According to a new study completed by the University of Illinois and the University of Hong Kong, simply taking a walk down a tree-lined street has the power to significantly decrease your stress levels. Imagine what a walk in a forest at the foot of South Africa’s 2nd highest mountain will do?

The reviews of Champagne Castle Hotel on TripAdvisor are dominated by comments on the spectacular scenery seen from the rooms, the veranda or around the grounds of the hotel. Many of those reviews are from people who have taken a walk up onto the mountains, with either Wonderboy, our resident guide, or on their own. Those walks are often described as magical, even sacred. So a study like the one mentioned above isn’t news to us. It is helpful to have some science to include in our narrative.

Unless you’re doing the Sunset Trail, every walk starts and ends through the forest that borders the hotel. While the Hotel is within the World Heritage Site, we like to think of the forest as Nature’s Official Entrance. That means that you’re getting a double dose of stress-reduction when you go for a walk. On the way out (or into the forest) and on the way back (our out of the forest).

We’re not sure what science has to say about walking onto millions of years old mountains, or looking back down the Champagne Valley from hundreds of meters above it? Whatever science has to say, almost 50 years of talking to people at dinner about their walk during the day confirms that it’s good for your soul.

We look forward to welcoming you back from your next stress-reducing walk with us. See you soon

Towards the end of 2015, the R74 which is a beautiful and picturesque alternate route from Harrismith to Champagne Castle Hotel (via Bergville and Winterton), re-opened after years of roadworks and re-surfacing.

The R74 is an alternate route to the N3 which is known for closue due to snow or heavy vehicle accidents over Van Reenen’s Pass. While the road has been in a deplorable condition since 2009, it is now re-surfaced and in a stunning condition. There is still some very minor work being done on patches of the road on the Bergville side of Sterkfontein dam.

For a description of the pass (from Mountain Passes South Africa) take a look at the video embedded below

During October 2015, Champagne Castle Hotel is going to be opening a Guest Gallery to showcase your holiday photos. We’re aware that thousands of photos are taken on our property each year. Photography is a gift and an art, and we’d like to put your gift and your art on show for others to see and to enjoy. The photos will be on show at the Hotel, as well as on our Facebook Page (look out for the Guest Gallery link going up in October on our FB page) We will also put some of the photos onto our Instagram and Twitter feeds.

The Guest Gallery will go up in the corridor between reception and the main lounge (as you walk to the shop).  There will be 4 photo frames that will make up the gallery.

We’re looking specifically for photos that capture the beauty that defines Champagne Castle Hotel’s slogan, ‘A Sense of Place‘.

Dimensions

Because we’ll be printing the photos out, and placing them into an A4 frame we do need minimum dimensions in order to ensure a good quality print. The photos need to be taken with a device that has at least an 8mb camera. This will ensure an image with a size of between 1754 x 1240 pixels and 3508 x 2480 pixels (photos must be landscape and not portrait).

By sending us your photos to us you give us permission to display your photos in the Guest Gallery at the Hotel and/or the Digital Guest Gallery on Facebook, and/or our Instagram and Twitter feeds. We will credit the photographer of every photo we display. Where a photographer is not highlighted in your email, we will credit the sender of the email. All submissions for the Guest Gallery can be sent to pics@champagnecastle.co.za

 

For those who have visited Champagne Castle Hotel, it is almost impossible to miss the ‘Big Five Honour Board’ at some point during your stay. It’s a list of women and men who have climbed the Big Five peaks in the area, made up of:

  • Matterhorn (1 995m)
  • Gatberg (2 408m)
  • Amphlett (2 620m)
  • Sterkhorn (2 973m)
  • Champagne Castle (3 373m)

The Honour Board has been gathering dust for the past few years, in that no new names have been added. Not because the hotel has abandoned their duty, but rather because no new adventurers have taken up the challenge. Until recently. Very recently. Liz and Sven Wesemann. A couple from Houtbay in the Western Cape. I interviewed them over breakfast one chilly morning in June, the day after they had returned from summiting their final peak. And what a summit it had been. Champagne Castle. The largest of the Big Five. 2 different guides, a rescue helicopter and determination to complete the journey they had begun 4 years earlier.

