The East Griqualand Highlands in the southernmost section of the Drakensberg is perhaps KZN’s best kept secret. Without having to look too hard, these beautiful mountain highlands and rolling farmlands have much to offer visitors.
Kokstad is the largest town in the region, named for a famous Griqua leader Adam Kok, whose story is in the quirky local museum. The natural beauty of the East Griqualand Highlands is astounding in all seasons. In spring, the earth comes to life in all its fresh greenery and there are magnificent private gardens, including a prayer garden and a cycad “garden”, many of which can be visited during the annual Encounter East Griqualand festival, one of the strangest and friendliest in the province.
Summer is the lovely blonde-grass harvest season and a beautiful time to visit. There are great hikes and trails through the Ngele Forest (where, with a guide, you can pick wild porcini mushrooms) and Mount Currie Nature Reserve, gyrocopter flights, historic stone walls and Iron Age archaeological sites to explore. For beauty while you eat, on a weekend the popular Bleiden Falls pub and restaurant is open for garlicky prawns and good steaks.
This area is famous for both the quality of its sheep and cattle as well as its artisan cheeses and other fresh produce. People are seldom seen leaving Kokstad without some of the famous regional steaks or biltong (dried meat) tucked into their bags. Kids love watching the sheep shearing, and visiting some of the local 1000-cow dairies. You can also pop in to the African Hazel Nut project, started in 2009 by Italian company Ferrero, who supply the famous Ferrero Roche brand chocolates.
Autumn is when all the leaves turn gold, orange and red before fluttering away ahead of the cold, dry, glühwein sipping, fireplace warming winters, when snow caps the surrounding mountains and sometimes even envelopes the town and surrounding farmlands.
Fly fishing is excellent in the region and you can arrange a horse-ride or 4x4 trail up into the mountains to one of the highland dams on private farms for a spot of trout or bass fishing. There are cottages to rent and small boats to take you pottering around the dams.
Pack your wellies, binoculars, a bird book and, depending on the time of day, either a flask of tea or couple of beers or a bottle of wine, and take yourself off to the beautiful Penny Park Vlei wetland bird hide to enjoy some excellent bird watching. Kokstad is one of the few places in KZN you have a chance to see all three crane species, the grey crowned, the blue and the wattle crane, in one day on a short drive through the farmlands.