December has fast approached and more and more people are considering traveling within South Africa instead of heading abroad for the holidays. In this article I will guide you on how to plan a trip to Mpumalanga which includes a travel route towards Blyde River Canyon, self-catering accommodation at Walkersons Hotel and Spa in Dullstroom and provide some insight into restaurants in the area.
Before you plan your trip, one of the most important things to take into consideration is the weather. If you are utilising this guide after the December holidays, you might want to consider the time of year that you choose to travel. We traveled early November and we had 2 full, glorious days of sunshine. If you are quite flexible with your travel dates, consult with a weather App before you travel to make doubly sure that you are getting the sunniest, clearest, bluest skies during your stay.
(I don’t have an App, so I use the Google search on my Samsung S8. It usually displays the hourly weather generated from Accuweather.com. I have found this to be very useful and accurate).
Now that you have considered a date, proceed onto booking your accommodation.
I have chosen to focus on the self-catering accommodation at Walkersons Hotel and Spa situated in Dullstroom for a number of reasons. If you are strictly halaal-catering (or prefer cooking/taking your own food along on holiday for dietary or financial reasons), have a larger family (6 to 8 guests traveling), generally a family who require larger spaces or you are really particular about luxury when you travel, Walkersons might be best suited to your travel needs.
Before we proceed, there are hotel options at Walkersons for couples who prefer to travel without their children (or don’t have children traveling with them) however this is not self-catering and the rooms are located on the main area of the property.
The Self-catering accommodation is referred to as the “Cottages’. There are 6 full-furnished cottages available at Walkersons which are designed to sleep from 4 people to 10 – there really is a Cottage suited for every size of family.
I will explore the Hillside Cottage primarily as that was the one that we stayed in. For reference to the others, please view them on the website: https://www.walkersons.co.za/accommodation-options/self-catering-cottages/
Here are the details that you need to know if you are considering booking the Hillside Cottage:
- The Hillside Cottage slept 6 comfortably. We were 2 adults and 4 children but the Cottage could have slept 6 adults in total (I’d tempted to say 7 depending on your family size, but I’m not sure what the limits are to what would be deemed appropriate for a 7th person). There are 3 rooms in total, each with it’s own bathroom. If you’re traveling with friends, the main bedroom has the largest bathroom equipped with a bathtub. The other 2 rooms have smaller bathrooms. You will need to draw straws to who gets the larger one!
- The bathrooms all have towels with extras kept in a cupboard in the passage, so there is no need to bring your own. The Cottage is serviced daily and towels are replaced. Each bathroom is fitted with complimentary full-sized Charlotte Rhys products so there is no need to bring your own (unless you are particular and require your own bath and body products). The distance between the bathrooms are quite considerable so I found that with each bathroom having it’s own products made it easier than having to take your own products along and share. There is also a small flatiron to use during your stay (although I didn’t use it).
- The communal area is open-plan; lounge, dining and kitchen. The lounge has seating for up to 6 people and has a TV with limited DSTV channels. The dining room table is large seating up to 8 (10 people may be accommodated by adding extra chairs). There is additional seating outdoors however we found it slightly chilly in the morning and evening to be seated outdoors.
- Aside from the size, the kitchen is what makes this Cottage a stand-out feature for me. The kitchen comes fully fitted with a gas-stove and oven, large fridge and freezer, microwave and all cutlery, utensils, crockery and glassware. I took my own pan and utensils. The plates and glasses are all of a good quality and there are placemats for use during your stay to make the experience nicer. There is also a portable ice-machine. The equipment appeared almost brand new and barely used. Everything was extremely clean and well-maintained. The house-keeper cleans the kitchen as well, so no need to wash dishes before you head out.
- There is an outdoor gas braai and a normal charcoal braai stand. I would recommend taking your own grill or foil if you plan on braai’ing during your stay. There is also a boma with seating around it. It’s a pity that we were limited on time, and didn’t take the necessary treats along with, but please remember to take large marshmallows and sticks to make smores for your kids. There are matches and firelighters placed on top of the fireplave, so there is no need to take your own.
- There is parking for your car in a garage and can take the height of a Viano.