Liz explained that their Big Five Challenge began, for them, in 2011 when they were visiting Champagne Castle Hotel. Liz had noticed the Honour Board, turned to her husband Sven and said,

Our names will be next!

During the following 4 years they returned to Champagne Castle for 4 days at a time, during winter (to avoid the summer storms) to walk their way up and down the Big Five.

Matterhorn and Sterkhorn

In 2012 they set their sites on Matterhorn and Sterkhorn. However, it wasn’t to be. The mountains had a different plan. While they summited Matterhorn successfully, Sven described how they got within 100m of the top of Sterkhorn, only to find everything iced over. This made it too slippery and when both Sven and Liz felt things were getting dangerous, they decided to turn back. Once they got back to the Hotel, Wonderboy (their guide) told the hotel that in his opinion they were close enough and it should count at a successful summit. This wasn’t good enough for Liz. In her mind the only way she was going to count Sterkhorn as completed, was when she touched the beacon at the top.

Sterkhorn and Gatberg

In 2013 they returned to tackle another 2 peaks, one of them being the second attempt at Sterkhorn, and the other was Gatberg. They elected not to take Wonderboy with them on this trip. While Sterkhorn went well, the mountain once again had other plans for Liz and Sven. As they approached the top of Gatberg the wind picked up. They roped themselves together, for support and safety, but the wind just kept getting stronger. Once again they decided to turn back. Sven said, “When the fear we were feeling moved beyond fun, we knew it was time to turn back”. This didn’t sit well with Liz. She explained that she lives her life never giving up. It’s her mantra.

But to be forced to have to give up, that was a huge life lesson.

Gatberg and Amphlett

In spite of this, Sven and Liz were back in 2014, to tick Gatberg and Amphlett off of their list. This time they took Wonderboy with them, and it was during this trip that they realised Wonderboy’s value to them. As they said, “We wouldn’t have made it up Amphlett without him. The paths don’t exist. Almost as if people don’t do the difficult summits anymore. Wonderboy new exactly where to go.”

Champagne Castle

With one more peak to summit, they returned in 2015 to get to the top of Champagne Castle (South Africa’s second highest peak). Champagne Castle is a two (sometimes three) day hike. On day one you walk to the base, and on day two you summit. You can then stay another night at the base, or you can make your long walk back to the hotel.

Sven and Liz said that on the way out to the their base for the night there was something ‘off’ with Wonderboy. They kept asking him if he was OK, but he told them he was fine. Liz said,

I knew there was something wrong with Wonderboy, because he didn’t have his usual smile

They got to their base for the night, and everything was fine. Waking up early in the morning, Wonderboy suggested they start out a little later. This was another ‘out of character’ moment for Wonderboy. A little while after they started off, on the last push to the top of Champagne Castle, Wonderboy began to stumble. “He told us he couldn’t see anything”, said Sven. It was at this point that we discovered that he was Diabetic, and all of us realised that the medication he’d been on, clearly wasn’t working. With no mobile phone signal, they could either try and turn back or push to the top where there were patches of signal. Wonderboy encouraged them to go to the top, for both signal and so that they could complete what they had come to do. He assured them that he’d be able to make it back to camp. Sven said of Wonderboy,

Even in his condition, he was still thinking about us and giving us final instructions in order to make it to the top

Once Liz and Sven summited they found a signal and phoned the hotel explaining the emergency. That was all they were able to do. The signal was so weak and patchy that they couldn’t get back in touch with the hotel, and the hotel couldn’t get in touch with them (Once they got back to an area with signal, their message service showed that there were over 20 missed calls from the hotel).

