South Africa - Round The World Tour 2003 Day 19

White Mountain

Monday 31st March

We got off to a later than planned start this morning as we wanted to tend to some more e-mail duties but the connection and the computer were rather slow. By ten thirty in the morning we were ready to bid Dave & Glenis farewell. We stopped off in the town centre to send some burned DVDs to Jacqueline for safekeeping. It will probably take a couple of weeks for the disks to arrive so I won’t free up the space on the computer until I receive word that they do.

After leaving Umhlanga Rocks, we headed inland towards the Drakensberg mountain range. The later half of the two-hour journey was very picturesque and we passed through some nice little towns. The route so far was very reminiscent of the rolling hills of the English countryside. Thanks to Sandy, we stopped for lunch at a place called Howick. We chose this place because of the tourist signs for a waterfall that we went to look at. And a very nice waterfall it was too. The route to Howick was slightly out of our way but we had changed directions having seen sings to a ‘Nelson Mandela capture sight’ monument. This seemed like a worthwhile detour but in the event, it turned out to be just a small plaque in a small lay-by on the side of the road with barely enough room for a single car to stop. It caught us by surprise and we actually drove past it. After a little chuckle at each other, we decided it wasn’t worth stopping and reversing for after all so we carried on into Howick.

Howick is a sleepy little town with a nice collection of curio shops and restaurants. We had lunch at one of the nicer looking places and stopped in at the tourist information office to sign the guest book and gather some information. Some of the wooden carvings and handcraft articles in the curio stalls and shops were very tempting. As ever, however, we have a very real logistical problem of how to get anything we purchase along the way back home. This remains frustrating.

We left Howick and proceeded through Mooi River and into a town called Estcourt. We stopped at the tourist information office there and were very warmly greeted by an extremely enthusiastic woman who clearly had not received a visitor in some time. She was very nice and was very good at her job. Together, we decided that we would head for a place called White Mountain Resort that was in the direction of the Giant’s Castle mountain peak. She called up the resort to confirm availability and the correct price range and subsequently booked a self-catering chalet for us. Although we got a little confused about the immediate direction to take upon leaving the tourist office, we did finally manage to find the right road. Along the way, an epiphany hit us. We weren’t entirely sure that the place we were heading to was the place she had called. We never made a note of the phone number and were a little unsure of the correct name of the place. Ultimately, after about thirty minutes of driving, we came across what we thought was the right place and stopped in. Luckily, we were expected.

The chalet we are in, and indeed the entire surroundings, are very nice and very comfortable. Although it’s a self-catering chalet with its own kitchen, we had a lovely meal at the restaurant tonight. Communicating with the waitress was a little interesting but the food was very good.

Being here up high in the mountain range has a few advantages. There is very little light pollution from surrounding towns and cities and the stars really come out in a spectacular display. For the first time in my life, I can stare up to the heavens and actually see the Milky Way light up the night’s sky. Cross off another life’s to-do list entry. We’ve also seen a few shooting stars and, thanks to Sandy, we can readily identify the constellation of the Southern Cross. Even though we are in the Southern Hemisphere, we can still plainly see Orion overhead but little else that I can identify. Cassiopeia, the Pleiades and the other regulars of the Northern hemisphere remain hidden from me. I don’t know if they are not visible or whether I just haven’t found them yet.

Tomorrow holds the promise of abseiling. At nine in the morning, we head out for a rather strenuous walk (that should be fun!) to White Mountain to culminate in a several hundred foot vertical descent down a sheer cliff face. The walk part is free and you only have to pay the R50 if you actually go through with the drop. Should make for some nice photos.