BILLY SUTER has just returned from his second idyllic weekend at The Cavern, a Northern Drakensberg resort and spa that has been a family-owned paradise for almost 81 years. In the foothills of the Amphitheatre World Heritage Site area in Bergville, this getaway heaven cuddles amid sprawling, lush indigenous forests, rolling hills, towering mountains, clear streams and waterfalls.
WIN! WIN! WIN!.…Be sure to enter the competition at the end of the article to be in line to win a two-day stay for two people at this enchanting escape (a prize valued at R6720).
WHEN I visited The Cavern near Bergville in April 2021, it was after a hellishly awful year of Covid-19 lockdowns. Consequently, it was an extra-special treat to take the scenic, three-hour-or-so drive from Durban, to leave the rat race to experience the rejuvenation for body, mind and soul that is this magical resort and spa.
I had never been to The Cavern before 2021 and could not believe it had taken me so long to visit this wonderful Northern Drakensberg spot which I had often heard about and which has been so popular for so many decades that it has the slogan, “The resort of many happy returns”, originated by a guest in 1958.
I was immediately smitten and couldn’t smile more broadly when the opportunity arose again this past weekend for a second visit to this slice of heaven. It is tucked between sprawling indigenous forests, clear streams and waterfalls and, last year, in my Fern Forest Superior room, I could hear gurgling a few metres below the room’s small patio, a stone’s throw from the resort’s spa overlooking the forest. More about that spa later…
When my partner and I visited last year the gardens of the resort were dominated by swathes of giant aloes about to bloom and I could only imagine the beauty and splendour those orange floral bursts would provide. This year, visiting in May, I got to experience those aloes in all their glory… and it was quite something.
The Cavern accommodation is in thatched-roof rooms – Standard rooms, set in landscaped gardens with a vibrant mix of indigenous plants, or Superior rooms which have DStv, a large, net-covered bed, a spacious and modern bathroom with tub and shower, and a small, private patio overlooking the ancient fern forest.
Your room price includes not only the unmatched scenery, three tasty and imaginatively plated meals a day (plus morning and afternoon teas), but also two daily guided hikes (one relatively short, one long) and access to a number of well-signposted forest trails with plaques en route offering interesting information.
Indoor activities include snooker or a board game in one of the large game-room areas in the main building which also accommodates the sprawling dining area, pub and two lounges. Or, perhaps, you might consider a shared experience of television sport in the communal TV room that is close to the main building’s cute underground wine cellar and colourful, cave-like pub which could have been lifted from The Flintstones set?
At night, maybe simply curl up with a good book next to the lounge fireplace or sip a cocktail under the branches of the giant Yellowwood tree, near reception, that overlooks the neverending valley below?
In hot months, the newly renovated pool (once dark, now a vibrant blue) is a big drawcard, youngsters obviously delighting in the two water slides and spinning water fountain near a metal structure offering a multiple shower/rain effect. Also near the pool is a large wooden obstacle course, a trampoline and a “climbing wall” on the trunk of a felled tree.
The resort has tennis courts and two well-maintained bowling greens. Also available are fly-fishing, mountain biking, pony rides, canoeing trips on the dam behind trees below the pool, and horse trails for the experienced and the “not-so-sure”.
Last year, my partner and I chose to spend most of the weekend exploring the wonderful surrounds as the grasslands are ripe with famous ’Bergflowers – we loved the vibrant orange blooms of the plentiful Lion’s Tail, more commonly known in the area as “wild dagga”.
This year, with my partner’s sister, Karen, joining us for the weekend, I let my partner go off alone on the arranged, four-hour morning walk to Echo Cave, while Karen and I breathed in the resort’s peace and quiet over occasional strolls and a glass of wine or two.
A surprise wine tasting offered to Cavern residents by a representative of the Van Loverin estate whet our whistles on the Friday night and we couldn’t get enough of the Daydream variant, a chardonnay and pinot noir blend, for the rest of the weekend. And talking of wine, the little cellar at the resort has a good variety available, some at remarkably reasonable prices.
The resort was pretty busy this past weekend, with loads of little ones, parents and grandparents making good use of the facilities, but if budget allows and you seek a more serene surround, I would suggest you try to book in at one of the Fern Forest Superior rooms, a short walk from the main reception and activity areas. It’s truly sublime there.
