Days 1–5: Champagne Valley of the Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa
The Champagne Valley is one of the four valleys that make up the Drakensberg area. It has many hotels, bed and breakfasts, and rental properties (referred to as “self-catering” accommodations) as well as excellent sports facilities, activity centers, and farm stalls. A self-catering stay is a good idea for this part of the trip as it will allow you to sample lots of delicious local ingredients and a chance to have a South African “braais” (barbeque). My top lodging recommendation is The Bell: a serviced three-bedroom house on a farm estate that has 20 small houses, a swimming pool, two trout fishing dams, horse-riding, tennis court, a games room, library, and an array of amazing wildlife (think zebras grazing on your lawn as you eat breakfast). If you can’t face cooking while on vacation, try the Drakensberg Sun Hotel down the road or the Champagne Valley Sports Resort.
Several international airlines fly to Johannesburg. From there, you will need to pick up a domestic connection to Durban or Pietermaritzburg. Once you arrive, you will have to rent a car for a 2.5 hour drive to Drakensberg. If you feel too tired to drive after a long flight, stay a night or two close to the airport in the holiday beach towns of Umhlanga or Ballito.
Day 1: Arrival
You probably won’t arrive in the Champagne Valley until the afternoon of your first day. If you are self-catering, stop en route in the small town of Winterton. There are shops in the Champagne Valley, but it is better to stock up on as much as possible here. In Winterton, there is a large supermarket stocked with everything you will need as well as a good selection of local produce, honey, rusks (double-baked bread biscuits), rooibos tea (red bush tea), meat, and fruit. As you enter the town, it is also worth stopping at the avocado truck parked on the side of the road. These avocados taste heavenly and a bag of 10 costs less than $5.
When you arrive at your accommodation, unpack and put your feet up with a cup of rooibos tea on the patio. You are likely to spot wildebeest, zebra, baboons, wild antelope, and a plethora of beautiful birds. Surrounded by the beauty of magnificent mountains and wildlife, you cannot feel anything but relaxed.
Day 2: Take a Hike
On your second day, don your hiking boots and head out for a morning walk. If you are visiting between November and March, you probably want to set out really early before the African sun becomes too brutal. You can take one of the many guided walks offered in the area or follow one of the popular, well-marked trails. The short hike to Sterkspruit Falls is a lovely trek to do in the early morning. Spend the rest of your day relaxing by the pool, fishing, playing tennis, or bird watching.
Day 3: Climb Mt. Sterkhorn
If you are up for a challenge, spend your third day climbing the 2973m peak of Mt. Sterkhorn. This is a full-day hike, but the route is well-marked and well-trodden so you are unlikely to be the only ones going up there. It is a good idea to keep an eye on the weather and pack a small rucksack with waterproofs, warm things, snacks and plenty of fluid – mountain weather can be unpredictable. By the time you get home from this hike, you are going to need a nice long, hot bath and hearty meal. As the sun sets, fire up the barbeque and have a traditional South African “braai.” Enjoy your well-earned dinner under the stunning, star-filled sky.
Day 4: Explore Waterfalls and Forests
On your last full day, head out into the valley by foot or horseback to explore some more of the area’s waterfalls and forests. While you are exploring, keep an eye out for Bushmen art in caves and on rocks. The Bushmen were the original native people of this area who left behind beautiful rock-art. After lunch, drive down the road to a local bee farm for delicious honey! Sample it on the comb or try other honey goodies like fudge and brittle.
Day 5: Breakfast
On your final morning, enjoy sunrise with a cup of red bush tea and rusk on your patio. Take in the early morning sounds of Africa as the mist fades and the animals stir. This is a perfect way to bid farewell to the Champagne Valley before embarking on your next adventure to Spioenkop.
Kathleen is a contributing editor to En Route Traveler. From a young age, Her parents took her and her sister on many adventures all over the world. Kathleen has lived in South Africa, London, and Paris. After five years of being a stressed corporate lawyer, she gave it all up to move to Nicaragua where she trained as a yoga teacher, learned to surf, and worked at the eco-lodge, Buena Vista Surf Club. Kathleen loves fitness, vegetarian cooking, contributing to the wellness blog, Hip and Healthy, and managing her own sites Yum Yoga and Super Fit and Super Food.
Have you ever visited the Champagne Valley? Share your recommendations below in the comments area.