How many Joburg to Durban trips have you done in your lifetime? Is it way too many to even consider trying to do the mental arithmetic? I tried to do the calculation myself the other day and I reckon if I count all the family holidays we took down to Durbs, when I was a lightie, the days before I could commandeer a vehicle myself, that would put me at 18 (just like so many South African families, December was our annual “pilgrimage to the sea”). Then, drivers licence in hand, put me down for another 18 years of at least one trip a year, which means I’ve hit that N3 route to Durbs close to 40 times already (maybe more).
The truth is, I’m a little peeved at myself!
I can’t believe I’ve done that drive so many times and literally zoomed past what is arguably one of the most beautiful spots in the country. An absolute hidden gem is nestled away just off the N3 highway, exactly halfway through the trip and I knew nothing about it (well, until recently that is).
You know that section of the N3 (southbound) when you are about 30km out of Harrismith and you have just pulled onto Van Reenen’s pass? If you’ve done the route as many times as I have, you know exactly where I am talking about.
If you hang a left at that Caltex garage, and hit a dirt road for about 7km, you are going to drive into a part of the country that I can only describe as “God’s front garden”. Honestly, if indeed there is a higher being out there, this is where he would choose to reside and throw his garden parties – Oaklands Country Manor
Recently I was lucky enough to be invited to spend a weekend at Oaklands Country Manor and as I drove out I made myself a simple promise: that I’m never going to do the Joburg to Durban N3 trip again without stopping in there – Finished and Klaar.
What did I like about Oaklands? Let’s just say, what’s not to like about Oaklands.
First off, this part of the country has a rich, rich history, dating back to before the First Boer War and the farm itself has a story worth mentioning.
Oaklands was bought in 1860 by English millionaire Bob Hall as a gift for his wife. Initially run as a game farm, it took its name from the oak forest that was planted nearby, for the manufacturing of duiselbooms – the long poles used at the time to hitch oxen to wagons. Since then, the property has been owned and managed by a string of colourful characters, including a clairvoyant, who is believed to have hosted séances in the upstairs rooms of the manor, and a South African provincial cricket captain.
Nowadays, Oaklands Country Manor is currently run by Jamie’s wife, Lady Caroline, together with her sisters Kathy Romer-Lee and Annie Barnard, and her brother Simon Tully. The business looks to be thriving under the collective management of these siblings, each of whom brings a wealth of experience in the hospitality and marketing industries – quite literally – to the table. This fun-loving family, who grew up in close-knit communities in Lesotho and then the eastern Free State, traces its heritage back to Irish fortune-seekers who settled in the Northern Cape during the early diamond-mining days in the area.
Now that you have a little background on Oaklands Country Manor and the wonderful family who run it, let’s get back to what impressed me during my weekend way.
Let’s try and put the stunning vista and long history aside for a moment (as crazy a notion as that is), with my hand on my heart, I can tell you that I have never had a better meal than I did at Oaklands Country Manor. You will be hard-pressed to find a better meal in any South Africa establishment or even abroad for that matter. And let’s be honest, if you are staying anywhere, the chow has plenty to do with how you rate your overall experience, doesn’t it?
Everything at Oaklands is sourced locally. Kathy clearly has a burning passion for food and as a result I can only give Oaklands a perfect score of 10/10 when it comes to their menu. Nice effort guys, the food was outstanding and I can’t wait to get back to tuck into that pork belly.
When you think of a farm that has been around for 150 odd years, you might forgive the guys at Oaklands if the accommodation wasn’t perhaps quite up to modern day standards (I mean some of those buildings have been around for a very long time). The truth is, the farm might be really old, but the accommodation is world-class. The rooms are comfortable and very well-appointed with modern finishes from floor to roof, but somehow they have done a great job of making sure none of the unique “farm charm” has been lost. You get the true country manor experience without any of the dodgy mattress and luke-warm shower experiences you might have been accustomed to at other “country type” B&Bs.
Again, I can’t fault the accommodation, so 10/10.
Besides taking in splendid views, eating great food and soaking up some of the 150 year history of the place, if you are into activities, then don’t fear, there is plenty to do at Oaklands.
I’m not a horse type of guy (let’s just say I had an incident in my youth) but if you are into horses or Polo then Oaklands is your place. I’m not going to get into everything they offer, but trust me, you can saddle up and have yourself an absolute jol if you are into that type of thing.
I managed to tick something off my “never thought I would do list” while at Oaklands. I went out to a neighbouring farm on the Saturday morning and fired off a few shotgun rounds at some pretty illusive guinea fowl. Great fun was had by all and no birds where harmed (turns out I’m about as good at shooting a shotgun as I am at horse riding…pretty average).
If horses or shooting ain’t your thing, bring your mountain bike or take a long walk around the property (which is what I did with the missus). There is also plenty to do in the area if you are looking to take in some of the historical battle sites.
But if I’m being perfectly honest, this is what you can do at Oaklands which you can’t do anywhere else in the country: Order a beer, pull up a chair outside and sit back and enjoy the view. It’s big sky country, gentlemen, and it’s about as close as you are going to get to meeting your maker.
If you want more information about Oaklands Country Manor, feel free to visit the site here and do yourself a favour when you are traveling on the N3 again – work in an extra day and stay over with the guys at Oaklands – you will be really happy you did.
Thanks to the guys at Oaklands, I will be back in December and I can’t wait to catch up.