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In search of snow

30 July 2011, Drakensberg, Kwazulu Natal - Weekend Argus

Mont Aux Sources offers Stefni Herbert beauty and fresh air

For someone who doesn’t adapt well to cold conditions, I was hoping and praying it would snow overnight. With the excitement of a child waking on Christmas morning in anticipation of opening stacks of gifts under a bushy tree, I jumped out of my warm bed and ran to open the curtains, only to find a bulk of cloud hovering over the plateau visible from my window. Turns out, it did snow overnight, but it wasn’t too much as it had very quickly turned to sleet but, according to Tracey Jarmen and Andre de Mol of the Orion Mont Aux Sources Hotel management, when it really snows it can be absolutely stunning.

Nestled in an amphitheatre, in the valley of the Mont Aux Sources, the hotel provides accommodation in the form of rooms and chalets, catering for everybody – from families to corporations. It isn’t the only accommodation in the area, but it is has recently been upgraded and is welcoming and warm. Given its perfect location surrounded by mountain peaks, waking and going to bed in some of the rooms is an absolute pleasure. But even if your room does not have the view of the majestic rock formations, or the lush valley, the hotel’s patio or lounge provide comfortable sitting areas to watch a beautiful sunset. Mont Aux Sources is close to the north of the Drakensberg range, not far from Harrismith. The drive from Johannesburg would take about four hours. It’s a lot closer to Durban, but a long drive from Cape Town, and a flight to Durban first might help. Check on the condition of the roads when making your booking, because they seemed to be pretty terrible.

Drakensberg means “Dragon mountains” in Afrikaans, and the range was given this title in the 1800s. In Zulu the mountains are called uKhahlamba – “Barrier of Spears”, while in Sesotho they are known as the Maluti or Maloti mountains. The range forms the border between Lesotho and KwaZulu-Natal. Given that the Mont Aux Sources falls into the northern part of the UKhahlamba Drakensberg World Heritage Site, the hotel has to be aware of how it functions. “We always have to keep nature in mind in everything that we do, from the elimination of alien vegetation to the way in which we dispose of our waste. There are 350 different bird species in the area alone,” Jarmen said.

The hotel is isolated, and there are no shops or restaurants on the way there, except the small service station at Little Switzerland, so bring all you think you’ll need. It is an absolute joy to get out of the concrete jungle; the only skyscrapers are the mountain peaks. The name Mont Aux Sources means mountain springs, and there are many rivers and lakes. There are animals too, although the predominant species appeared to be domestic cows. I saw cows upon cows standing on slopes, grazing alongside the road and hanging around in the middle of the already narrow road.

Nothing really bothers these cows and I think it’s because they know this is their territory. Animals which are known to roam the mountains – although we didn’t see them – are different types of buck, jackal, baboon and a small number of leopard. There are also lots of lizards, of which six species in the area are endemic. There are a number of different types of snakes as well, so I watched my step when walking around. Besides a few resorts and small businesses, the valley is home to several villages whose inhabitants work at the resorts. The Mont Aux Sources Hotel has a staff complement of 64 people, most of whom are residents of the closest village.

Jarman said the hotel has corporate social investment in the village and donates second-hand goods to the villagers. People come to Mont Aux Sources from far and wide, from places like Asia, Europe and America, as well as South Africa and Lesotho, to break away into nature and experience the tranquillity of these mountains. I understood why they do it – it’s because there is nowhere to go here, but into nature and beauty. There are great hiking trails for every level of fitness, as well as other activities. Mont Aux Sources has teamed up with All Out Adventures so that you can go from paintball to zip-lining – foefie slides – to the flying trapeze, which is done with a safety net, horse-back riding, mountain biking and golf. But alas, no snow.

Herbert was a guest of the Mont Aux Sources Hotel. The hotel has four options: deluxe and standard rooms, honeymoon suites and chalets. All are priced differently, so expect to pay between R1 000 and R1 600 a night. For more information, contact hotel management on 036 438 8000 or e-mail fommas@orion-hotels.co.za or contmas@orion-hotels.co.za