Bedrooms and Bathrooms:
Now that you’ve decided on booking the Cottage (and not a Hotel room), it’s time to think about what food you’d like to take along with you on this trip. Although there are breakfast and dinner options, I am focusing primarily on self-catering and cooking/taking along your own food.
Depending on how far you are traveling, packing food to eat whilst traveling or when you reach your location is almost a ‘must’ for a South African traveler.
We refer to this as ‘padkos’.
I usually like to pack it into containers that can be discarded easily and I usually make a few portions so we all don’t need to share from a single portion. Here are some suggestions on what to pack and please feel free to contribute and add your own examples in the comments section.
1. Chicken Strips and a mayonnaise dip (I like to add a bit of garlic and herb seasoning to my mayonnaise).
2. Savoury French Toast (The actually egg mixture comprises of beaten eggs, baking powder, fresh coriander and mint, cumin and coriander powder, fresh garlic, fresh red and green chilli and chili powder, a squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of mustard powder. Seasoning to taste. Whisk, dip bread into mixture and fry in shallow oil).
3. Baked pies.
4. Fried samoosas and a red chutney
5. Chicken sandwiches (I marinate chicken pieces in a bit of buttermilk, chicken spice, black and white pepper, cajun spice, ground ginger and garlic, red chilli powder. Cook in butter on low, add mint and chopped coriander and switch stove off. Remove bone and chop roughly. and stir in mayonnaise and chopped lettuce).
6. Roti Wraps (This is my favourite from all padkos!).
I found carrying this especially helpful when you have little kids or even when you’re hungry and reached your destination too late.
Here is a grocery list for Breakfast:
1. Box of Pancakes from Woolworths. There are 20 pancakes that come in a box. All you need to do is warm it up on a non-stick pan (Remember to take that with). I also packed a shaker of Cinnamon Sugar and a plastic jar of honey. The pancakes don’t taste like proper homemade pancakes but they are suitable enough to eat while away. You could also likely make your own and leave them in the fridge and heat up when ready to eat.
2. Fruit juice. I took only a large 1.5l bottle of fruit juice with. Depending on the size of your family and frequency of usage, you will require more.
3. Fresh chopped fruit. I ordered a small platter of chopped fruit and collected the day that we were leaving to go to Walkersons from Oaklands Fruit. You can also chop your own, or buy the ready-chopped fruit from Woolworths. Oaklands Fruit Contact details:
5. A box of assorted biscuits.
6. Half a box of cereal and a liter of long-life milk.
7. Teabags and/or coffee sachets. (Or be like my friends who take their entire Nespresso machine with).
I didn’t have much time to spend preparing masala for eggs, but I would likely have taken that along with. I didn’t want the extra hassle of taking eggs along with the fear of them breaking, so I left that part of the meal out. (If you have a container/details of how you transport eggs, please share that in the comments section). You can also take along bread (there is a toaster), butter for croissants/muffins or scones or any other baking that is suitable for breakfast.
If you would like to dine in the main restaurant for breakfast, you still have an option to do so with a charge. Please notify the staff/Chef if you are a larger group so they are able to plan accordingly.
Depending on how much time you plan on spending in the Cottage, you might need to think about taking food with that can be reheated or prepared with minimal effort for lunch or dinner. We were out for most of the day, so we didn’t have lunch at the Cottage. I packed frozen meals in the event that we needed food but we brought most of it back.
Here are some suggestions on what to pack that can be frozen and reheated or prepared in minimal time for lunch or supper:
1. Homemade KFC chicken pieces or fillets. Prepare as you would however put the crumbing mixture separately. When you are ready to eat, dust the chicken with the flour and shallow fry. You can freeze both packs and take it out to defrost in the morning that you require it. I also prepared a pack of coleslaw and took Albany rolls with (these stay fresher for longer). These can be taken with you on your day trip for lunch as it actually tastes rather nice even if eaten after some time.
2. Marinate chicken fillets for burgers. You can opt to braai this or cook on the stove top. Fill up your bun along with salads and sauces and fry a pack of frozen chips. This can also be taken out on a day-trip. I took almost-empty bottles of tomato sauce with so once they were empty, I didn’t need to lug them back home. For the salad fillers, I took lettuce and 1 tomato and cheese slices. I kept it fairly basic which meant less packing for me.