The Cavern is nationally recognised by KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife as a Site of Conservation Significance for conserving rare, endangered and endemic species, and this comes as no surprise. The forests are home to some 70, well-signposted tree species and attract 204 bird species, 24 of them endemic.
Baboons are often seen out and about, and two of them had a cavort on my room’s thatched roof last year. One can also spot eland and mountain reedbuck in the hills, and we are told a resident leopard prowls at night.
Offering something for everyone, the resort has a wonderful history of a close-knit family that, along with a friendly and super-efficient staff, ensures everything runs smoothly. Guests can read all about the family and its achievements in a delightful book compiled a few years ago and available in the rooms, which chronicles The Cavern’s history.
The hotel started life in 1941 and gets its name from an enormous sandstone overhang on the mountain behind the resort. Known as Cannibal Cavern, it is a two-hour hike from the hotel, and was the domain of a small clan forced into cannibalism to survive after being forced to flee Shaka’s Impis in the 1820s. The cave once featured beautiful Bushman paintings, now almost vanished due to a natural fault in the rock above and too much moisture.
The Cavern’s owners have now established a small stone dwelling in the cave, where it has become a tradition to spend a night each year with relatives.
Originally a grazing farm in the 1930s, The Cavern was founded, initially as a modest and rustic homestead, by Bill and Ruth Carte, the grandparents of Megan Bedingham (nee Carte) and her sister Lesley Carte who, together with Megan’s husband Hilton, are now the third generation to run the getaway.
The resort has grown a lot over the decades, explains Megan who, having taken over the reins from her hands-on parents, has run The Cavern with her husband since 2001, her sister Lesley having joined them in 2003.
Having been forced by the Covid-19 pandemic to close The Cavern for several months was “a fairly scary time”, says Megan, “but we managed to get through and are grateful for an upswing in business since opening again”.
The resort’s time of quiet was spent wisely.
Megan says The Cavern renovates every year, completing different projects, and upgrades about 15 rooms annually. In recent times, the resort has redone the lounge, refurbished the swimming pool, changed the floors in the spa, and tweaked the sprawling games room.
“We have also paved our entrance, done more work to improve our staff accommodation and then smaller jobs like replacing ceilings, cladding chimneys and fixing many leaks after a truly wet season!”
In the 1970s Megan’s father, Peter, and her uncle, Anthony, joined their wives and gran Ruth to build a thriving resort. In the 1980s it was in full swing.
“Drakensberg holidays were all about hiking, riding, meeting other families and living the outdoors,” Megan fondly recalls.
“In 2000, Anthony and his family moved down the valley and built Montusi Mountain Lodge. Our cousins are still close-by which is wonderful, particularly since we all grew up together.”
The Cavern’s original guest house could accommodate 15 people in thatched rondavels with separate ablution blocks. Today the resort has 55 rooms accommodating 110 adults.
“There are also quite a few family rooms, so we are often feeding about 140 people in our main diningroom when we are busy, and about 20 under-sixes in our kiddies dining area,” says Megan. “We have standard and superior accommodation – and no plans to expand. The numbers work well.”
The resort also contains The Royal Drakensberg Primary School, founded in 2007 to uplift the local community, and recently added a solar farm.
Chatting about the getaway’s activities, Megan says: “We have two guided morning hikes each morning. They go to different spots through the week and we don’t go to the same destination twice in a week. The longer hike, which is more strenuous, normally goes to the cliff line or above and takes a good few hours, with tea half-way.”
Last year, having been keen to also walk some forest trails later in the day, my partner and I took one of the shorter guided walks, ideal for families with young children and older visitors. Our chatty guide, Bonela, took tea, coffee and juice along and we enjoyed this – and The Cavern’s to-die-for, crispy crunchies (sadly, not available in our room this year) – alongside a dam before heading home. The round-trip took just over two hours.
“There are also wonderful, challenging, all-day hikes. From the Cavern, favourites are the Big5Hike, Gudu Falls and the Sungubala Challenge. From Royal Natal, the Tugela Gorge is a wonderful day hike and then the Amphitheatre Ascent which leaves from the Sentinel Car Park and gets one to the very top of main escarpment,” says Megan.
