Of course most folk would think of stopping for at least a night when passing through South Africa’s only Ski Resort, hire a set of ski’s or a snowboard and attempt some skiing on the slopes that boast Home-made snow throughout the Winter Season. Unfortunately, it was the day before school and we still had another 8 or so hours of travelling before we’d be back home. And my memories of skiing go back to the Scottish Highland slopes – as a ‘beginner,’ trying to impress my kilted Scottish (pro-skier) boyfriend and failing hopelessly. Of missing the ‘Beginners Slope’altogether and mistakenly going backwards down the ‘Advanced Slope,’ losing a ski a long the way as well as a whole lot of skin and experiencing absolute terror! And so, it came to be that we only had time for a cup of tea at Tiffindel – much to my relief and choosing to ignore that the only thing our kids (and my husband) could think about for the next 8 hours was “When will we go skiing?!”
We left Rhodes Village in the early hours, hopeful that the looming clouds would clear. Our plan was to drive up the Drakensberg Maloti Mountains, via Tiffindell Resort and to take a short-cut across the countryside to Naudes Nek Pass. To wind down the mountains on the R396, onto Maclear, Elliot, Kokstad and finally back home to Ixopo in time for school the next day!
I thought I’d smash this entire trip in one single sweep of a post, but it’s impossible. The countryside is just too darn beautiful! There were simply too many moments that left me wondering, ‘Is this place for real?! I’d hate to add them all in one go, lessening the fact that every ‘little’ moment was a huge one and that this trip back home, was without doubt, re-alighting the old love affair I once had with my country of birth.
It took us forever! The 4×4 road that linked Tiffindell and Naudes Nek, which hardly featured on our outdated GPS system, took us 3 hours. All 17km’s of it! Admittedly, I was partly responsible for that, asking my husband to stop for just ‘1 more photo,’ many many times as well as a quick picnic pit stop. For a couple of hours, we bumped along; winding around the stark and rugged terrain, through farm gates and herds of sheep, horses and hairy looking cattle. As the sky opened up and the clouds seemed to emerge from beneath the horizon, random thoughts consumed us; wondering about the lives of shepherds, of stock theft, and what it would be like to drive here in the Winter snow. Truthfully, we were in no real rush!
“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” – Henry David Thoreau
Eventually we reached Naude’s Nek Pass. We needed to wind down the mountains and continue on the R396 for at least an hour and a half before reaching ‘Tar’ road. The sun had begun her descent, dipping passed the 3pm mark, momentarily disturbing my dreamy thoughts with ‘flashes’ of sandwich making and ironing school uniforms!
But before ‘reality’ managed to crush out the holiday spirit, the mountain presented us with one last almighty show; descending Naude’s Nek into the spectacular Maclear farmlands that seemed to stretch for infinity.
“When the wind calls, you know, that somewhere in the mountains, it has found the answers that you were looking for. The pull of the horizon overcomes the inertia of reason…And you just have to go.” (Vikram Oberoi)
And we drove down, deep into the heart of these farmlands, into another part of this story. A place of striking beauty, but with shadows of sadness or tension…I’m not quite sure. And suddenly, I was reminded where I was. I was in South Africa; a land so beautiful, bubbling with complexity and contrasts.