My memories of childhood holidays begin at around 7 years old, when I went off with my older brother to an outdoor adventure camp in the Magaliesburg mountains. Mum and Dad would come to wave me off at the train station in Joburg and I would spend a happy couple of hours reconnecting with old friends, while the steam engine huffed and puffed through beautiful countryside to the little siding at Maloney’s Eye. I remember hopping off the train, grabbing my suitcase and running down the dirt road to camp, stopping for two seconds at the furrow for a drink of sweet mountain water, before the final sprint to the dormitory to grab one of the highly prized top bunks.
One of the first outings was always a walk up Scorpion Hill to Lone Tree, where we were taught to carefully lift up flat rocks. The camp counsellors kept a watchful eye out whilst teaching us the difference between the “Stingers”, with their small pincers and big tail sacs and the “Burrowers”, with the big pincers and very little sting. Conservation was high on the agenda too, so we learnt to carefully put each one back under the rocks we had lifted. Clearing forest trails, swimming at the weir, catching crabs, learning the latin names of trees and admiring the stars at evening campfires became the cornerstones of a deep love for camping, hiking, nature and the mountains.
It was with great joy therefore, that Dave and I recently responded to an invitation from photographer friends, Roger and Pat de la Harpe, to spend a few days at The Cavern Resort in the majestic Drakensburg mountains. The idea was to do some mountain biking and photography, along the trails and in the forests, both of which promised exquisite scenery and an intimacy with nature.
For three days, we rode, we slept, we ate, we photographed and rode some more. Our first ride took us up Montusi mountain, where we watched the surrounding scenery dramatically change colour as huge storm clouds approached and then we hot-footed it back in a severe head wind, to minimise the risk of being exposed to some scary lightning. Another day, we parked at a farm just over the Free State border and rode to an historical monument at Retief’s Pass on the edge of the escarpment. “Die Kaalvoet Vrou” is a life size bronze statue in memory of Susanna Smit, sister of Gert Maritz, who declared that she would rather walk barefoot back over the Berg than live in Natal under British rule. We had ridden about 12km to get there, and as we climbed up the short path to the statue and stood amongst the rocks in a howling wind, we were touched by the harshness of life at that time and the bravery of the folk who undertook the journey.
The photography was great fun! Apart from posing with our bikes at the top of mountains, we spent time exploring the indigenous forests. Bugs, birds, waterfalls and a 200 year old Cape Ash became the subjects of our attention, as we each stretched our creativity to the max, under the watchful eye of Roger who is always eager to share his vast knowledge of cameras and compositions.
The gardens offered up surprises at every turn with hundreds of Agapanthus flowers in bloom, brightly coloured sun birds and some little bush buck. There is something so magical about this family owned “farm”, reminiscent of the world of The Hobbit, that I couldn’t help but add to the fairytale with the help of a tiny little fish eye lens and some creative licence.
Thank you to Hilton and Megan Bedingham and all the staff for a wonderful stay. We will be back!
Header image courtesy of Roger and Pat de la Harpe Photography and all images in the collage by Dave and Joy Mullin. Please click on the individual images to open them.