A peaceful hike and a thrilling canopy tour is the perfect combination when spending a couple of days in the Champagne Valley, writes Katrine Anker-Nilssen
On a recent mission to the Drakensberg Mountains I decided I needed a mix of relaxing and exhilarating, which is why Champagne Valley came to mind. It has so much to offer – apart from hiking and ziplining, there’s also a bird of prey centre, a reptile centre, the boys choir, golf courses, fishing, horse riding, river rafting, abseiling, hot air ballooning, spas and much more.
If you’re like me and want to make the most of every road trip by stopping as often as possible, pay Sycamore Avenue Treehouses outside Mooi River a visit. I have been intrigued by these treehouses since they were featured on SABC3’s Top Billing, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a closer look. Almost like stepping into a fantasy fairyland, the six superbly quirky treehouses all have something unique to offer. My personal favourite: the Pegasus. Home-made dinner and breakfast, great hospitality and the proximity to the Midlands Meander is a bonus for those wanting to stay longer.
Moving on to the beautiful Champagne Valley, I opted for self-catering accommodation this time – on a hiking holiday it’s nice to do everything in your own time. Estelle and Steve Bull have three unique units perfectly built into their surroundings by Steve himself – Inkunzi Cave, Zulu Hut and Diddly Squat. Apart from appreciating the cosy, cave-like interior and inviting rock pools, the spectacular view of the mountains when waking up made me want to put my hiking boots on immediately and hit the trails.
Hiking lifts your mood, keeps you present, invites a sense of adventure and really puts nature into perspective. This area of our beloved Berg is a paradise for hiking enthusiasts, from Monks Cowl there are lots of trail options with paths that link up – and there’s something to suit all fitness levels. I headed for Nandi Falls; the sheer power and coolness of the masses of falling water was mesmerising to say the least, and broke up a five-hour, sweltering summer hike nicely.
For thrill seekers, it doesn’t get much better than ziplining through the canopy of a lush, indigenous forest. Drakensberg Canopy Tours offer 12 slides, with the longest at 180m and highest at 65m above ground, and anyone from the age of seven can join. Guides Smangele Nkomo and Bongiwe Zondo had heaps of fun taking a group of us from treetop to treetop, and made sure we didn’t forget to enjoy the view by being too focused on braking and reaching the next platform. “I love my job and start every day with a smile on my face,” says Bongiwe. Smangele enjoys sharing her love for nature with people from all over the world, and says that the 20-minute steep hike at the end of the tour, to reach pick-up point, is her “daily gym session”.
Don’t rush off when you head home, popping in at Valley Bakery is well worth it. This family-run business produces its own flour and has the most amazing baked goods on offer. If you don’t have time to sit down in the lovely coffee shop or browse the art gallery, be sure to stock up on rye bread, gingerbread men (and women!) cookies, pastries and rusks.
For those who prefer a bit of pampering, there are plenty of other accommodation options in the Champagne Valley – perfect for a weekend escape. We tend to take the beautiful Drakensberg Mountains for granted, forgetting entirely that they are right here on our doorstep – always ready and waiting to give us blissful time-out from the business of everyday life.
Sycamore Avenue Treehouses 033 263 5009 www.treehouse-acc.co.za
Inkunzi Cave & Zulu Hut 036 468 1244 www.inkunzicave.co.za
Drakensberg Canopy Tours 036 468 1981 www.canopytour.co.za/locations/drakensberg/
Valley Bakery 036 468 1257 @ValleyBakery1