Right on top of the world

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Copy of NM TRAVEL5 INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS Journalist Lungelo Mkamba shares a moment with his new friend Ashley at the "highest pub in Africa". Pictures: S'bonelo Ngcobo

Inflated condoms were hurled in the air and bounced from hand to hand as revellers partied the weekend away with their favourite performers at the Splashy Fen Music Festival, which ended on Monday. Some lasses even contemplated throwing their bras on to the stage, but succumbed to their better judgment.

While there was a lot to rave about, the highlight of Splashy Fen this year had to be the weather – cloudless skies and scorching heat. Splashy Fen is usually known for rain, mud and cold, but the fans turn up anyway, so this year’s perfect weather was a bonus.

It played right into the hands of Tourism KwaZulu-Natal officials who had organised a media tour to showcase the beauty of the Drakensberg mountains and bridge the gap between KZN and our friends from the neighbouring kingdom of Lesotho.

Our journey started 48 hours before when we met at Moorcroft Manor Country House in Himeville where we welcomed the warm and cozy interior, complete with a roaring fire.

We were gathered in the spacious dining room when a friendly but timid waiter by the name of Njabulo had us all chuckling.

“Njabulo, be a sweetie-pie and please bring us a bottle of wine?” TZKN’s Nhlanhla Ngwenya asked. Njabulo returned puzzled, but masked it with a poker face and replied: “We do not have a sweetie-pie.”

Copy of NM TRAVEL3 A view of the top of the Sani Pass mountains on rocky gravel roads. INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

Day two of the tour started with a definite winter chill in the air, but the picturesque view of the Drakensberg hugging a small lake complete with frolicking ducks soon had us forgetting all about the cold.

Next stop was the Sani Pass Hotel , a mere 15 minutes away from Moorcroft. The hotel, which is nestled at the foot of the Drakensberg, offers heaps of adventure activities, not least of which is quadbiking. We couldn’t wait to get started!

Sam Ncongo, who manages the hiring of the bikes, offers all those eager to try a quick lesson, and then leads a 40km adventure into the mountains. The powerful quadbikes climb the slopes with ease and pass over small rivers like ducks across a pond, but riders need to exercise caution. Some of the dangers we experienced were navigating through rocky outcrops and dodging a green mamba.

While we travelled back down the mountain, Ncongo guided us to a beautiful hidden waterfall from which sparkling water flows through lush foliage.

The next challenge was a horse ride.

“Pull back the rope to stop him. Left and right for direction and tap him gently on the stomach to make him go fast,” says Mthoko Ncwane, who is in charge of the horses.

About 30 minutes and many laughs later (few of us turned out to be great riders!), we were back at the hotel and ready for a spa treatment by therapist Zinhle Nxumaso, who was on hand to offer some relief after our adventures. She specialises in facials, manicures and uses special heated rocks to “ease tension” in the back.

After an eventful second day, we set off to experience the highlight of the tour – Splashy Fen. Getting around the farm was an interesting exercise – dodging tents, marquees and hoards of people, most of whom were gripping beer mugs. A 10-minute helicopter flip in “Robinson 44”, piloted by Craig Binnie, offered a clearer picture of the thousands who had flocked to the event, and who from above resembled the inhabitants of an ant farm.

Dining at the TZKN marquee for lunch, local Mayor Mdu Banda stopped by and welcomed guests. When the sun set, the two music marquees were packed to capacity as the crowds sang along to their favourite bands. Even those in the official media area were itching to jump in and join the rest of the vibrant crowd.

Sunday, the final day, proved to be a bumpy one as we tackled Sani Pass up rocky mountain slopes and gravel roads into Lesotho. After the border control checkpoint the group soldiered on to reach the final destination: “the highest pub in Africa” – The Sani Top Chalet.

We were lucky to have experienced 4x4 driver Mxo Nyawose take us up the treacherous pass – several other vehicles battled to negotiate the more than 20 hairpin bends. Nyawose explained that “not any car” could make it up the pass.

The veteran driver, who has been navigating the mountains for seven years, said he enjoyed the rush and adventure of the road. “I also get to meet different people every day, which is a bonus.”

Stepping out of the 4x4, we could barely feel our ears it was so cold. The temperature even takes its toll on the locals, who were seen carrying firewood and dressed in blankets to shield themselves from the chill.

Nyawose explained that local people were forced to walk barefoot up and down the mountains, since they cannot afford shoes.

The area was quiet and cold, but the view from the top of the mountains was well worth the journey to get there. Finally, we were treated to a meal at the traditional “2874-metre” pub.

Before we had sat down at the table, we saw a meal board stating: “Today spesials”. There is a minor language barrier with the Sotho-speaking waiters and the guests, which was easily overcome through laughs and good food.

For lunch, we ate steamed bread and soup, while some tried horse meat. Others tasted the traditional beer, while we all toasted the picturesque view of KwaZulu-Natal while enjoying the culture of Lesotho. - The Mercury

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