My partner and I have also visited the Natural Pool, a lovely river spot with large boulders, close to the Cavern’s entrance gate. We also visited the waterfall in the Fern Forest, about eight minutes from the main hotel which, as Megan points out, is a bit steep, but a magical place for a rejuvenating dip.
“There are also five small dams on the property and the sandstone cliff line has many gorgeous caves. We also have a rock carving, The Silent Woman, on the Sungubala Farm (adjacent to The Cavern) which was done by William Chalmers in the 1950s. It’s part of a wonderful, intermediate hike with tea next to the stream. Chalmers’s The Spirit of the Woods sculpture is on an adjacent property and we don’t have access to her.”
Meals at the cavern are very good indeed and imaginatively plated, visitors choosing from a list of three options each under starters, mains and dessert. The menu changes for each meal and last year included a memorable pan-fried duck fillet with orange and ginger sauce on the Friday we were there, and a super-tender kudu fillet on the Saturday night.
This past weekend’s dinner offerings included quinoa and almond-stuffed pork loin on Friday and a delicious sesame, soya and ginger marinated lamb cutlet with vegetables on Saturday.
After a hearty breakfast on Sunday, we took a path up the hill past the Forest Retreat Spa – four, small, thatched-roof buildings in a row, between trees, and each with comfy chairs on a balcony that juts over the canopy of the fern forest.
With only the faint sound of a gurgling stream below us, we enjoyed a good pampering there last year and, by request, a good pummeling of tight shoulder blades and stiff necks brought on my too much time spent at office desks. It was “eina-nice”, if you get my meaning.
This year we decided instead to enjoy a long stroll through the forest’s towering trees and along the river banks to view waterfalls, but it is worth noting that the spa comprises a reception room and three treatment rooms, one catering for single clients and the other two catering for couples. Five amiable therapists work shifts between 9am and 6pm Mondays to Saturdays, and 8am to 2pm on Sundays. Children are welcome under parental supervision.
The spa also offers foot, scalp, back, neck and shoulder massages and a hot stone massage, various facials, manicures, pedicures, waxing, tinting and assorted special packages. For bookings or more details, phone 036 438 6270 or mail email@example.com
NOTE: The Cavern is running various specials, some reflected in the two adverts on this site. Mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more details or to book. Or phone 036 438 6270 or 083 701 5724.
WIN A 2-DAY STAY( FOR 2) AT THE CAVERN – WORTH R6720!
How would you like to be in line to win a two-day stay at the glorious The Cavern resort in the Northern Drakensberg, a three-hour drive from Durban?
The prize is for two people to enjoy two nights (during the midweek, low-season period), sharing in Standard Accommodation. The prize includes all meals, teas and guided morning hikes in the mountain resort’s wonderland of grasslands, forests, hills, streams and waterfalls.
Note that transport to and from the resort (plus drinks and any other extras) will be for your own account.
The prize is valid, subject to room availability, until November 30, 2022.
To enter the competition, you simply have to be a follower of the SoSuterBill site. At no cost.
If you are not already a follower, simply leave your email address in the space provided towards the end of the cover page of this site, sosuterbill.com
You will then be a follower, and receive email notification whenever a new story is posted.
Once you have subscribed (there is no cost), send your NAME and PHONE NUMBER via email (NOT THIS SITE’S CONTACT FORM) to email@example.com and place the words ‘CAVERN GIVEAWAY 2022’ in the subject field.
The competition closes at 6pm on Wednesday, June 15, and the lucky winner will be contacted soon after, with details on how to take up the prize. (After a massive number of entries, the lucky winner of this great prize is Liz Farris-Schrefl. Congrats!)
This prize may not be exchanged for cash and all travel to and from The Cavern, and drinks costs while there, will be for your own account.
NOTE: PLEASE READ ENTRY DETAILS CAREFULLY AS SOME PEOPLE ARE ENTERING COMPETITIONS INCORRECTLY.
ALSO NOTE THAT ONLY ONE ENTRY PER SUBSCRIBER WILL BE CONSIDERED.