That Great Holiday Destination in the Sky

Trip Start Aug 11, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Highlands Mountain Retreat

Flag of South Africa  , Free State,
Friday, December 18, 2009

Onward and upward as they say, and in the case of our next trip, this turned out to be exactly the case. Before I continue with that story, here's a brief message about Johannesburg.

Johannesburg, Joburg, Jozi......thou doth test me too much. In order to have a long and meaningful relationship with this city, it takes patience and understanding. Patience because things move at African pace....this could be break-neck speed or a snail’s pace but it’s its own pace and cannot be told to regulate itself. Understanding, because this will never change. Unfortunately I possess neither of these virtues so I am at war with the city most of the time, but there are still times when I love it,...generally when I’m in a pub or a nice restaurant or with friends and family. Once I’m on the roads again though, or having to deal with S African bureaucracy of any kind, then the knives are out and I’m ready to use 'em.

The next leg of our trip was truly memorable. Sean and Adele organised it for us and we will always be grateful to them for doing it. We first stopped off at Rosendal, Southern Free State. This was a lovely resort tucked in amongst farm lands and mountains. Our room was beautiful, filled with stuff one would want to decorate one’s own home with. A lot of artists live in the area so there is a lot of art and antique shops around and a lot of the houses (there really aren’t that many of them) have creative bursts of colour and design on their walls. Even the freak hail storm in the late afternoon didn’t detract from the beauty of the area we were in. Trace and I were very impressed with the surrounding country-side (my brother contemplated buying a house here) but nothing prepared us for what was waiting for us down around the corner, over the hill, through the valley and into the great beyond.

Highlands Mountain Retreat is a place we should all visit before we die.

The approach to the retreat was almost as spectacular as the final destination. Lush green valley’s formed by beautiful (and gigantic) mountains that lay all around us like sleeping giants, arm there, a head there, the odd set of fingers sticking up over there.....and we passed between two huge rocks en route that could easily have been a pair of feet of which the toes pointed skyward.

Once we were in the Golden Gate National Park, which houses the Mountain Retreat, the scenery became even more beautiful.......I really didn’t think it possible. More mountains and valleys showed themselves to us like models on a catwalk, each one trying to out-do the next. More anatomically correct rock formations were lurking amongst giant domes of rock that bulged out of steep green slopes that from a distance seemed to be as smooth as a snooker table. The light was fantastic, making the greens greener and the sky a deep blue cloudless wonder.

Turning off the main road we started up a narrow path that was only wide enough for one car. It wound like a lazy (and ridiculously long) snake up, then down the mountain in front of us only to slither languidly around the next hill before continuing its course up another mountain that really didn’t look like it should be driven up, let alone holidayed on.......but it soon became apparent that that was exactly where we were going,....up ....and up some more until what I thought were rock outcrops about 20 meters from the summit revealed their true identities. They were actually log cabins built into the mountain side,...there were 7 of them and one of them was ours.

The cabins were stunning , besides a very comfy interior ie fireplace and heated flooring (it gets cold up in these mountains at night, even in the middle of the summer), the bedrooms had appropriately heavy bedding as well as electric blankets....toasty, toasty, the view was without a doubt the most spectacular I have ever seen, and I mean that sincerely, go and you will see what I mean. We had a balcony that ran the length of the cabin and that became our little portal to the world because from it, it seemed we could see forever. To our left over many mountains and valleys was Kwa-Zulu Natal and to our right behind a very imposing and endless mountain range lay Lesotho (a country within South Africa), and straight ahead of us was, well, name it. On a clear day you could see Australia. We literally spent hours just standing or sitting out there staring into the distance, never tiring of what was in front of us. Again and again we marvelled over the ancient landscape beneath us. As usual I saw animals in the natural architecture, there was a giant turtle over-seeing the Natal side of the word and a squat crocodile glaring blindly into the wild blue yonder. Or was he eyeing up the turtle, like a tasty treat....mmmmm had he been stalking the turtle for the last 350 million years, cunningly disguising himself as a piece of the earth? Probably not.

 There were caves like giant eyes that stared sightlessly, or so we think, and infinitely off to the horizon. I wondered if rock falls over these caves would be considered an earth blink.  

As secluded as we might’ve felt up there, we were soon reminded that we weren’t alone and that we were the guests of some very interesting creatures. Mainly baboons that would sit on the edge of our roof (as the cabin was built into the mountain, our roof was just part of the grassland, not that a ‘boon would have trouble getting up there anyway) and peek over at us zombied by the beauty of it all. We went for a walk up into the mountain above us and discovered amongst other things, crystals that had been dislodged over time by rain and man, much to Adele’s delight. As we reached the vast, sweeping grasslands that adorned the top of our mountains we were overjoyed to see herds of Zebra and Wildebeest roaming freely around us, there were other antelope as well but collectively they provided us with a very special experience. We’ve done a few safaris in our time but once you actually get to walk amongst the animals you ain’t seen nothing yet. We wondered on, awe of our surroundings,....if someone had been watching us from a distance he would’ve seen four adults walking along pointing in all directions and smiling maniacally.....perhaps even glowing a little.

We took a break at the very edge of our mountain, a sheer cliff. Here we ate chocolate and I thought to myself, at times like this, in this particular position, depending on what kind of person you are, one could consider themselves a king or very insignificant in the big scheme of things.....I chose not to comment.

The following morning I awoke before everyone else in the cabin, actually, it was probably before anyone in South Africa. At 04:30 I wondered through to the lounge, looked out the window and thought that the ocean had finally made its way up to just below our balcony. All on my own I witnessed something quite astounding. The cloud cover was solid right up to the horizon and right down to just below our cabin. All I could see was the occasional high mountain poking its summit above the cloud line like a breaching whale. It was almost unbearably quiet but too achingly beautiful to not take in for as long as possible. I was starting to toy with the idea of buying this cabin. If there was a heaven, I’d expect it to look like this, and if it didn’t, I’d have a word with the man at reception. As the sun got hotter, so the clouds receded back down the valley like a sneaky thief, that died a while ago and had taken spirit form, very sneaky indeed.

I could gush on about this place but I’m running out of metaphors and hyperbole. I will mention in closing, that we also encountered some Jackals whilst wondering in the mountains. This topped off an idyllic few days. It’s never been tougher to leave.
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