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By Brendan Seery

Deputy Editor

Misty getaway in Dullstroom leaves you chilled

According to the writer there is nothing dulll in this stroom after spending time in Dullstroom.

As we edged along the overgrown track using the Ford Everest’s four-wheel-drive, we couldn’t beat the bank of icy cloud racing us to the top of the Mpumlanga escarpment.

There had been plenty of moaning from the others in the group about the weather for the whole of our three-day, two-night stay in Dullstroom… and the “grey-out” in the Verloren Valei reserve didn’t help change their minds much.

But I loved it. What’s the point of coming to a mountainous place like Dullstroom and not feeling like you’re in the mountains? You want to feel cold, so you can get indoors to a fire (and a sherry).

Feeling it

You want to be enveloped by those icy fingers of fog so you appreciate the indoors. Of course, the birders among us were not too thrilled that the poor visibility in the reserve – about 20km outside the town – limited what they could see in this special place, which was proclaimed an international protected wetland site by the United Nations in 2001 under the Ramsar Convention.

The wetland is (allegedly) home to a huge variety of bird species, including ones that get the “twitchers” steaming up their binoculars… but we saw little more than a few cranes from afar.

None of them the blue crane, our national bird, which is a common resident in these Highveld regions.

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The drive

The reserve itself is as nature intended: unspoilt by human intervention, especially when it comes to basic maintenance by the Mpumalanga Parks Board.

Signing in at reception (and paying R48 a person for the privilege), we saw five people standing around or tending to the lawn and garden around the office.

That was as far as maintenance went, as we discovered, heading off on a self-guided tour. To call the route a track would be making that word do some heavy lifting.

So high was the grass that the bonnet of the Everest – no small vehicle – was peppered with grass seeds, testament to the fact that no cutting had been done for at least a few seasons.

Just following the road was difficult, because the neglected vegetation was so thick I lost sight of the track many times.

On one of those occasions, the going went from good to frightening in a matter of seconds as we slid into a mud-filled ditch and began going sideways.

A cool head, a bit of application of the Ford’s low-range gears and we got out… but not before everyone (including me) had a scare.

That will take away your enjoyment of a globally important wetland, for sure. Clearly, the reserve sees fewer than one tourist car a day – and you shouldn’t have to have a 4×4 like we did to enjoy the place… But, on the other hand, I suppose the sloth of the Mpumalanga Park Board will ensure that Verloren Valei never gets overcrowded.

Yet, it was a tale of two tracks as we made our way back to our accommodation, the Blue Crane Farm.

The road to the farm from the main road is immaculately trimmed, as is the grass and all amenities are in top condition. Private sector – 1, Government – nil.

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Getaway spot

About 10km outside Dullstroom, Blue Crane Farm is picturesque, sited as it is around a trout dam in rolling hills.

There are a number of cottages on the property and, because we were there on a Monday and a Tuesday, we had the place to ourselves. And what an excellent choice it was.

Booked through afristay.com (a painless process compared to the intrusive demands of Airbnb these days), our two-bedroom unit, Kingfisher, was modern, clean and well equipped.

My wife would want me to point out that the property has excellent provision for load shedding with inverters and a generator.

It is a pity that more establishments do not provide this feature as a matter of course. Remember that when you’re booking a place… Dullstroom itself has become almost a Joburg weekend getaway cliché, with plenty of restaurants, wine tasting and beer cellars, as well as arts and crafts shops.

I’m not the sort of person who thinks a getaway weekend should be about going to restaurants, nor am I a fisherman so I suppose it could be considered a bit of a waste for me as a destination. But, that rain, that mist, that cold.

That was what made it for me – more so because, back home in Joburg, the temperatures were in the 30s, whereas the highest we saw was 170C.

That contrast in weather alone made the trip worthwhile, because I felt chilled, both literally and figuratively. Will I be back? Definitely – but I will check the weather first.

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