What was once, in the late 1800s, a flour mill and trading store is now a popular resort nestling close to the mountain that lends it its name – a sweet retreat embracing a large dam, towering trees and neat gardens in a tranquil valley in the Drakensberg.
It’s White Mountain Lodge, in the Little Berg area, about 30km from Estcourt in KwaZulu-Natal, and is as much noted these days for being a peaceful getaway as it is for its popular outdoor folk music festival.
The White Mountain Festival, as it is billed, is held every September, in conjunction with Pedro Carlo of Durban’s C-Weed Entertainment, and is now in its seventh year.
It runs this year from September 29 to October 2 and will feature the likes of Guy Buttery, Dan Patlansky, a-King, The Jesse Clegg Band, Josie Field and the Hinds Brothers, among many others.
White Mountain Lodge has also, since 1995, been noted as an accredited Outdoor Adventure Centre that attracts school groups from all over the country and from abroad. It makes good use of an obstacle course, for teambuilding exercises, in the woods near the lake.
The lodge is owned by Richard and Jenny Osborne, who also own the popular Happy Wanderers beach resort at Kelso on KwaZulu-Natal’s South Coast.
When they acquired the White Mountain property in 1989, the Osbornes had their work cut out for them – there was no electricity and the place was accessible only by rugged dirt roads.
But they have worked wonders over the years, now offering 25 self-catering, thatch-roof chalets (full board is also offered) which are dotted about grounds offering a swimming pool surrounded by braai facilities, a large area for playing volleyball near the dam, and a children’s play area with swings and a trampoline.
In the main building, the former mill, you will find a rustic-themed restaurant, a warm lounge and a large, welcoming pub with a cosy fireplace alongside a large games room with snooker tables.
Nearby is another building housing the reception area and a small shop, while the grounds also provide facilities for camping and caravanning, and dormitories with ablution blocks for school or corporate groups.
The Outdoor Adventure Centre keeps staff very busy as not only are instructors co-ordinating activities for school groups that visit, but they also organise corporate groups, specialising in team building, as well as arrange varied activities for other guests at the resort.
With summer rains, the nearby Bushmen’s River gives rise to enable the instructors to take the more daring adrenalin-junkies river rafting in the first few months of each year.
Other outdoor activities on offer include foefie-sliding, canoeing or bass fishing at the lake, and paintball games, while a particular treat during the recent weekend my son, partner and I were guests was abseiling down a 45m or 10m rock face at the top of the mountain after a two-hour hike up (the cost is R150 each).
I loved the mountain trek – relatively easy-going, with rest breaks, for the first hour-and-a-half and a little more hairy, covering jagged rock and steeper inclines, as you near the top.
It was an exhilarating experience, offering great views and burning a good few calories, but I drew the line at the abseil. I was very happy, thanks very much, to hide behind the fact that I needed to take photos and videotape my gung-ho 17-year-old doing his first abseil – down the 45m drop.
He accomplished it with some small bumps and bruises, but with aplomb, and to a round of hearty applause from others on the hike, under the careful instruction of amiable Lucas Mahlase of Limpopo, who also works behind the lodge’s bar, Tom’s Tavern, at night.
The pub, offering darts and a large flat screen TV for sport watchers, is of note for its fun collection of colourful neckties that hang from beams under the thatch roof canopy over the bar counter .
The Osbornes had one or two ties to start with and, over the years, guests have been donating them. There must be 200 or more now.
The lodge offers three popular, fully equipped, air-conditioned conference rooms of varying size, and is also of note for its yearly Christmas in July event, offering all the Christmas trimmings during SA’s winter which, held annually over two school holiday weekends in July, has proved very popular over the years.
One of the prominent features of the Little Berg area are the sandstone horizontal rock layers, mainly in colours of cream or white, which sometimes appear to be pink, brown, blue or grey.
White Mountain itself has horizontal rockbands that are said to be among the highest, being 244m high. These sandstone rocks are evident in some of the public rooms at the lodge, notably in the pub and restaurant.
It’s a great place to escape to, and a good idea to consider the full board option, which offers three-course dinners and a good buffet breakfast.
The lodge offers self-catering chalets catering for two, four or six people and these range in price from R720 to R1 550 per chalet per day in high season, R650 to R1 400 per day over long weekends, and R500 to R1 100 over normal weekends. The low season rates vary from R450 to R650 a chalet, per day.
Nearby attractions include the Bushman Museum, Giant’s Castle Nature Reserve, African Lamergeyer Hide, Weenen Game Reserve, Glasmosa Glass factory and Wagendrift Dam.