Winter wander in the Drakensberg

By Narina Exelby and Mark Eveleigh

There is an unmistakable beauty to travelling South Africa in the winter – when the grasses have dried into shades of leather, the trees have shed their leaves, and the gravel roads lift trails of dust in honour of passing cars. The air, often crisp and clear in the morning, gathers smoke through the day and by the time late afternoon rolls through, the sun sets a deep shade of dusty pink.

It was on a day like this that we drove our Isuzu mu-X from the KZN Midlands towards the foothills of the Drakensberg. Our destination: Antbear Eco Lodge, a collection of sustainably built dwellings with gorgeous views onto Kamberg and Giants Castle. As we drove kilometre after kilometre, farm fences flanked the roads, and fields and mountain vistas rolled on by.

A psychologist once told me that “Views offer us the chance to stay still for a moment and be mindful. If a view is experienced as spectacular and we truly sink into its splendour, we have the opportunity to know pure joy.”

I found this sense of pure joy just before sunset, while sitting in a hammock-chair outside the luxury cave at Antbear Lodge. Farmlands speckled with cattle stretched out before me, while layer upon layer of rolling hills faded into the evening.

The cave itself is a pretty intriguing place… what was once built to be a filter for chlorine-free pool has morphed into an organic-shaped “cave” that protrudes from the side of a slope. Picture windows offer a view out towards Kamberg.

Most of Antbear Lodge has been created by hand from local resources, and the whole cave reflects what has become a signature of the lodge’s style: unique, eccentric creations carved from wood. The front windowpanes are framed by human-made “branches”, the chunky wardrobe has an ingenious and very tactile latch and hinge mechanism, and the bed’s headboard is a ripple of carved curves.

“My father started to create furniture like this when I first bought the property back in the late1990s,” says Antbear’s owner, Andrew Attwood. “This is something that I’ve learned from him, and is something that we have since taught others who’ve worked or stayed on the property.”

When Attwood first bought the property there was just one derelict farmhouse – with a resident antbear, hence the name. Over the years he and his wife Conny have built a range of houses and suites – often with straw bale walls, recycled timber and locally grown thatch. Being sustainable and supporting and empowering the neighbouring communities are central to who they are.

As a resident of the area for more than two decades, Andrew is a wealth of local knowledge – an excellent person to suggest not only places to go and things to do in the area, but also scenic roads to drive. Make sure you ask him, because he knows some gems – and views out here, they are aplenty.

THE DETAILS Antbear Lodge offers a range of accommodation and activities, from hiking trails and horse riding to woodworking lessons and a star-gazing hammock camp. Accommodation is pet-friendly, and there are often special rates on offer. See the website for more, or email [email protected].

Pictures: Narina Exelby and Mark Eveleigh