From the Top of Champagne Castle

From the Top of Champagne Castle

The Rescue Chopper

There was no time to spend admiring the view and reflecting on their accomplishment. Wonderboy was at the base of the mountain and they had no idea how the hotel was going to respond to their distress call? As they made their way down the mountain, they paid little attention to the helicopter coming up the valley. With an airforce training base nearby there are always Helicopters in the area doing training sorties. It was the fact that this helicopter didn’t belong to the airforce that got Sven’s attention. And of course that it kept on coming towards them. He and Liz began to discuss what the options might be, should this be a rescue helicopter? Liz’s response, as per Sterkhorn was,

I’m not getting into that chopper. The only way we’re finishing this adventure is by walking back to the hotel

What they didn’t know was that the Helicopter pilot had been given instructions to fetch all three of them. Except that just before it left, Teresa Romarin, a senior member of the Hotel Management Team, said to her team,

We better send a replacement guide, because knowing Liz and Sven, there’s no way they are going to get into that helicopter

And that’s exactly what they did. The Restaurant manager, Frans, was the most qualified and trained replacement for Wonderboy. He was located and transported to the Helicopter with some medication and supplies. When the helicopter left the base camp, Wonderboy was the only one, along with the pilot, in the Helicopter. On his return, Wonderboy was rushed to a doctor who performed a series of tests. They discovered that it was his diabetes that had gotten out of control, and his medication was adjusted significantly. He’s going through a time of observation along with regular check-ups before he’s given the all-clear to set out on any more Big Five Hikes.

The Back Story

There’s almost always a Back-Story. When I met Sven and Liz they agreed to tell their story for a couple or reasons, and none of those reasons were about themselves. As they said,

We don’t want any attention. However, the way that we’ve been treated and handled by the hotel over the past four years, and the sacrifice and generosity shown by Wonderboy through our travels together, make us want to tell our story for them.

Authors Note: It’s not the style of Champagne Castle Hotel to draw attention to themselves. This makes writing the final part of this post all the more difficult. But this was the deal when Liz and Sven agreed to tell their story. They wanted this piece to be included. This post was sent to them before being published on the blog, to ensure that the deal we struck was executed accurately.

Both Sven and Liz couldn’t say enough about Wonderboy and his commitment to them. In spite of his illness, he kept on going for as long as he could, so that they could get to the top. They spoke of how the hotel staff sent them off every morning as they walked onto the mountain, and how they welcomed them back on the veranda every afternoon / evening when they returned. They were overwhelmed with the responsiveness of the team at reception around their distress call. They were touched by the sensitivity of sending a replacement guide, knowing Liz was not going to get into the helicopter.

Sven, Wonderboy and Liz

Sven, Wonderboy and Liz

What an Incredible Couple

If you ever meet Sven or Liz, and you should try to, they strike you as everyday, gentle, go about their business without much fuss, friendly people, with a definite commitment to living life large that can be seen in their eyes. That’s what caught my attention when I met them. They’re the kind of people you might walk right past, but for that one thing. It’s palpable and contagious, and I hope more people catch what they’ve got. This isn’t the first adventure they’ve been on. And I’m certain it won’t be the last. Their names will appear on more than just the Champagne Castle Hotel Big Five Honour Board.

Click here for more information on the The Big Five Hikes (pdf) or see our website

Champagne Castle Big 5 hike drakensberg holiday mountain mountains south africa hotel holiday vacation kwazulu natal

As Autumn comes to a close and Winter begins to make her frosty entrance, we’re warming things up with a Pre-Winter Special.

For just R920 per person sharing, per night, in a Deluxe room, fully inclusive of breakfast, lunch, dinner; morning/afternoon tea, you don’t need another reason to visit Champagne Castle Hotel.

This rate is only available on request when making the booking.  It is subject to availability, which is limited and is valid from 3 May 2014 to 25 June 2015 excluding the long weekend (12-16 June 2015).

Bookings for the Pre-Winter special are only available via telephone bookings. Call now on +27 36 468 1063

* Terms and conditions apply