3. If you prefer curry and rice/roti as a main meal for dinner, you could prepare this at home and simply heat up when you require it. This usually lasts one or two days in the fridge.
If you are in a self-catering cottage, you could take almost anything with provided that you have the space in your car. The cooling facilities are large and ample even for pots or large containers.
Remember to pack microwave popcorn for the kids and some disposable bowls.
I discussed the option of booking a picnic basket in my previous post.
It’s time to plan your route and to work out what you plan on doing over your weekend. If you really want to relax and never leave the hotel, that is fine too. There are many hiking trails if you’re fit and up for the walk, or fly-fishing with or without an instructor. You can also take along a book or a magazine and spend your time on any of the benches along the dam, on the pool loungers or on the grass under a tree.
If you’ve decided to use Walkersons as a base to explore the area, here is a rough guide on how to do this:
My friend Nafisa from Wired to the Web created this diagram to indicate the ideal route up to Blyde River Canyon. She listed Walkersons as a starting point and put ‘Three Rondavels’ in the GPS for a shorter/direct route:
This diagram illustrates the route map. We followed this and made the same stops along the way. The time getting to Three Rondavels in 2hr35m roughly – one way. You will need to allocate at least 30m to 45m per stop (in order to fully appreciate it and take some pictures). It’s important to leave early to avoid having to do any night driving. Another option would be to plan one night in Dullstroom and another one in Graskop to make it a round trip without having to go back.
Another route was suggested where you pass Mac Mac Falls along the way. I felt that it was too long of a day for us so we omitted that route.
We suggest either taking food with or buying a take-away from Fatima’s Kitchen (listed in previous post) and keeping it in your car. There aren’t any suitable options along the way other than Harrie’s Pancakes (for sweet pancakes as they are not Halaal). I also recommend taking water with in a coolerbox.
Remember that most of these attractions require a small entrance fee. It goes towards the general upkeep of the attraction.
We were exhausted by the time we made it back and only reached Walkersons at roughly 6.30pm. The potholes along the route are horrendous so please don’t drive fast or reckless on those roads.
If you experience difficulty walking, we don’t recommend going further than the first view-point. The walk is up a steep incline and the view isn’t all that worth it from the top. We found it very noisy up there and were not able to appreciate the view. It feels dangerous to take the kids that high up and I didn’t allow mine to go towards the end, with the fear of them being pushed by drunk visitors.
If it’s overcast, don’t waste your time at all to proceed up. Remember that there is a small entrance fee and they only accept cash. You also need to climb a few stairs so this is not ideal for anyone with strollers.
Remember to take water with and to make way for people coming down, or proceeding up at a faster pace than you.
Bourkes Luck Potholes:
If you need to use the toilet, this is probably your best option to do it along this route. There is an entrance fee to visit the potholes and they accept cash and card. There are a few bridges and viewing platforms and we recommend spending a bit more time here as this was possibly the best part of the route for us.
If you have some difficulty in walking, I wouldn’t recommend visiting this site.
We recommend wearing sandals so you may remove them and walk along the stream. The walk is relatively flat but be cautious that you don’t slip. If you have a fear of heights, you need to walk across a bridge so be careful.
If you have opted to use Walkersons as a base and to explore the area, here are some recommendations on what you can do in the area:
1. Udderlicious Milkshake Bar: Located in a center ont he left hand-side if coming from Walkersons towards the town. The store is bright and a feast for young kids. Milkshakes are all ice-cream based with real ingredients that aren’t over-powering.
2. Waffle & Co: Nafisa visited this on her trip and asked for a custom waffle with trout and to be topped with veg (cheese, mushroom and tomato).
4. Seattle Coffee
5. Cherries from the Pub on the right hand side as you enter the town
6. Quaint stores selling locally manufactured items and small crafts.
There are lots of neighboring towns that one can visit along the way. It’s best to allocate at least 3 to 4 full days to explore the areas and to make proper stops along the way to enjoy the small town hospitality.