7th-12th May 2017
Sunday saw 12 passengers eagerly gathering for their flight at 11:15 from Cape Town International to King Shaka International in Durban. On arrival at 13:10, two others joined our party – Derick and Jackie who live in Durban and were keen to explore the area with us.
The drive from the airport to Nottingham Road is about 160km and through lovely countryside, but we were all astounded how many large trucks there were on the highway. “My goodness we’re traveling on a Sunday and the roads are full!”
Arrival at Fordoun Hotel & Spa, just before 16:00, was everything and more! Our arrival was met with champagne and orange juice served in the lobby and the smiling faces of the staff made you feel instantly at home. This is a Hotel-of-note – not once during our stay could anyone find any fault! The accommodation is so very comfortable with every room having a bath and shower en suite – gardens are beautiful – “Wow I feel like I’m back in England” said Rose Marie after her morning walk.
Our first evening saw us all gathering in the hotel dining room for dinner and wow, what a dinner it was! Delicious! Eventually AT 22:00 a tired group fell into bed! The promise of 5 full days ahead had everyone dreaming of the tour that they had waited for!
Breakfast was at 07:00 for Alan and Lyn who had an appointment with Kevin a local battlefield guide. They set off for their day at about 07:45 also excited at the prospect, which was a dream for Alan and a gift from Lyn!
The rest of the group enjoyed breakfast, choosing from their vast menu. The one that appealed to a few was the Oats served with cream and whiskey – how decadent!
At 09h30 we headed off to Ardmore Ceramics in Lidgetton – what a visit this always proves to be! Not many purchases (with the prices directed at International’s purses) but nevertheless, fascinating to watch the master of this unique craft from the very start of the raw clay to the finished product (watching those artists at work is always an event!)
After this we found Culamoya Chimes which somehow turned into a bit of a spiritual experience! Lola met us as husband Frik was not too well and in bed. The love she has for the many wind chimes that have been made up on this hill, is very evident! She suggested that we “Feel-the-energy” of the chimes and also stand between two very large chimes………. apparently a different experience for the two ladies who did this.
Soon it was time to go down to Piggly Wiggly for lunch and some gathering at the collection of shops in this unique little area. After lunch, we headed to Tsonga shoes and then back to Fordoun. A few ladies headed off to the Spa for treatments – ranging from neck and back massages to a Swedish massage and one lady had a consultation with Dr Elliot Ndlovu the traditional healer who works from Fordoun – an enlightening hour with Dr Ndlovu was what the lady had to say! – Thoroughly enjoyable!
Jon Bates, the owner of Fordoun, is working with a group who is trying to help the extinct Black Wattle Crane – he is so very passionate about this project and told us all about it on our first night! He took 3 men and one lady from our group on a visit to the centre where they are working along with conservationists. Each crane lays 2 eggs and can only rear one, so the second egg always gets rejected. They have created an artificial puppet (crane-like) which helps with rearing the young chicks once they have hatched! What a mind-blowing time our clients had with Jon this afternoon!
Dinner tonight was at Granny Mouse Hotel & Spa – we were so concerned about Lyn and Alan who were late in returning from their battlefield tour – an accident on the motorway extended their visit and eventually were dropped off at Granny Mouse at about 19:45; two tired, but satisfied people. Soon dinner was served.
Tuesday arrived and everyone was full of anticipation about the day ahead – a quick look at the Howick Falls (a bit low in volume due to the feeding dam being very low) but nevertheless beautiful. This was followed by a visit to Wedgewood Nougat (much purchasing at this ‘factory’ shop of their delicious product); after this we headed down to the Nelson Mandela Capture site. A light lunch served efficiently (albeit some confusion with chips and sandwiches had some of us having left-overs) ; we went off on a guided tour of the museum which is well established in an old building. An extremely beautiful larger building is under construction – oh well – next time we’ll get to see this! As we exited the museum we commenced our “long walk to freedom -500m” down the path to the statue where, at a certain point you get to see Nelson Mandela in Full Face! A fitting tribute to Mandela and a structural masterpiece!
Dinner tonight was at Brahman Hills in their wine cellar restaurant “89 on Copper” – A delicious dinner – a few complaints about eating TOO much but I didn’t see much left on any plates!
