Monday, October 4, 2010

Road tip to Crystal springs

The last time my wife and I ventured north my GPS placed me about 120km’s away from my destination…
There were no such problems this time, as since that trip I have learned how to program the device correctly!
The road from Johannesburg to Crystal Springs is relatively uneventful, although some of the potholes we encountered could hide a bus! We agreed that the towns we passed through seemed to be bustling and full of people. Witbank and Middelburg seem to get left out of most trips north as the main road bypasses them both. Belfast and Dullstroom both seemed to be thriving with the latter almost unrecognizable since our last visit. It is amazing that fishing can support an inland population!
Lydenburg has changed its name since our last visit; and is now called Mashishing, and be aware that the road signs have also been changed to reflect the new name.
En route to our time share, my wife asked me to stop off at Mount Sheba which she had last visited as a seventeen year old with her family. It lies 10km off the main road and according to her the road has had no work done to it since she was last there! When the road sign says “potholes” it means it. In some places the tar has been completely eradicated by the potholes and caution needs to be taken driving this stretch of road.
The hotel used to be the type of family hotel that some of us were taken to as children or teenagers and that too seems to have remained the same.
We enjoyed a cup of coffee and some dodgy “cheesecake” and then it was time to brave the road for the return trip to our hotel.
Crystal Springs, which is situated at the top of the evocatively named Robbers Pass, can be seen from kilometers away as it clings to the side of an escarpment.
All the accommodation faces the valley and the sunsets here were spectacular.
In the mornings when the fog rolled through the valley, it was fascinating to watch the chalets disappear one by one into the mist. (Plenty of vervet monkeys but not a gorilla in sight!)
As this particular property is spread out it does not feel like a time share resort where guests are constantly being cajoled to partake in one activity or another!
We ventured into their game reserve for a drive and were rewarded with a variety of plains game, including warthogs which I find really comical.
There are several hiking trails on the property and although we energetically discussed trying some of them out, we never actually got round to setting foot on any of them.
It is also central enough to visit the surrounding towns and tourist attractions.
If you have time share and are able to swop, we can highly recommend Crystal Springs
We visited Pilgrim’s Rest, which at first was a disappointment until we realized we were in the old part of the town. The new part has the hotel and several museums which was far more interesting and lively. Pilgrim’s Rest seems to have been invaded by car guards and hawkers. But I suppose everyone has the right to make a living somehow.
We tend to make a habit of buying paintings on our road trips and this trip was no different .In Graskop we revisited The Art Gallery where the entire family contributes to the inventory. Mom does batik and print work, Dad makes the most incredible walking sticks (we bought one on a previous trip) and the son helps out behind the counter. On this visit we bought a picture by a Nelspruit based artist, Braam van Wijk to add our collection. 
Graskop is also home to Harrie’s Pancakes…a must visit destination for either savory or sweet pancakes. On the next block is The Silver Spoon that serves the best Black Forest cake in the area.
Graskop, like most of the towns in this area, thrives on the tourist busses and holiday makers. The main industry of the area, aside from wood, seems to be silkworm farming.
A visit to this area would not be complete without a drive to God’s Window. On our visit the “window” was closed by a blanket of fog that looked almost solid enough to walk on. My wife referred to this stunning phenomenon as God’s Blanket.
 I was under the impression that Plaston was a brand of paint, but I was totally mistaken and it is where our next port of call, Jatinga Country Lodge and Restaurant, lay.
A few kilometers outside White River this throw back to the old colonial days lies amongst splendid gardens. Do not be fooled by the unimposing entrance, as behind the front door lay a very special venue. The White River flows along the lower boundary of the property and meanders past a wonderful open-air chapel that would be an ideal setting for that special day or to renew wedding vows.
The staff could not be more helpful if they tried and it was a pleasure spending time in their capable hands.
Our Colonial suite was spacious and the black and white tiled bathroom gave us ideas for redoing our own bathroom back home.
From here a variety of activities are available to the holiday maker…or you can just relax in the garden and enjoy the peace and tranquility that the property offers.
Jatinga has kept the “colonial tradition” of afternoon tea and scones on the veranda.
The freshly made scones with homemade jam and lashings of cream are not to be missed! And dinners we enjoyed were worth waiting for (dining room only starts serving at 7pm). The ambiance in the dining room was “genteel” with no loud invasive music and the staff was attentive without being intrusive. (If you are celebrating a special event, then request that you be served in the cellar)
 If we thought that the dinners were special, the breakfast at Jatinga was an eye-opener!
The buffet style table groaned under the weight of a huge variety of delicious fresh fruit and cereals. Home made pastries and muffins nestled in baskets next to pots of delicious jam and syrup.
Our test of a good breakfast is the quality of the scrambled eggs, and those served to us certainly rated 100%.
Like the majority of towns in this part of the country, White River can be used as a springboard to visit a plethora of tourist attractions in the area. But with temperature reaching the mid thirty’s we decided to spend most of our time in the air conditioned interiors various art galleries at Casterbrook Centre. This centre also boasts a great car museum.  
The food on offer here only added to our already straining waistbands and we both promised that extra exercise was on the cards as soon as we got home!
Our last stop was at Greenway Woods Resort which is a golfer’s paradise. It is situated near the famous White River Golf Course Although I do not play the game (I cannot see the joy in chasing a small white ball around while dressed like Rupert the Bear) there were plenty of other activities to keep us occupied.
The lodge is ideal for a family vacation as it is so centrally situated.
From here it is only 38km’s to Numbi Gate at the Kruger National Park as well as within easy distance of both White River and Nelspruit.
Although we arrived early it certainly did not put the reception staff out and we were allowed access to our room immediately. (Check-in times always seem to suit the hotel rather than the guest, but this was not the case here)
There are a total of 110 rooms on the property, which are set in a variety of configurations.  From deluxe or standard units, to garden facing units, there is more than enough accommodation to choose from.
There are also 20 family (self-catering) units can sleep six and have a fully functional kitchen, three bedrooms and two bathrooms.
Our room was functional, with a comfortable bed and a large flat screen TV (with good reception…another bug-bear of mine).There was only a shower, so if enjoy a bath you will have to mention that when you make your booking.
The dinner spread was superbly prepared and there was more than enough variety to serve both carnivore and vegetarian alike. The staff helpful, if a little forgetful (coffee instead of tea and cold milk instead of hot…but those we easily resolved).
Breakfast on our final morning was served in the Injabula boma near the reception area. 
Once again we were faced with an array of fresh fruit, cereal and fresh baked pastries that would be to feed small country. But with a long return journey ahead we decided to do “light and healthy” rather than full English.(I can never understand why we have not come up with a South African version, as full English is a throw back to Colonial times) 
Friendly staff and some entertaining banter with a party of golfers made this a great final meal of our trip
To quote Virginia Woolf; One cannot think well, love well, or sleep well, unless one has dined well and we certainly did all of the above during our trip.

David Batzofin 082 442 1122

Contact details:
Jatinga and Greenway Woods Resort:
 Three Cities on 0861 000333
 E-mail: ceres@threecities.co.za.
 Website: www.threecities.co.za

Crystal Springs:
Telephone: (013) 768 5000
Web-site: www.crystalsprings.co.za
Email: info@crystalsprings.co.za

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