Durban - As if unfurling the canvas of a painting, I draw the bedroom curtains back to be greeted by the sight of early-morning sunshine illuminating the Amphitheatre escarpment, providing a view synonymous with the Berg.
This mesmerising panorama marked the perfect start to a recent activity-filled weekend’s stay at Montusi Mountain Lodge, which is situated on a 1 000-hectare estate in the northern Drakensberg – a World Heritage site in KwaZulu-Natal.
While the lodge now forms part of a private conservation area, in the early 1990s this prime piece of land had degenerated into a wattle wasteland.
However, Montusi owners Ant and Jean Carte had a vision for conservation and recreation, and after buying the property in 1994 they began a project to preserve this strategic water-catchment area.
After several years of rehabilitation, the Carte family were finally able to open Montusi Lodge in mid-2000, realising a dream to establish what Jean described as a “pristine wildlife area that could be enjoyed by the public and sustained by tourism”.
A little more than three years ago, eland – the iconic antelope of the Drakensberg – began to return, and their numbers have quickly increased to more than 100. And soon after heading off on one of the many scenic mountain bike trails in the area, we saw these massive, majestic animals making their way alongside a meandering stream.
Later in the day, we traded our mountain bikes for horses, and we were able to enjoy the spectacular scenery from another vantage point before ending our ride at a surprise venue.
At a secluded set-up in the bush, drinks and a picnic basket were waiting for us, and we sat back to watch the sun go down.
Jean said two of their daughters, Catherine and Lindsay, had increasingly taken over the reins at the lodge. Their third daughter, Loretta, and her husband, Chris, run All Out Adventures, an adventure centre a few kilometres from Montusi.
Offering seven different activities – from quad biking to zip lining – all at one venue, the proximity of All Out Adventures is another trump card for the lodge.
We tried the extreme cable tour, which allowed us to whiz through the treetops between seven forested platforms high off the ground.
By the end of our action-packed first day we had worked up quite an appetite, so it was a welcome treat to settle down to a four-course meal in Montusi’s intimate dining venue. A perfectly cooked fillet steak proved the perfect way to round off a great day in the mountains.
No trip to the Drakensberg is complete without a hike, and Montusi offers an array of trails that leave from the lodge.
On the final day of our stay, we hiked to Waterfall Cave with local resident and long-serving Montusi employee, Shadrack, and his hound, Joseph.
As we sat huddled in the depths of the cave, sipping on a warm cup of coffee, Shadrack engaged us in discussions that ranged from conservation to culture, to the meaning of true love.
That afternoon we walked to Bushman’s Cave to view some of the rock art the area is famous for.
Before reluctantly departing for home, I asked the Montusi owners what led them to fall in love with the Drakensberg.
“The space, the wide open space, is just so special,” Ant said. Jean added: “Sometimes I wish South Africans would see our country through the eyes of the international guests we get at Montusi. There is such beauty here, and we are so privileged to be able to share a little part of that beauty with our visitors.” - Saturday Star
IF YOU GO...
Montusi Mountain Lodge is a four- to five-hour drive from Joburg depending on the traffic.
It’s an all-year-round destination, but April/May is a beautiful time in the Drakensberg. In summer, dinner is often served on the terrace, which offers views of the amphitheatre and mountains.
Cost: from R1 395 a person sharing per night, including dinner, bed and breakfast.
A special recommendation: a visit to All Out Adventures.
l Call 036 438 6243, e-mail email@example.com or see www.montusi.co.za