An Escape Back in Time

Rolling hills, the African bush and a guide through history.


Roughly an hour and a half outside of the Midlands, you start to enter the beautiful Drakensberg area, a perfect escape to reset and have a breather surrounded by nature and spectacular views. The Drakensberg Experience kindly invited us to explore the area for a fabulous weekend!


Our trip started with a visit to the cosy The Pig & Plough in Winterton. They offer an expansive menu with heartwarming meals perfect for those nippy winter days. With a kiddies’ play area and a pen with a few farm animals, it’s a great spot for a family-friendly breakfast or lunch out. They also have a little shop that sells food goodies and a small business selling leather goods on the property, allowing you to do a little shopping too.


We indulged in their butter chicken curry pizza. The creamy curry sauce and chicken on a cheesy pizza were a delicious combo! Their pulled pork burger with a smoky barbeque sauce was super tender and served with freshly made chips. Lastly, we tried their very unique chicken pot pie served in a potjie pot, which reminded me of my gran’s homemade pies. Simply delicious – food for the soul that filled us up for the rest of the journey!


After the wholesome lunch, it was time to settle in at our accommodation. Set amongst the majestic Drakensberg Mountains on the KwaZulu-Natal battlefields route, you’ll find Spionkop Lodge offering their guests a tranquil escape and memorable experience. The lodge is on a working eco farm, concentrating on cattle and organic aloes. They also support the local community with school projects to improve rural education.


Guests stay in colonial-style cottages or lodging surrounded by park-like grounds, each individually furnished and appointed to offer luxury en-suite accommodation in an out-of-Africa setting. You are offered the choice of full board or self-catering facilities. Guests can cool down in the natural rock pool, enjoy a drink and chatter at the pub decorated with war memorabilia, or spend time in the historic library with its collection of war books.


The lodge’s history dates back to when it was the last post along a wagon trail before it crossed the Tugela River between Ladysmith and Drakensberg. On the farm is Mount Alice, which, between 1899 and 1900, became General Sir Redvers Buller’s (Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces during the Anglo-Boer War) headquarters during the Upper Tugela Campaign to relieve the town of Ladysmith. The homestead (lodge), referred to in the history books as Spearman’s Hill, was frequented by a journalist, Winston Churchill, who spent time with General Buller.


There is a multitude of activities on offer, including sunset boat cruises on the Spioenkop Dam, game drives in the Spioenkop Nature Reserve, and enriching battlefield tours. During our stay, we got to experience two amazing activities.


Starting with a wonderful morning game drive, we spotted a few white rhinos, blesbok, and a jackal, to name a few. We crossed the Tugela River to the dam wall, where we took a stroll along the wall and marvelled at the breathtaking views of the river and mountain scenes. Our game driver shared some interesting facts about the area and animals, enriching the experience.


Later that afternoon, we were taken on an out-of-this-world tour to learn more about the historic Battle of Spion Kop, one of the bloodiest battles of the Anglo-Boer War. The owner of the lodge, Raymond Heron, is passionate about the rich South African history and loves to share it with his guests. He first took us up to Mount Alice on his farm to General Buller’s headquarters and lookout. Here, you can see the Spion Kop mountain, where the battle took place, the valley below, and more key hills and mountains involved in the battle.


We all had a seat as Raymond took us on a vivid journey through South Africa’s history, all the way from the 14th century to the day of the battle. We learnt more than we could have imagined in a short amount of time, including the whole back story of how and why this battle was fought. After returning our imagination to the present day, Raymond took us to the site of the battle, on top of the Spion Kop mountain.


When you reach the summit, you are greeted by a stunning view and pathways leading to tall monuments. Here, Raymond gave us another vivid walkthrough of the battle from the beginning, when British soldiers climbed up the mountain, right to the end. It is incredible to note that three historical figures, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi and Louis Botha, all crossed paths during this battle.


On the mountain, the original trenches are still in place, lined with white rocks and covered with rocks and dirt. Some have gravestone crosses that mark the mass graves of the British soldiers who lost their lives in battle. Raymond encouraged us to take our time to explore and read the monuments. I can say for sure that you will not leave the same person as you arrive. My heart was heavy, and I was on the brink of shedding tears for the lives lost. But I was grateful for the invaluable knowledge Raymond imparted.


As the sun set over the valley, we returned to the lodge. We retired for the evening in the cosy dining area for a hearty dinner and glass of wine while reminiscing about our extraordinary experience.


Overall, Spionkop Lodge is ideal for anyone wanting to escape life’s stresses and learn more about South Africa’s rich history. The lodge’s comfortable accommodation makes it a top choice for travellers seeking an authentic historical and tranquil experience. With friendly staff, little extras like a tea and coffee station in your room with a jar of rusks, good food, and great activities, our stay was one for the books. We loved our little weekend away and will definitely be back!


The Drakensberg Experience promotes accommodation and tourism-related activities in the Drakensberg Mountains. Visit their website for your guide to the best spots in the area.


Words: Kai Coates