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Leafy main street of Winterton

We were up early again this morning ready to hit the road for a long driving day. A customer survey had been left in the room so we took our time to complete it recounting all the things we felt had not been right about our stay. It’s amazing how quickly little bits and pieces add up when something sets you off thinking about them. Our experience of the Three Cities hotel chain wasn’t helped when we got to reception and they tried to charge us a higher rate for the room than the one they had quoted when we arrived. Needless to say they are not our hotel chain of choice!

Today was a designated “bus day”, the term we now use when we are travelling a long distance even if we don’t go by bus. Our next planned destination is Kimberley, home of the De Beers diamond empire but it is too far to get to in one day. Our aim was to get to somewhere along the Drakensberg Mountain range, probably spending one or two nights there to enjoy the views before heading on to Kimberley. Route 2 took us down to Durban before we headed inland. It was pretty uneventful driving although the road was busy with people returning home after the long holiday weekend. The rain came and went, no where near as bad as it had been last night, but still a bit of a pain when you’re on the road.

The miles clocked away beneath us and soon boredom started to set in. As usual we took turns driving so that the boredom didn’t have chance to set in so far that your mind starts to wander as you go. In Namibia one of the things that had allayed the boredom was the hunt for petrol. We had constantly been aware of how much petrol we had left and how far we could go on it because petrol pumps were a little on the scarce side, particularly out of main cities. We’d been assured that this was not a problem in South Africa but our car has one of those petrol gauges that sits on full for ages and then starts to move down, quickly. We took a turn off the main road to a village that had petrol but as luck would have it the pump was broken! So with less than a quarter of a tank to go we headed back on to the main road, only to find a stop a few kilometres further on. My panic that we would run out was over.

We ended up stopping for a bite of late breakfast which seemed to be a quick process but actually took about an hour, time we didn’t really have to spend as we still had a long way to go. As you approach Durban from the north you can see the outer suburbs spread out for quite some distance. In Asia cities and towns grow upwards because there is no spare land available. Here low rise buildings stretch far out into the surroundings valleys. One stretch we passed was a clear indication that there is still a large divide in the standard of living between different parts of the community. On one side of the road was a new housing estate with smart and spacious looking houses. Across the road were small huts made of mud and branches with no visible signs of mains electricity or running water. It was a poignant snapshot of the new and old South Africa.

From Durban, Route 3 took us inland again, past Pietermaritzburg, Mooi River and Estcourt. Here there were rolling green hills that reminded me very much of England and you can understand why European settlers who came here liked what they saw. The only draw back so far of driving here is the South African drivers who are a little bit mad but not as mad as those in South America. For most of the way the main highways consist of a single lane in both direction but they also have a hard shoulder. People tend to drive along the hard shoulder, especially if there is someone behind them, rather than on the main carriageway. It makes sense in some ways if you are trying to get past them but they just stay on the hard shoulder all the time. When they overtake they tailgate so close to you that a small touch on the brakes would result in an accident. Throw into the mix the pedestrians who stroll up and down the side of the road and walk across it, even on the small stretches designated as motorway, and it can make for a slightly hairy driving experience at times.

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Autumn colours below the Drakensberg mountains

We turned off onto the R74 making our way down to Winterton. Stef had checked accommodation options en route and found us a great place to stay. Being holiday Monday most places in Winterton were firmly shut but Simmies, a local institution, was open and although the shelves were a bit on the empty side it came up trumps with everything we needed for dinner tonight. Winterton itself is a very small town with not a lot going for it from what we could see. Even today there were people hanging around with nothing to do and a very persistent chap outside Simmies tried to sell us hats and walking sticks on our way in and on our way out. Stef was given his usual title of “teacher” or “master” while I was back to being “mammie”.

The weather has been pretty grotty and cloudy all day today and even though we know that beautiful scenery is laid out before us in the distance we couldn’t see the peaks of the mountain range. We could though enjoy the nearer countryside and the twinges of autumn colour on the trees as we drove by. With a bit of time to spare before we got to our end point for tonight we pulled in to the Waffle Hut (on the R600), a nice place to stop with lots of promising tasty waffles and pancakes on the menu but Stef found his waffle and his hot chocolate disappointing while I had a great cup of tea (ever the Brit!).

We carried on down the R600 passing loads of signs for B&Bs and other places to stay and tempting sounding bakeries. We reached Cedarwood and knew we were close to the Wits End Mountain Resort. On our left was the local country hotel and golf club. Beautifully manicured lawns were home to the fairway and it also boasted the best selection of autumnal trees we have seen so far. The golden yellows and rusty reds looked dull in the cloudy daylight but with sun shining on the leaves you could imagine the warm feeling it would create. It was simply a beautiful sight to see.

A few kilometres further down the road, just when we though we’d taken a wrong turn somewhere, we came across Wits End. It’s a small resort with just seven bungalows but our, which I think was one of the smallest, could sleep six people.  It had a well equipped kitchen, a lounge with a fireplace, a dining area as well as a braai and space outside to sit and eat. It was just superb. Before long we were unpacked, Stef had gone to get wood and we were sat relaxing on our settee in front of a roaring wood fire.