I’ve recently returned from a couple of days in the mountains with my threeples. On the 11th Feb, it was our 12th wedding anniversary and we decided to escape Joburg for a bit… and go somewhere new.
After fruitlessly searching Air BnB and Booking.com… I did something I usually don’t do: I started searching for printed adverts in the back pages of some of my old travel magazines… and there, I saw a tiny photo… of a picturesque lake… surrounded by forests and mountain peaks. There I found “Lake Naverone”.
Lake Naverone is situated in the Southern Drakensberg… which is far less touristy and populated than the other parts of the ‘berg. Getting there from Joburg involves about 5 hours of driving on the N3 highway… followed by another 2 hours of high-octane travel on a very windy single-lane road (with way too many people driving like cheesecakes). There’s pot-holes. There’s slow tractors. There’s cattle, goats, chickens and donkeys crossing at will… but when it comes to “scenic routes” – this is one of South Africa’s best.
Eventually… we reached the village of Underberg which, in itself, is nothing spectacular. It’s the usual tiny-town scenario; supermarket, clinic, police station, school, lots of ugly signage and a smattering of untidy shops selling everything from chicken feed to cheap-clothes-shipped-from-China. But…it’s the location of this underwhelming dorp is what makes it such a special place. Some of the country’s most beautiful places… with the most breathtaking views… are just a few kilometres out of town.
If you turn right, you head towards Lesotho (our land-locked neighbour) and the much-talked-about Sani Pass (which has a reputation of being both treacherous and one of those have-to-do/have-to-see experiences on the bucket list). To navigate the pass, you need a 4×4 (tick!)… and a passport. Being the (typical) last-minute planners we are, we didn’t bring the passports… (so the pass will have to wait until next time).
Instead, we drove through Underberg, turned right in to the road that the locals call “Drak Gardens”… and for the next 20 minutes… we didn’t talk, we just made strange noises of deep appreciation.
As it happens, we made the Drak-Gardens drive just as the storm clouds were parting. Shards of sunlight illuminated green meadows and rolling hills where cows happily grazed. Horses frolicked in the distance and eagles circled above. With every bend of the road, we marveled. Towering cliffs… distant waterfalls… and the ever-present company of the Mzimkhulu River which danced a duet with our winding road.
As we drove, we had the iPod playing one of the most epic scores (by Thomas Newman) from the film “Road to Perdition” – and I’m not exaggerating in any way when I say that the sound of those soaring violins, combined with the views around us… had me breaking out in goosebumps.
I turned to Nick and I said: “Goosies…”
He said: “Me too”.
It was that beautiful.
Natural beauty always makes me happy. It fills the deepest part of my soul like nothing else can.
And my favourite landscapes are green ones. I love being surrounded by forests and mountains… and I love being near water. Whether it’s the sea, lakes, rivers or bubbling streams – close proximity to water = happy-Hat.
The Southern Drakensberg ticked every box. I was in my element.
Lake Naverone itself was established in 1949. It’s a sprawling 400 hectare estate, right next door to the Maloti Drakensberg Park, a World Heritage site. The estate has 21 self-catering cottages tucked away in picturesque forest clearings or overlooking one of two lakes. Importantly, the cottages are introvert-friendly and are scattered around the estate in such a way that you’re not forced to listen to the shitty music and late-night-gossip of the strangers holidaying right next door (this is why we don’t like huge hotels and holiday resorts! If we’re in escape-mode… we don’t want to share public spaces, swimming pools and braai areas with a whole bunch of random people we don’t know).
Suffice to say – Lake Naverone was a lovely fit. If you wanna mingle – you can mingle (the managers are very warm, friendly and always up for a chat). But if you’re feeling peopled-out and just need to re-charge your batteries with some alone-time… you can do that too.
We stayed in Crane Cottage, situated on the banks of the smaller lake. Directly in front of the cottage was a jetty and two row-boats and the first thing that Nick and the kids did was this:
Later that night, we heated hot crossed buns on a delightful old AGA cooker from the 50’s. We ate dinner to the sounds of crickets, frogs and the gurgling of the nearby stream. I remember feeling this tremendous sense of deep nostalgia – as though we’d stepped back in time somehow… that we’d returned to a simpler life and I felt a deep longing.
The following morning, I woke up early and enjoyed some coffee on the patio while overlooking the lake. Starlings pecked at rusk crumbs by my feet and a family of Egyptian Geese waddled past – without a care in the world.
Soon the kids were up, in the row-boats and exploring the lake (and it’s little island) like two intrepid adventurers (in the photo above, you can see Joah rowing in the distance). Nick and I had breakfast and pondered on the possibilities.
I told him that I’d like to stay at Lake Naverone for at least a month. We’d have the space (both physically and metaphorically) to finally finish our screenplay without the endless distractions that come part-and-parcel of Joburg. I also said that I’d love to shoot one of our films there. I’d write a film about a holiday camp and a hidden treasure. And I’d set it in the late 50’s.
Nick reminded me that we first need to finish Screenplay #1 before I go bolting off in pursuit of Screenplay#2!
(We’re still chewing on the logistics of that idea).
The next 2 and a bit days were spent exploring, relaxing and playing.
We paddled in rivers, spent a lot of time rowing on lakes… the kids went horse riding and built creatures from clay scooped from the dam… we went for a drive around the uKhahlamba National Park, we sampled a few local restaurants and spent lots of time sleeping, thinking and reading.
During the evenings, we played games… told stories… toasted marshmallows… listened to episodes of Snap Judgement… and imagined the possibilities of what it would be like to actually live in a rural region like the Southern Drakensberg.
Because… I can’t quite explain it… but there’s something about that place that calls to me.
Maybe I’m romanticizing things (I am, after all, typing this post from our Joburg house… listening to the sounds of traffic, barking dogs and the neighbour’s selection of annoying music). Maybe my inner-idealist is a bit too naive and idealistic about country-life-in-middle-of-nowhere.
But then again… the last time we were in the Southern Drakensberg (5 years ago, when we stayed at Lake St. Bernard)… the experience evoked a really important shift for us. The seasons swiftly changed. The first time the Southern Drakensberg worked her magic was when Nick and I made the decision to live differently: To downsize debt. To extract ourselves from horrible jobs. To disentangle ourselves from the Status Quo. To travel long-term. To live life on our terms.
That decision was one of the best decisions we’ve made. And we’ve been a lot of places, made a lot of changes and done a lot of things since then.
And now it feels that another…. shift… is about to take place. Another big change.
Once the house is sold… we have all sorts of options open. We could travel. We could embark on another long-term nomadic adventure. Or maybe… we could do both. Maybe we could invest in a “home base” (somewhere beautiful) and travel.
Maybe we should return to that part of the country… and stay for a while. For a month at least… just to get a better idea of whether a rural base would be great fit for our family… or whether we’d go bat-shit-insane after a couple of weeks without all the on-tap, instant-access, octane-popcorn, plugged-in… NOISE… that is City Life.
In the meantime… we have a house to sell. And a script to write. Book #3 to finish. And some award shows to attend…
And once that’s done… who knows. Who knows.