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By Nidha Narrandes
Durban - You’d imagine that a place that offered battered World War II soldiers rest and recuperation would suffice for the modern-day, walking-wounded city slicker. A place so secluded it allows you to forget what you left behind, a place where time is inconsequential.
Cathedral Peak is the culmination of one man’s imagination during a time when the world went mad; it was about to go to war for the second time.
Albert van der Riet’s mind, however, couldn’t have been further from conflict. Instead, he chose to build a dream in the peaceful surroundings of the Drakensberg. He fell in love with 400 hectares of mountain grassland in the middle of nowhere, and it was here that he decided to build a hotel. To many he must have seemed crazy, like the biblical Noah and his ark.
How could Van der Riet possibly have imagined building a hotel in the middle of this rugged landscape? He started quarrying stone to build. What’s more, there wasn’t so much as a road to deliver supplies. So he decided to build his own road. A stroke of genius and determination on his part that delivered the world to Cathedral Peak.
Today the spirit of Van der Riet lives on at Cathedral Peak through the untouched surroundings and the resort’s immaculate service. It is the perfect canvas on which the Van der Riet dream is painted.
The Drakensberg range is mostly untamed. Mounds of beauty make humans pale into insignificance, yet we are inspired by it.
As a child I spied the mountains’ magnificence and years later it still takes my breath away.
A long and winding road leads you to the foot of the Cathedral Peak range. Our thatched family deluxe room was a spacious and well- equipped home. The bathroom was a delight, a bathtub to destress in or a rain shower, and a queen-sized bed and sleeper couch for my three-year-old was all we needed.
Weather at the mountains is unpredictable. You can experience all the seasons in one day, so when the sun shone after a short bout of rain, we made a beeline for the pool. A heated pool or mountain range temperature? You’re spoilt for choice here, but we chose the former. My son fell in love with the heated paddling pool, so my husband and I could fall in love with the cocktails served poolside.
Looking up at the rock face that seems to follow you wherever you go, I wondered what tales these boulders could tell, what wars or preparation for war they had witnessed. I wondered how the people who first came across such magnificence stopped to stare and I can imagine them being speechless at its beauty.
The landscape danced to a beat with the waterfalls and babbling streams providing the music. There’s a kind of poetry that seems to embody it.
When dinner time came around, guests swarmed into the dining room. A fire kept the chill at bay and a sumptuous meal warmed our hearts. It was Heritage Day weekend and the effort the staff made reminded us that our blood runs green and gold. The hotel didn’t hold back on the buffet either. Roasts, curries, pastas, salads, desserts, enough to satisfy every craving. Some dishes were better than others, though, but all in all it was difficult to be disappointed.
I’ve heard that few things can compare to crisp morning mountain air, but because sleeping in on a long weekend is priceless, I missed it.
After a hearty breakfast, it was time to see what else the resort had to offer.
The fit and courageous chose to go hiking. Young and old guests took to the hills with vigour and returned breathless, worn and dirty. You can choose between 18 walks and hikes, go mountain biking or bird spotting. With several waterfalls only a few kilometres away – one is named Doreen Falls, after Van der Riet’s wife – there is so much to explore. You can even take a day-long hike up into the Cathedral Peak – not for the faint-hearted, so that ruled me out.
We chose a gentle stroll on the grounds instead and took our little one for a horse ride. He will never forget Nyosi, the pony… he still talks about him. You can’t fake precious moments like these.
A spot of tennis, badminton and even putt-putt will while your time away, all in the midst of the towering mountains. It is breath-taking.
Cathedral Peak Hotel is perfect for a family getaway, and if you feel like taking a break from the kids, the hotel offers a brilliant childcare programme. Leave them in the capable hands of the caregivers and take your better half for a drink or three to Harry’s Bar. It’s the kind of freedom that is hard to come by sometimes, so take advantage of it. You can even hire a babysitter at night if you would like a leisurely dinner.
The tradition of afternoon tea still goes strong in these parts and it’s served with delicious pastries and other delicacies.
Cathedral Peak is entrenched in the community that surrounds it. It supports five high schools, seven primary schools and three pre-primary schools by way of a monthly grant in aid, managed jointly with the community via governing board representation. They run a mentorship programmes for Grade 12s, and offer a full technikon bursary to two matriculants. The owners and 37 staff personally sponsor all school fees for 173 orphans and children from single-parent families. These really are the kind of projects that good karma is made of.
Cathedral Peak has preserved an idyllic way of life for decades. It is the perfect location to rediscover yourself and reconnect with your loved ones. In a sense, rebuild that road that Van der Riet did.
l Nidha Narrandes was a guest of Cathedral Peak Hotel.
l Cathedral Peak Hotel is offering a Super Summer Special, which is valid until December 13, 2012.
Stay two nights and receive a 15 percent discount – R1 003.
Stay three nights and receive a 20 percent discount.
Stay four nights and receive a 25 percent discount – from R885.
Children under six stay free and all bookings receive a free picnic lunch.
Above rates are per person sharing per night. Excludes weekends.
Tel: 036 488 1888; Fax: 086 524 2369
www.cathedralpeak.co.za - Saturday Star