Thursday, May 14, 2015

Giants Castle – Drakensberg – by Jeremy Williamson

To celebrate Lana’s Birthday we took-off for a week-end at Giants Castle resort in the Drakensberg.
Giant’s Castle is a relatively large camp, sleeping 108 guests in a variety of self-catering Chalets, there are 2, 4 and 6 bed units. 

View from the deck of our chalet

One of the 6 bed units, is the more luxurious Giants Castle Rock Lodge with 3 bedrooms, each with bathroom en suite and this unit has the services of a caretaker / cook included in the tariff, some chalets have magnificent mountain views 

Same deck, different view
  with other units, slightly less costly, having an aspect  of the beautiful indigenous gardens. 

Despite the rooms each having a fully equipped kitchen, 

reservations may only be made on a bed and breakfast basis – the breakfast is “complimentary” in that should you prefer not to partake on this meal, there would be no discount.
The chalets are serviced daily, cleaning the fireplace and braai of residual ash etc, we had rushed off early to get to the hide and had left our dinner plates unwashed. On our return all was spick ‘n span, needless to say I left her a tip for her extra effort.

The Honeymoon suite
Lana and I enjoyed the included breakfast which consisted of fruit juices, yoghurt and fruit, coffee, cereal and then a choice of a cooked meal , eggs offered in a variety of ways, beautifully presented and delicious. The lunch and dinner options seemed delectable and reasonably priced.  We had opted to self-cater on this trip, so were not able to assess the lunches and dinners. I was pleased I had brought my own coffee machine though as the filter coffee at breakfast  was just that – filter coffee.
The chalets are well appointed brick under thatch, with large sliding glass doors, mostly onto a veranda where a braai (barbecue) stand, chairs and tables makes for al fresco dining. Twin and double beds,

 a mini four-poster in the Honeymoon suite, 

a comfortable couch, TV with limited DSTV channels and a screened fireplace make up the living area. 

2 Bed Chalet kitchens are all similar

The kitchen has all necessary basic cutlery, crockery and utensils, a microwave oven, electric hob, kettle, toaster and a fridge. Larger fridge in the 6 bed Chalets. Handy “breakfast counter” should dining outside be uncomfortable. The 4 bed and 6 bed Chalets have only one bathroom and separate toilet in the 6 bed units. For 4 people traveling together, an option to have each couple their own bathroom and yet be close to one another would be to take 2 X 2 bed inter-leading Garden View Chalets.

2 Bed inter-leading Chalets

6 bed Chalet kitchen

The rooms were scrupulously clean, a lovely, relatively new initiative is the provision of complimentary shower gel, conditioning shampoo and body lotion in the bathrooms, 

2 bed Chalet bathroom
 a bag of fire-wood at the fireplace and sachets of tea, coffee and sugar. These were not replaced on our two night stay, so consider bringing your own if on an extended sojourn.

Giant’s Castle reception is in a well stocked curio shop where basic food requirements are available. I had a look at the contents in the freezer, the meat packs looked rather edible and the frozen trout more so. Note, no 'check in' before 14h00 and they tend to stick to the rules.

 The Giants Castle Restaurant - Izimbali - (Giants Castle is themed on our flora, the restaurant is named after the Zulu word for 'flower' and each of the chalets is named after some plant) has an expansive deck where guests gather, can order snacks and drinks whilst taking in the magnificent mountain scenery which includes an escarpment shaped in such a way that the outline against the sky could be that of a reclining Giant, whilst far below the cascading of the Bushman’s River offers a rather peaceful background sound. 

Restaurant deck with reclining 'Giant' in the distance
Should there be inclement weather, there is a cosy lounge....

....which leads off to a bar and the main dining emporium. 

On chilly evenings the fireplaces are used to good effect, keeping diners cosy, Giants Castle is right in the elevated Drakensberg Mountains! Winter is a favorite time to visit the ‘Berg.

A very scenic part of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park – a World Heritage site, along with some antelope and baboons, Giant’s Castle Camp is known for its Vulture Restaurant Hide.   


This hide has been offering keen bird photographers outstanding photo opportunities of the endangered Bearded Vulture (Lammergeir) and Cape Vulture amongst others. 

Cape Vultures
Verreaux Eagle

A second hide has been built 

The new hide

The new hide

Photographing directly into the light

– this  one offers a less splendid photographic opportunity in that it faces due north which created shadow on the side of the bird facing the would be photographers, this eliminates a catch light in the eye and renders the images inferior. 

Bearded Vulture
Cape Vulture, best I could get against the light

This hide is good for those that want to be able to merely enjoy seeing this variety of birds though. The old hide is particularly popular and one needs book many months in advance.
The new hide is understandably not as popular and can be booked more readily. For the keen birder there is some excellent birding opportunities in and around the well wooded camp, it’s one of the few places where I have regularly seen Ground and Olive Woodpecker. 
Cape Robin-Chat
Olive thrush

Other than the odd antelope and baboon that venture into Giants Castle Camp, the forest and rocks have Rock Hyrax (Dassies) in abundance, some fairly photogenic too.

There are a variety of day walks in the hills and mountains around Giant’s Castle Camp with a visit to the diorama at a San Rock shelter of old, most interesting, the sandstone surfaces richly decorated by  Shamantic Bushman paintings – original artwork , some still in excellent condition.

This is a guided experience at Main Cave, access on the hour between 09h00 and 15h00 – check these times at reception.

Imagine sitting on one’s deck with the rich glow of the setting sun painting some distant cliff face, the Bushman’s River murmuring below, coals ignited and making ready for some lamb chops, sitting with a drink and marveling at the view, when on a distant crest of a hill, a herd of Eland silhouette themselves – what a treat.

A small herd of Eland on the summit

Zooming in a bit
It took Lana and I approximately 2,75 hours to drive from Durban to the Giants Castle Camp. All good, until we turned off at the town Mooi River, the roads through that little village were atrocious, as too,  a short section after some 20 kms towards the camp and then again from where the road from Eskort joins - from there to the Park gate, the road is particularly badly potholed. Easy to negotiate though, if you crawl through the rough sections as we did.  Don’t let that short section of bad road put you off, as the rewards of visiting Giants Castle are numerous. A really special place, in a delightful setting, well run and maintained. The Park authorities were finishing off  the last of the in camp and access road, from the Park gate upgrade, when we were there. A preferred destination of Far and Wild Safaris.

Photographs by Jeremy and Lana Williamson

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