See the Drakensberg as you never have before…

Experience the Red Bull Air Force soar through this mythical wilderness and watch the backstory behind the first-ever wingsuit flight from two of its most alluring landmarks.

Renowned for its dramatic peaks, pinnacles and valleys; importance as a haven for wildlife, and, for its wealth of rock paintings; the Drakensberg is a revered range. Now, watch the backstory behind the first-ever wingsuit flight from one of its most alluring landmarks.

The Drakensberg mountain range stretches over 1000 km across South Africa and Lesotho, with its highest peak at 11, 424 feet. This highest portion of the Great Escarpment is known by the local Zulu community as uKhahlamba, Barrier of Spears. The place is renowned for its dramatic peaks, pinnacles and valleys. 

Watch: An epic wingsuit first in the Drakensberg

Win 2 Nights at Champagne Castle Hotel

Our annual ‘Sense of Place’ competition is now open. Capture or illustrate ‘A Sense of Place’ with one of your own photos, that includes Champagne Castle (the mountain), somewhere in the photo. Once you’ve entered and uploaded your photo, you can vote for it and invite your friends to vote for it.

We’ll take the top 20 most voted for pics, and our team of judges will select the photo we think best captures ‘A Sense of Place’.

Competition entries close on
13 Jan 2019, and voting closes on 20 Jan 2019. The winner will be announced on 23 Jan 2019 at 12:00, on our Facebook page.

* you don’t have to have stayed at Champagne Castle Hotel or taken the picture from our property to enter. 

It’s really easy to enter:

  1. Submit your photo and details here
  2. Vote for your photo every day
  3. Share your photo and ask your friends to vote for it every day

Every year, over December and January we run our annual ‘Sense of Place’ photo competition. It’s open to anyone who has taken a photo that they think captures the essence of a ‘Sense of Place’ and includes the beautiful Champagne Castle Mountain in the photo. You don’t have to have stayed at Champagne Castle Hotel to enter, and the photo you submit doesn’t have to have be taken on our property. 

It’s our invitation to celebrate what we think is one of the world’s most beautiful mountains that captures what Champagne Castle Hotel is all about, a Sense of Place.

To enter and for more information and the rules, click here

This has now become an annual competition at Champagne Castle Hotel. The ‘A Sense of Place’ Photo Competition.

We’re looking for your photos that best capture ‘A Sense of Place’ and that MUST include Champagne Castle (the mountain). We’ll then take the top 20 most voted for photos (you can only vote once per day) through to a judging panel, made up of 3 members of our team, for a final selection. We’re looking for the photo (from the top 20) that best captures the essence of ‘A Sense of Place’

Last year (2015/2016) we had over 60 entries. We’re hoping to see a far larger number this year.

Entries close on 13 Jan 2017 and voting closes on 20 Jan 2017. The winner is announced on 24 Jan 2017 on our Website and Facebook page.

The theme for New Year 2015 is ‘Champagne Royale‘ inspired by the timeless James Bond. A feature of Champagne Castle Hotel New Year evenings is that our guests go to a lot of time and trouble to dress up and get into the theme. And of course we do our best to match their effort. It makes for an evening that always counts among our highlights of the year. This year we’ve invited our New Year’s Eve guests to pick any James Bond character from any of the 23 James Bond movies as their outfit inspiration.

Below we’ve done our best to collect a diverse selection of outfits from a diverse cross section of James Bond films.

5a2daae1e685b0c8a39841060b7d11fa e4866a8de18370a6e20ceffa8f4aa205 10425f78380b5b260a908ffa63216b78

25911b055e1dd61107aa4688aab677d2 0b6f314ed46658d0903c118c8a45ec89



bond girls women woman james ian flemming new year champagne castle hotel

947b28ae3f3ab5102c05ca96dcc8bf29 d1ff3ed99a08eb356a169f1b40808cd6 50fc01a1bbc065b0b98d7a3aac1dbda8 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

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

The weather couldn’t have been any better for Christmas 2014. Excitement had started the evening before at our annual Christmas Carols, when it was announced that Father Christmas might make a stop at the hotel on his way to his very own Christmas holiday.

The children gathered on the veranda early as signs and sounds of Santa’s sleigh were seen and heard on the Hotel property. The hunt was on 🙂

As the children ran around trying to find Father Christmas, hotel staff prepared the area around the helicopter landing pad for Santa’s arrival. There’s always something magical about Father Christmas’ arrival, and when it’s in a helicopter, you can just imagine 🙂

After Christmas presents were handed out to each child, most guests settled in at the pool for the rest of the day.

To see more photos of Christmas 2014, please click here

christmas xmas hotel holiday vacation drakensberg berg central december father santa