Reader Adventure- Snow Safari

Winter Whiteout

It doesn’t happen often that snow falls in many areas of the country as it recently did. Usually, if you want to experience a white winter wonderland you have to head to high-lying areas in the Drakensberg. ANDRÉ VAN VUUREN shares his snowy adventure in the mountains.

We started planning our trip months in advance. We were on a mission: finding snow in the Wartrail and Rhodes areas of the southern Drakensberg. I wasn’t convinced that we’d be successful, so I was relieved to hear that snow had fallen on the peaks of the Drakensberg ten days before our departure date.

Our group of snow seekers met up at Lupela Lodge, just 18km outside of Lady Grey. The lodge is situated on a working farm of 1 300ha on the banks of the Karingmelkspruit. The owners, Alf and Denise Ross, went out of their way to make our one-night stay a memorable one and spoiled us with a scrumptious farm breakfast before we headed out the next morning, heading for Bidstone Cottages in the Wartrail area, where the first settlers arrived 1816 and 1817. The name is derived from the footpaths that were used by the various tribes to steal cattle from each other or to move the stolen cattle around.

There are numerous gravel mountain passes to contend with in the area, including Joubert’s Pass, Volunteershoek Pass, Carlisleshoek Pass, Naude’s Nek Pass and Lundean’s Nek. The latter is the most daunting of the bunch and is peppered with 101 sharp corners, four hairpin bends and steep unrailed cliffs. It links the Telle Bridge border post with the small community of Wartrail and from the top of the 2 170m pass you look out over Lesotho.

On arrival at Bidstone Cottages, where we were booked in for the next two nights, there was only one question on everyone’s lips: “Are we going to see more snow?” Our host, Allan Isted, assured us that plenty of snow had fallen at Tiffindell and on Volunteershoek Pass, which was where we would be heading next.

The pass starts at Bidstone farm and follows an old trek path to Tiffindell Ski Resort, were we stopped at Lochness for some refreshments. Tiffindell is at an altitude of 2 720m and situated on the slopes of Ben MacDhui which – at 3 001m – is the highest altitude summit in South Africa.

A very scenic route across the Bell River took us to the quaint little village of Rhodes, which was declared a South African National Monument in 1997. We slowly drove through the village with its interesting buildings and even more interesting residents to Walkerbouts Inn, where we settled in for the next two nights.

Driving the Naude’s Nek Pass was definitely a highlight of our trip and at 2 587m it is the highest public road pass in South Africa. It is also unique in that it was not built by civil engineers but by two local farmers, Gabriel and Stefan Naude, using spades, pickaxes and a scotchcar. Coffee and freshly baked scones are always a good reason to stop over at Tenahead Mountain Lodge, situated on 3 500ha of mountain land at the top of the pass and offering breathtaking views of the Drakensberg, Witteberg and the Maluti Mountains.

The Tiffindell-Tenahead Traverse (also called the TTT) connects the Tiffindell Ski Resort in the west with the Tenahead Mountain Lodge in the east. At 2 666m it is the highest rough contour route in South Africa and is made up of four smaller passes. Although it is only 27km long, it took three to four hours to drive.

The entire landscape was covered in snow and about 4km before Tiffindell we had to turn back. The strong wind had blown in serious snow from the Lesotho side and the entire route was covered with about 40cm of snow. It had started to melt and formed ‘black ice’, which is extremely dangerous and slippery. My vehicle got bogged down and everyone had to lend a hand with the recovery. It was one of the scariest ones I have ever done, but we made it safely back to Walkerbouts, where everyone was impressed by the fact that we had made it that far on the TTT.

While we were sitting at the breakfast table the next morning, the snow was rolling in over Naude’s Nek and everyone wished that we could stay longer. It was time to say goodbye, but we will definitely include the Snow Safari on our programme for 2024.

10 OF THE BEST PLACES TO SEE SNOW IN SOUTH AFRICA

1. Matroosberg, Western Cape

2. Cederberg, Western Cape

3. Sutherland, Northern Cape

4. Rhodes, Eastern Cape

5. Hogsback, Eastern Cape

6. Golden Gate Highlands National Park, Free State

7. Underberg and Sani Pass, KwaZulu-Natal

8. Mooi River, KwaZulu-Natal

9. Cathedral Peak, KwaZulu-Natal

10. Long Tom Pass, Mpumalanga

TRAVEL GUIDE

Lupela Lodge Lady Grey: info@lupelalodge.co.za

Bidstone Cottages: allan@bidstonecottages.co.za

Walkerbouts: bookings@walkerbouts.co.za

André van Vuuren is a highly qualified and experienced safari guide, having offered overland excursion across southern Africa for the past 25 years.

Contact him to enquire about upcoming tours: +27 82 935 7405 | andrevanvuuren@postnet.co.za

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