The greatest show on Earth
One of the most frequently asked questions, when people hear that we have a holiday home in the Drakensberg, is, ‘But what on Earth do you do there?’ This often comes from Jo’burgers who are notorious for having such congested calendars that it often takes months for friends to find space for a cup of tea – so yes, the thought of a place where there is ‘nothing’ to do can appear daunting.
What few realise, though, is that entertainment and activities in the Drakensberg (the Berg) are coordinated and provided by one of the best ringmasters, hostesses and party planners of all time: Mother Nature – and it is a job she excels at.
The opening act for most of our days in the Berg is called ‘Breakfast with Birds’, and requires very little in terms of audience participation. Crumble some bread on the lawn, sit back and let the show begin. A full range of characters fills the stage as weavers become the villains, starlings arrive to take over en masse, baby birds quiver pathetically, and friendly chats keep up a running commentary as to the state of the buffet and the company. The show may also include fairly dramatic fight sequences and feats of amazing individual dexterity.
A side attraction to ‘Breakfast with Birds’ is the ‘Field mouse Fandango’, where families of tiny, striped field mice negotiate their way around their larger, noisier and flappier friends to get to some scraps. Tiny baby field mice are real audience favourites when they eat breadcrumbs the size of their face.
Act two in Mother Nature’s show actually lasts all day and contains all the elements of suspense, drama and excitement of a high wire act – and this is provided by the weather. It seems the weather is more unpredictable in the Drakensberg than anywhere else, so one has to be prepared for the unexpected. If you decide to embark on a walk, you will need sunscreen, sun hats and water, as well as raincoats, jerseys and a phone in case you get caught on the wrong side of a steam in flash flood. Any walk requires you to spend as much time watching the sky as the path you are negotiating – that is how quickly a thundercloud, mist or a downpour can appear.
Few realise that entertainment and activities in the Drakensberg are coordinated and provided by one of the best ringmasters, hostesses and party planners of all time: Mother Nature.
Act three tends to be purely visual – but what visuals! This is a place where Mother Nature really is allowed to show off in a totally unabashed way – mountains that can be magnificent and moody or clear and friendly; forests that are dense and luxuriant and cool; grasslands that sweep endlessly, carrying all the hues of ochre, green and yellow palettes imaginable; and rivers that are crisp and clear. Add to this a wildflower display that puts the Chelsea Flower Show to shame.
Act four is variable. If Mother Nature is not in the mood, sunsets are a simple blending of day into night. But when she is in full performance mode, sunsets in the Drakensberg are a wonder to behold. The cloud colours and shapes, the dramatic beams of sunlight breaking through deep grey backdrops, and the changeability of it all takes your breath away. And – word of warning – forget the camera and trying to capture it; no image on a screen ever does justice to the scope and brilliance of what’s around you.
The final act occurs only on special occasions and does tend to reflect Mother Nature as being a rather temperamental and tempestuous performer ... but isn’t that what we expect from any true artist? A thunder and lightning storm in the Berg has all the drama and cinematic impact that a truly well-designed closing act needs. This is not an experience for the faint-hearted, but to stand out in a storm with the mountains revealing themselves in flashes of brilliance and the thunder reverberating through the valleys is to truly experience one of the greatest shows on Earth.
These feature acts are complemented by quiet interludes of brightly starlit nights, softly still morning mists, and freezing evenings wrapped in blankets around a blazing fire; and of rain so dense that you can’t see a metre ahead, or so fine that it decorates all surfaces in wispy lace.
With such an amazingly well-balanced programme of entertainment, it is easy to see why we can never wait to return to the Berg.