Within easy reach of Johannesburg, Durban and Bloemfontein, there are a number of Drakensberg accommodation options that offer great value for families, and beautiful mountain views. Here are five of our favourites.
Also see: Photoblog – dramatic Drakensberg
1. Drakensberg Sun Resort, Central Drakensberg
A country feel permeates this big hotel with its impressive mountain vistas – but the dark wood lobby that opens onto a nine-hole mini golf course and the pool belong more in a Sandton hotel than this lakeside lodging. South African families with barefoot kids and romantic couples are the main guests. The resort operates as an independent entity that treats its own water, controls its electricity consumption and manages the sewerage plant in an effort to mitigate harsh environmental impacts.
After undergoing a R25-million refurbishment (and counting) many of the Drakensberg Sun Resort’s 78 rooms are crisp and new with beige, pale blue and green furnishings, large beds, compact bathrooms, and all promise a sunset view. Choose a family suite with two double beds in one room or two separate but interleading chambers. The on-site restaurant pulls guests from surrounding resorts and offers a sumptuous dinner banquet of curries, fish, sizzled-in-front-of-you sirloin and an unusual salad selection. The breakfast doesn’t quite compare, but it’s nothing to turn your nose up at either. Kids will love a half-hour boat ride on the lake and be sure to do one of the moderate hikes on the property – a good two-hour walk will sort out your food baby.
Insider’s tip: This hotel is right next door to the Drakensberg Canopy Tour (036 468 1981), which is a superb activity for the whole family (even my grandmother has done a tandem ride) and costs R495 a person for two to three hours.
Rates: DB&B from R1900 for a standard room, sleeping two adults and two children. A single parent DB&B promotion is available until 30 November 2014 for R1490 for one adult and two kids. (Note: we apologise for publishing these rates incorrectly in our October issue; this has been rectified for this online version. These rates are of course subject to change after November 2014.)
Contact: Tel 036 468 1000, www.tsogosun.com
2. The Cavern, Northern Drakensberg
Set on 3000 hectares of private mountain reserve surrounded by indigenous gardens of aloes, cycads and acacia trees, The Cavern is at the end of a potholed road between Bergville and Harrismith. A family-run resort for over 60 years, the original sandstone farmhouse still stands (browse the old black-and-white photographs in the main lounge) and the owners are always available.
Horse rides and walks are the main attraction, drawing families in SUVs with bicycles in tow and My Family stickers on the back windscreen. However, its great reputation pulls pensioners who take advantage of weekday specials (from R770 per person, full board). There are four main types of accommodation making up 55 rooms ‒ standard, superior and family rooms or bigger couple’s suites. All have a double bed (family rooms have singles too for kids), en-suite bathroom, under-floor heating and autumn-coloured decor, but the suites are much more spacious with a fireplace and TV lounge. For the most privacy and mountain-forest views, ask for a superior room alongside the stream where bushbuck stray into sight from the thickets.
The Cavern restaurant has a set dinner menu and kids can eat earlier with nannies in the playroom. Lunches are served in the sun outside and for breakfast there’s more than enough variety ‒ everything is delicious and there’s absolutely no need to find fare elsewhere.
Insider’s tip: Even though you can stroll around by yourself, go on a guided morning hike because you’ll stop for an unforgettable tea break made on site in the mountains.
Rates: All food and accommodation from R950 per person per night sharing. Up to 90 percent discount for kids, depending on age.
Contact: Tel 036 438 6270, www.cavern.co.za
3. Mont Aux Sources Hotel, Northern Drakensberg
The only hotel with a full view of the Drakensberg’s iconic Amphitheatre, Mont Aux Sources sits in the arms of the imposing cliffs bordering Royal Natal National Park. The hotel’s white and green exterior, grand piano and manicured lawns give it the look of a country club, but it’s not pretentious and you don’t have to worry if your shirt is untucked.
