Part of a 2 week trip organised by SunSafaris.
My first night in South Africa was spent at the casino hotel complex of the Emperor's Palace. After a long flight from Europe, arriving somewhere which was Africa imitating Las Vegas, imitating roman Italy was slightly surreal. Walking from the hotel into the casino area's fake roman streets, under a artificial sky was a strange introduction to the contrasts and contradictions of South Africa.
In the morning, once equipped with a rented car, I set off, only to have a few difficulties finding my way to the correct motorway. Once reunited with the correct road, I was heading through the traffic and urban sprawl of the huge city of Johannesberg. Once I left the city behind, I was heading off down a long, straight and pretty quiet N3 motorway. At the Vaal river the motorway turned into a sort of 4 lane road with only a thick white line down the middle, and no crash barrier, which was quiet disconcerting at first.
The seemingly endless pattern of the odd isolated hill, and small towns started to get a bit boring. Fortunatly, a mass of hills appeared out of the heat haze, and some I was following the N3 into a gap in the hill to Harrismith. I managed to do two circuits of the two before finding the turn for the N5. I thought I was back on track when I found the R74 turn shortly afterwards. My navigational sucess proved to be shortlived, as pretty soon, I got that "not sure I'm going the right way" feeling. I reached a right turn on a gravel road with a battered sign pointing to Gelucksburg, which certainly didn't figure on the directions from the website, or my GPS. I decided to press on, rather than turn back and waste time. The road turned from a wide well surfaced gravel road, to a narrow strip of tarred road with wheel swallowing potholes and craters strewn across it. After twisting and turning around some spectacularly rough turns, I reached some sort of village at the summit of a hill, and to my relief, the road improved. I could see Geluksburg in the far distance as I drove down from the hill. The town, or rather village, wasn't much to look at, but did feature a crossroads and a sign for Bergville and Ladysmith, which was on my map.
Bergville was a chance to stop for a late lunch of pie and chips. Soon I was heading across rolling farm lands until I reached the turn for Cathedral Peak Hotel. I was starting to feel a real sense of ancipation, as after a long, long journey, which started the day before at 1:00 AM, I was finally getting close to my destination: each turn of the road revealed a new view of the mountains looming up ahead. I had to keep my speed down as the road was lined with waving kids walking home from school to the villages alongside the road. After passing the cattle grid marking the edge of the Drakensberg nature reserve the mountains started to become clearer and I could see the incredible ruggedness of the peaks up ahead. As I got higher into the mountains the vegetation started to change, and the sight of bare trees reminded me that despite the warm temperatures, it was still late winter. After passing a gate, soon I was arrving at the hotel, just in time to see the sun turn the side of the valley gold.
I had driven a long way that day. From an airport hotel, to being mostly lost in a strange land, to a hotel surrounded by mountains. Getting lost, or at least pretty confused on the way, is something of an ritual for me, and the serendipity of places found by accident is always something I remember.