A few weeks ago Ray and I spent three days at the Drakensberg Mountain Retreat, on the northern edge of the Drakensberg Mountain range near the border of the Free State and KwaZulu Natal. The lodge is frequented by a herd of wild horses.
Wild horses are pretty much like domesticated horses. Except you can’t pet them or ride them and they go wherever the hell they want.
There isn’t much to do in this part of the country, which was exactly what we were looking for when we booked the trip. We sat around the lodge, looked at the view, ate, hiked a little, and watched the horses.
The Drakensberg Mountain Retreat offers great weekday specials. We initially booked an upstairs room but then got upgraded to this beautiful, huge downstairs room with its own enclosed patio, where I spent hours sitting with the windows open and watching the horses. There’s Ray sitting on the patio with the lodge’s trusted terrier and horse-chaser, Cato.
Wild Horses in the Northern Drakensberg
Theo, the lodge manager, told us the horses are descended from those who were abandoned in this area during the Anglo-Boer War more than a hundred years ago. I searched online but couldn’t find any definitive information about the horses. Anyway, I was charmed. Sitting and watching horses munch grass is a strangely soothing activity.
Horses, as seen from our patio.
Hiking at the Drakensberg Mountain Retreat
The hiking trails around the lodge were fun (beware though: the trails are well marked but not always well maintained, and ridiculously steep in some spots), and the view from the lodge at sunset was amazing.
The foothills of the Drakensberg, just a few steps from the lodge.
The beautiful, misty Drakensberg as seen during a hike.
Ray occasionally became frustrated with the trail map.
In this instance it was obvious where the trail ended. (Photo: Ray)
But for me, this holiday was all about the horses.
The Drakensberg Mountain Retreat is a great bargain, especially if you take advantage of the midweek specials. I definitely recommend it for a quick getaway from Joburg; it’s only about four hours’ drive. Note that this isn’t a five-star hotel though. The service is good but not great, and the food is plentiful but average, in my opinion.
That said, I loved the spacious rooms, the beautiful antiques, the view, the peacefulness of the setting, and of course, the horses. I would go back.
I agree with your review, spot on! When we were there it was rainy so there really wasn’t much to do but we just enjoyed relaxing, and watching the horses of course. We were able to do a short hike around the dam and Cato came with us. We thought we lost him a couple times, really scared us, haha. Cute little bugger he is.
Haha, that’s so funny. One afternoon Ray went for a walk alone in that direction and Cato followed. Eventually Ray had to walk back to the lodge and pass Cato through the window to me because he didn’t want him to come along and get lost.
Drakensbergs looks beautiful. And horses! So cute and relaxing. No predators in the area, I take it?
I think I like big dogs because it’s the closest I will ever get to owning a Shire horse.
That’s actually a good question about the predators. I think the geography of the Drakensberg isn’t right for most of the big game that we see in other parts of SA. But I’m sure there were lions around at some point…Humans probably killed them all, as they tend to do.
Humans. The bane of my existence.
Beautiful photos! Especially the horse at sunset – what a photo!
I can totally get how relaxing it is just sitting watching horses munch grass, perfect brain off activity 🙂
Yes! I would actually love to be back there right now. I love that grass-munching sound.
Sounds like a great place to catch your breath. Living with three other adults, sometimes I wish there was somewhere nearby, inexpensive, to go and just sit-n-chill. Nada. Either too far or too fancy.
Oh no! There must be somewhere, surely? Where do you live, anyway?
Just moved to Austin, TX. I understand there’s lots of parks around here, but right now I don’t have a car, so I haven’t checked them out. I did go to http://www.dorlandartscolony.com when I lived near Temecula, CA, for a writer’s retreat. A whole three days of solitude in my own perfect cabin with a perfect view! But it cost me $300, and would’ve been more if I hadn’t been an Associate Member. Can’t do that anymore. 🙁
Ah, ok. I’ve never been to Austin but it sounds like a cool city. I hope you eventually find a place where you can get out into nature and relax 🙂
Austin is indeed a cool city. One of my favorite cities in the US, actually. It’s such a strange mix of urban cowboy/crunchy hippie culture, which is why I totally dig it. Plus, there are wonderful outdoor spaces (nothing like you’ll find in Drakensberg, though). Oh, I miss picnicking (sp?) at Zilker Park and Barton Springs very much. Anyhoo, I just spent a couple of days at the very same Drakensberg Mountain Retreat and absolutely loved it. I agree with everything you’ve said except for me it was definitely more about hiking than horses (I’m a mountain girl though, so that may have been why). If you didn’t make it there, you should definitely hit Royal Natal National Park for a hike next time. Beyoootiful.
I’ve been on the outskirts but not inside the actual park, I don’t think. But I am very keen to go!
By the way, I love the closeup of the horsey nose. So cute. None of them got that close to me.
I think I was lucky because I was sitting in my window, and he/she felt safe walking up to me with that half of a wall barrier in between. Nonetheless it was quite exciting.
Re: the question about predators at Drakensberg….no, there aren’t any “big” predators. But- my husband did see recent evidence of a caracal (medium sized African wildcat) right near the lodge. No worries, though. They are not interested in humans at all, and actually very hard to spot. My husband can tell you that first hand! (He’s a wildlife biologist who did a 3 year research project on caracals)
That’s so interesting! I would love to spot a caracal.