Wednesday and the plan today was a trip to the Drakensberg Boys choir. We started off at the Lilac Crane where the ladies were fascinated by the assistant who is knitting on the most enormous knitting needles especially created for the store. She knits blankets for a nearby hotel – and we left the store with ‘order’ for the needles (wonder whether the owner will part with the name of the person who makes these needles?!) and Joan was ever so happy with the crane she bought for her garden. Jackie got to do what she’s longed to do – frolic in the fallen leaves and throw them up in the air! A stop at the Biltong Bar alongside the N3 and we headed to the Winterton area and our afternoon performance. Before this we all enjoyed a light lunch (some decided to eat pecan pie for lunch!)! We made a quick stop at the Dragon Peaks Caravan park and restaurant area where a beautiful view of the Berg can be seen – unfortunately, mist was evident and the view not all together as clear as we had hoped.
What followed will be etched in everyone’s minds for many years to come! The performance of the legendary Drakensberg Boys choir is an afternoon to remember. Their voices and the performance has you enjoying light classical to African music and the sheer enjoyment on the faces of these boys is fabulous to watch. The grannies amongst us singled out a few of the ‘little’ boys and wondered just how they cope with being away from home from such an early age!
En route back to Fordoun we experienced coach troubles which started very early in our journey. We left the School at 17:45 and only eventually arrived back in Nottingham Road by 19:45 – a two-hour journey with extreme reduction in speed whenever we encountered a hill (and we never knew just how many hills there are in the area). A decision was made to rather eat at Fordoun and not chance switching the vehicle off at a restaurant in Nottingham Road! (A turbo pipe had split in the engine). Unfortunately, we had to change coaches the next morning and Philan, who had looked after us all so well from the start of the tour, had to go back to Durban– he was replaced by new driver, Zumani who took over the reins!
Thursday, and we were all keyed up to go down to Michaelhouse which Carol told a few was ‘down the road’ – 20 minutes when we had not-yet-arrived questions were raised – this is known as a simple philosophy in travel – never actually tell people the actual distance to be travelled as this is when the questions will start – one can always remember your children asking “How much further”!!
We were met by Murray Witherspoon – director of Marketing whose enthusiasm of this wonderful school is contagious. He took us on a tour-to-remember! Wow what an absolute privilege to attend this school in the Berg – set on over 680ha with over 600 boys attending they receive an education par excellence! Proof of this is the excellent results they get from the boys who finish their high school education with a foot-in-the-right door! We also had a scrumptious, almost high tea, in the staff room – wow pity we had all earlier enjoyed a Fordoun breakfast! We visited their theatre and the Herbert Baker chapel and by 11:30 we were all back in the coach to drive the 58km to Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse for lunch.
We were the only group enjoying lunch at this wonderful restaurant – set very close to the Giant’s Castle part of the Kamberg! It is the ultimate in peace, tranquillity and solitude! A delicious lunch was produced and eventually we left the estate by 15:30 on our journey back to Fordoun!
Jon Bates the owner of Fordoun had encouraged us all to come and meet “his hens” – and what an experience this was! He has about 160 hens which produce over a hundred eggs a day for the hotel kitchens! They live in an area close to the self-catering accommodation, which is just so beautiful; Jon absolutely loves them!
As we’d had a large lunch, most guests didn’t eat dinner this evening and time was spent reflecting on our time at Fordoun.
From an organisational part of a tour, we cannot praise Fordoun enough. The attention to detail is something we’ve not yet experienced in our years of organising tours. Every morning the staff greets you passionately and mention must be made of Jules who is so very efficient and hands-on in her dealing with everyone! Each day there was such interest in what our group was doing and even on the evening that we had problems with our coach they willingly accommodated the 14 of us for dinner, even though they had a conference of people and 100 down in their second function venue doing a marriage course! The restaurant was full but yet, our dinner arrived timeously and was delicious.
Fordoun we enjoyed our time with you and we will return!
Friday morning dawned with the news that a truck had jack-knifed on the highway leaving the N3 totally blocked. Jules and her staff immediately informed us of an alternate route which had us arriving at the King Shaka airport timeously for our flight!
“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta