a ride up.
The beautiful Magaliesberg is a great place to hike, do some serious craft shopping, or just chill out in a great little restaurant. But the best way to figure out how this lovely part of Gauteng fits into the world is to get a bird’s-eye view. And the best way to do that is from a hot-air balloon. Bill Harrop’s Original Balloon Safaris do regular flights from their country base at Skeerpoort. The day starts in the chilly pre-dawn with tea, coffee, rusks and muffins while you watch the crew get the balloon ready for flight. When it’s all sorted, you get into the big, comfy basket and – just before the sun rises – gently lift off and leave the ground. As the earth slips away, golden sunlight fills the valley, and the farmers and roosters start waking up. Sip some bubbly (or juice or sparkling water) while you float over the world. It’s a bit of a magical mystery tour, as balloons are only marginally dirigible, and you tend to go where the wind takes you. Once you’ve landed, you get transported back to the country base for a long, leisurely brunch. What a way to start a perfect day. There are also game-viewing flights at Entabeni Safari Conservancy and Mabula Private Game Reserve.
A mere three hours from Cape Town, Barrydale is a pretty underrated destination with so much more to it than is apparent as you zip through on the R62. If you only know one thing about Barrydale, it’s probably Ronnies Sex Shop, which isn’t. A sex shop, that is. It’s a weird little pub with an interesting history, and it’s worth stopping in for a drink if you don’t mind being surrounded by bikers. A far more sophisticated option on the Cape Town side of Barrydale, Joubert-Tradauw Wine Farm has a fabulous restaurant and deli overseen by the multi talented author of Taste the Little Karoo, Beate Joubert. And, of course, the wine created by her multi talented husband, Meyer Joubert, is pretty special too. Barrydale Weavers is a little oasis where previously unemployed people hand-weave fabulous rugs, towels and soft furnishing. You can contemplatively wander a labyrinth and feel your heart rate and blood pressure go down. (028 572 1643)
Or get your heart rate up by joining an escorted quad-bike trail through the farmlands and specially created trails in the mountains with Tradouw Quads. The Karoo Art Hotel is a great place to stay, with funky decor, great food and some awesome live music. Don’t stay in room number 9 unless you’re happy with an uninvited companion who is not entirely alive – that’s the room the ghost lives in. Well, not “lives” as such. If you really feel like spoiling yourself, take a weekend or midweek break at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, just outside the town. Game drives, the Big Five, game walks, a boat safari, fab food and – if you need some pampering – a spa.
Enjoy the last of the school holidays.