Author and specialist battlefields guide, Nicki von der Heyde, tells us what it’s like to live in this gorgeous part of KZN.
The areas of Underberg, Himeville and the Southern Drakensberg are exquisitely beautiful. Dairy and cattle farms stretch as far as the eye can see, the views towards the mountains are breath-taking and life is slow. Fly-fishing and hiking are popular and information is plentiful at the region’s tourism arm, Sani Saunter.
Nicki von der Heyde is a specialist battlefields guide, and author of Field Guide to the Battlefields of South Africa (Struik Travel and Heritage 2013) and Guide to Sieges of South Africa (Struik Travel and Heritage 2017). She lives in the Southern Drakensberg region, about 30km outside Underberg, on a road that leads into the Drakensberg Gardens Valley. The property straddles the Umzimkulu River, close to the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife wilderness area. Her cottage is perched on a steep hill overlooking the river, with spectacular views across the valley to the peaks of the Southern Drakensberg mountain range beyond.
“The property has been in my family since the 1940s,” says Nicki. “As a child, I used to spend nearly all my holidays here, so when I decided to write my first book, it seemed the ideal getaway. There is, by this time, a very large extended family who spend most holidays here, in the old farmhouse, which is a little way away from my cottage.”
Nicki’s favourite space is her office. “I have panoramic views through big windows on two sides of my desk. I love to watch the mountains, the birds and the changing weather.”
Nicki admits that she seldom eats out. “I buy delicious coffee beans and make my own coffee, which is hard to beat. If I don’t want to eat at home, I go to Castleburn Holiday Resort, which is close by and has a lovely restaurant overlooking the dam.”
When she’s not working, Nicki enjoys hiking in the mountains, sometimes with the hiking club, “or riding my adventure motorcycle with likeminded people,” she says. “There are many scenic, quiet roads to enjoy, some leading to the historic Trappist churches dating from the late 19th century. Set in the beautiful countryside, immortalised in Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, these Gothic-style cathedrals seem almost to rise up out of bare veld. Most are now bases for active mission work and are fascinating to visit, both for the superb architecture and for the friendly Brothers and Sisters who run them.”
On a day off, Nicki likes to explore the craggy foothills all around. “I pack water and lunch and set out for a day to explore caves, waterfalls, rock pools and rocky peaks.”'
-Nicki von der Heyde.
Natural attraction in the Southern Drakensberg
- Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park (a Unesco World Heritage Site)
- Himeville Nature Reserve
- The 35,300ha Garden Castle State Forest, with walks and numerous rock art sites in sandstone caves
- The Sani Pass 4x4 Trail
Things to do in the Southern Drakensberg
- Trout fishing (the Underberg-Himeville Trout Fishing Club has rights to over 160km of river and 60 dams)
- Splashy Fen annual music festival in Underberg
- Sani2C and Joberg2C mountain bike races
- Drak Challenge canoe race on the Umzimkulu River
- Blackwater Tubing in Himeville-Underberg
- Himeville Museum and Old Residency
- Horseback tours on the Khotso Horse Trails
- Hiking up Rhino Peak
Where to eat in the Southern Drakensberg
- Lemon Tree Bistro (Underberg): for contemporary bistro fare
- The Olde Duck (Underberg): for great coffee and tasty food
- The Old Hatchery Restaurant (Underberg): for delicious hearty meals
- Pimento’s Restaurant and Bar (Underberg): for European-style cuisine
- Moorcroft Manor Restaurant (Himeville): for fantastic dinners
This article originally appeared in Neighbourhood, Sunday Times.