Joe and I left Durban on Saturday morning. But before going back to Joburg we decided to spend the night near the Drakensberg Mountains, which Joe calls the ‘Berg.
At a gas station an hour outside Durban, Joe went online and found a guesthouse called the Antbear. We liked the look of it. There was no answer when we called so we decided to take a chance and just go there.
Getting to the Antbear wasn’t like stopping at a Motel 6 along I-95. We got off the interstate and drove for miles along a pot-holed country highway (always an adventure with Joe at the wheel) before turning onto a gravel road. We drove a few more miles, past grazing zebras and a dairy farm, before finally reaching the Antbear.
Built on the site of an old farm, the Antbear is in rural KwaZulu-Natal province, in an area called the Midlands (named after the English Midlands, which it resembles). We pulled up and a woman named Thoko came out of the kitchen to greet us. The guesthouse was fully booked but there was a spare room off of the dining room that we could have at a discount. The room was small but we readily agreed. We dropped our things and headed to the ‘Berg so to squeeze in a hike before dark.
The Antbear is a 45-minute drive from Giant’s Castle Nature Reserve, which is part of Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park. I won’t go into detail other than to say that the Drakensberg are the highest mountains in southern Africa and stunning.
We arrived at the park in the late afternoon and hiked for two hours along the Bushman’s River. We climbed to the top of Giant’s Ridge, where we watched a pair of endangered bald ibis soar down to their roost as the sun set behind them. Joe was in ecstasy.
Dinner at the Antbear was at 7 so we hurried back. When arrived we met Andrew, the owner. “You’re in luck,” he told us. “Some people didn’t show and you can have their room.”
We grabbed our bags from the small room and Andrew led us across the yard to our new digs. We walked through the doorway and our jaws dropped.
Andrew is what he calls a wood butcher. Each Antbear room is filled with the most exquisite woodwork I’ve ever seen – furniture, window frames, lamps, door hinges, and waste baskets. I marveled at every detail in the sitting room and bedroom, and when I entered the bathroom I nearly gasped. There was a glassed-in shower with a life-size mosaic of an African woman inside, and a Jacuzzi tub big enough for a family of four. Even the toilet paper dispenser was a work of art.
Dinner was served at a hand-carved communal table. We chatted with fellow guests from Italy, France, and Pretoria and dined on curried cauliflower soup and pork fillet with pears and blue cheese, prepared by Andrew’s wife, Conny, and her staff.
Over breakfast we had a long chat with Andrew, who has a fascinating life story that I couldn’t begin to tell in this blog. He showed us their newest room – the Cave – built under an overhanging rock looking out over the plains. Joe and I vowed to come back and stay there someday.
I hate superlatives, but the Antbear is the greatest. We would’ve stayed for a week if we had the time and money. (By the way, the Antbear is affordable. Our one-night stay, which included dinner, breakfast, and accommodation that rivals the most luxurious safari camp, cost R1260 – less than $200).
Add the Antbear and the ‘Berg to my growing list of magical South African must-sees.