South African visitors are in the majority and while the hotel is filled with conference-goers during the week, weekends are family time with energetic kids playing on the jungle gym or swimming in the pool, generally watched by granny and grandpa.
The decor is a little tired, but the 107 rooms are being spruced up. Ask for one of the renovated rooms when you book ‒ they’re cleaner, fresher and better value for money. All deluxe rooms have been completely renovated and are now quite modern in appearance with monochromatic tones, enormous flat-screen TVs and immaculate en-suite bathrooms.
The self-catering chalets have mountain views and are better for families with more space, an open-plan kitchen/dining room and a fireplace (families will also be comfy in a ground-floor hotel room that leads into the garden).
Gigaba Restaurant has little character compared to the hotel’s gorgeous settings, but there’s a large buffet selection for dinner and breakfast, and lunch is on the veranda with views of the Amphitheatre. The Tower of Pizza restaurant (036 438 6480) 7 km away makes tasty speciality pizzas in a beautiful farmhouse setting. Take all your groceries if self-catering.
Insider’s tip: While you’re here, take the 15-minute drive to Royal Natal National Park and do the short Cascades Trail with the kids. The gradient and paved pathways make it very easy (day visitor park permit costs R30 an adult and R20 a child).
Rates: DB&B in deluxe rooms from R1370 per person sharing, under 12s stay free and get discounted meals. Self-catering chalets (sleep four) from R1 499 a night. Call for specials.
Contact: Tel 086 148 8867, www.montauxsources.co.za
4. Champagne Sports Resort, Central Drakensberg
Bang in the middle of Champagne Valley on expansive well-tended grounds, Champagne Sports Resort in the central Drakensberg has glorious mountain views of Monks Cowl, Champagne Castle and Cathkin Peak. Decor is simple and furniture basic but comfortable and there’s plenty to choose from among the 152 rooms ‒ interleading and family hotel rooms or spacious thatched chalets with a lounge, fireplace and kitchen. In contrast to the buzzing hotel and pool deck, the chalets are set in tranquil gardens and offer berg views ‒ make sure you don’t get a hotel room overlooking a parking lot.
As the name suggests, this is the perfect spot for an active family. There’s bowls, swimming, basketball, squash and more. Avid golfers come for the pristine greens. The dining hall is enormous and so is the buffet ‒ especially the breakfasts, which have everything from waffles to fresh fruit and omelettes. For lunch, the terrace menu offers generous snacks such as battered calamari rings for a very reasonable R40. A minimum of three nights is required during peak season and long weekends, and a minimum of two nights over a regular weekend.
Rates: DB&B in the hotel from R950 per person per night sharing and from R230 a child. Self-catering chalet (sleeps four) is R2885 a night (rates decrease per night the longer you stay). Six- and eight-sleepers from R2885 and R3285 respectively.
Contact: Tel 036 468 8000, www.champagnesportsresort.com
5. Giant’s Castle, Southern Drakensberg
Scenic and relatively untouched, this conservancy of protected Drakensberg wildlife has an old-fashioned, escape-the-city approach to family holidays. Tucked into the central region of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park, Giant’s Castle is so-called because the silhouette of a sleeping giant emerges from the distant peaks come sunset.
Early birds and active families with older kids frequent the resort because there is no entertainment here, just nature at her best. You’ll hear them shrieking with pleasure swimming in the cold river below and bump into post-hike celebrations on the viewing deck next to the restaurant.
The chalets have standard, bland national park decor and simple furnishings, but remember you’re here for the views. Each unit is themed to wild flowers found in the reserve and most units are two-sleeper, with four four-bed units and two six-sleepers available for families – ask for mountain views because the garden chalets are less secluded and look onto one another. All chalets are self-catering, but Izimbali Restaurant has a selection of tasty dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Rates: Self-catering from R785 for a two-sleeper mountain-view chalet, R1 620 for a four-sleeper and R2 160 for a six-bed lodge – rate includes breakfast. Day visitor park permit fee is R30 per adult and R15 per child.