2016 has been a year of challenges, uncertainty, tremendous fun, new adventures and a bit of consolidation. We have continued to work on upgrades at The Cavern and we are slowly getting through all 55 rooms and their bathrooms. We have a few tasks planned for the New Year, a bit of fundraising lies on the horizon and we are looking forward to sharing our updated activities calendar with you.
Birding at The Cavern – Sally Johnson
The Birding Weekends at the Cavern Berg Resort are always interesting and this last weekend was no exception. Strong winds and intermittent drizzle are not ideal birding conditions but we still found lots to get excited about. Highlight of our first early morning garden walk was the unusual sighting of a Secretarybird. These majestic birds require at least ten square kilometres for a territory, so, although found over most of South Africa, they are never common and each encounter is very exciting. We were scanning the hillside hoping to catch sight of a francolin or perhaps an eland, when a Secretarybird flew into view and landed for all to see. It strode purposefully through the grass on its long legs, looking down at the ground, hoping to see a mouse or snake, or even a tasty locust.
After breakfast we set off in another direction, walking through open grassland where those difficult customers, cisticolas, were kind enough to sit on fences and bare grass stems to allow us time to positively identify them. While resting in the shade overlooking a pool in the river, we were lucky enough to catch a rather brief view of the gorgeous blue Half-collared Kingfisher. While scanning carefully, hoping to get a better view, we noticed a snake swimming with ease and grace across the pool. It then sank quietly to the bottom where we could see it checking out crevices among the stones and trying its best to disturb something tasty in the algal growth on the bottom. Every so often it would come to the surface, take a deep breath, then glide gently back to the bottom. A Dusky-bellied Water Snake – what a treat! Birds are the focus of our weekends, but perhaps a Nature Weekend would be a better name, for we look at everything – birds and beasts, flowers and trees, dragonflies and butterflies, rocks and other geological features. Nature has so much to offer those that care to look.
In the afternoon we ventured into the Fern Forest, a wonderful natural forest patch abutting onto the Cavern garden. Here we were lucky enough to get a really good look at a White-starred Robin – a “Lifer” for some and a “very seldom seen” bird for others. Great excitement all round. The Bush Blackcap was on everyone’s wish list but eluded us this time round.
Sunday’s highlight took place at Charleswood Dam, just below the tennis courts. A fallen tree lying in the water provided a relatively safe place for a pair of Little Grebes (Dabchicks) to place their floating nest. As we watched, a leguaan swam towards the tangle of branches, perhaps intent on a meal of eggs or hatchlings. But the grebes had other ideas and rushed out in attack mode. They chased the leguaan across the dam, pecking at its tail as it swam. When it crawled out of the water onto a fallen log, they still kept up their attack, only giving up when they could no longer reach it.
To enjoy the birds, to learn more about nature and our surrounds or to have a few relaxing days honing your painting skills, do spend time with us in 2017….
We are saddened to share the news that Ken Gillings passed away on the 9th of December. Ken has hosted our Battlefield weekends for a number of years. Ken was a true gentleman, incredibly knowledgeable, always cheerful and we will miss his many visits to the Cavern. We continue to keep Heather and his family in our thoughts and prayers.
Royal Drakensberg Primary School
We are looking forward to 2017 with 70 children enrolled and 3 new teachers joining our efforts in providing a quality start to schooling. We read about the shortcuts, the entrenched corruption, dreadful mismanagement and the many challenges faced by children from disadvantaged situations and the fact that many children are essentially set up to fail in life… These are the children that need a hand-up, who need time and quality invested in them, so that they too can be successful adults and have the opportunity of being and doing whatever their hearts desire. Sadly, only the exceptional will survive the system and it is imperative that we continue our work to make a difference in our area. With this in mind, we need to have excellent teachers and a quality programme and this doesn’t come cheaply.
We are hosting our 2 main fundraisers once more; The Big 5 Hike & the Royal Drak MTB Challenge. What is fantastic is that all participants get to join us in this pristine valley and spend time in the great outdoors, doing something enormously good for someone else…. Actually it’s a win-win-win! You win because you get a little more active, you win because you spend time on the mountainside and your heart wins because of the good passed along to a little person.
Royal Drak MTB – 8th April – Raise R1000 and ride the event of your choice; 50km, 30km or 10km. Enjoy breakfast & lunch on us!
Big5Hike – 20th May – Raise R6000 and have the weekend on us! Hike the 5 peaks surrounding the Cavern and return to the front lawn for a wonderful homecoming party!
What happens when you get a little bit of energy, a whole lot of heart and a dollop of commitment all rolled together? Well, plenty happens! As the year ends, we need to say a big thank you to Daphne & David Thurlwell who keep returning and helping to improve the pre-schools in the Amazizi community. The achievements this year include starting a mentorship programme, working closely with teachers to develop and build language development through play and the sourcing of funding for big projects which are on the horizon.
In the New Year little Sbusisiwe Pre-School will be getting a new classroom and we are raising funds for an additional classroom for Zamokuhle. All these schools are run by committed teachers who are changing lives, growing little brains and making a huge impact on the chances of success for these children. Dr Marysia Nash, who has assisted us this past year, keeps reminding us of the importance of the first 1000 days. So much to do and so much to be excited about….
In celebrating our 75th Christmas at The Cavern we share our children’s (4th generation) stories which are included in our Cavern coffee table book:
OLIVIA BEDINGHAM (aged 13)
Over the past thirteen years of my life I have lived in one place and one place only. I could never imagine living anywhere else but here. Even though I have hiked these same mountains over and over again I can never take it all in, the magnificence takes your breath away every time you turn to face them and the history of these hills, where bushman used to roam, is so intriguing you can’t get enough of it.
The Cavern may just be a holiday for your family but as you arrive you become part of the family. Families look after each other and make sure that everyone is having the best time that they could have and that is what the Cavern delivers as I have witnessed. As I roam around the hotel grounds, when I am home, there are families everywhere laughing, unwinding and having a blast. I could not imagine a holiday any other way.
I love where I live and the people that surround me and I know it won’t last forever but you just have to take in every moment and hope that it lasts for as long as possible.
NOAH BEDINGHAM (aged 11)
You get fit living here. I like our traditions like the Boma breakfasts, Sunday scones, The Sunday Braai, The Cavern Choir, Cavern crunchies with tea on our morning walks, and the New Year’s and Christmas dress-up parties.
I love all the old pictures of old ox wagons, and hearing the stories of how it was back in the 40’s, especially the story of the guy who was swept off Broom Hill: It was too windy and he got blown off the hillside – just like that!
ISABELLA BEDINGHAM (aged 10)
Your life is a holiday. The Cavern is not a place for people who complain. It’s a place for energetic people who love the outdoors, who don’t mind happy children running around, who love to hike, ride bikes and try new things. It’s a place for those who have nice vibes.
I love the old stories. One was when a group of friends riding on horseback from the National Park side to Camel’s Hump were struck by lightning. One horse and its rider were hit and both died instantly. The friends left the dead horse up there, but carried their dead friend home. Thinking he was properly dead, they dragged his body back down to The Cavern, but all the bumping over the rocky terrain somehow kickstarted his heart and he lived to tell the tale! A few years ago, in 2013, he came back to The Cavern, with memories of how well he’d been looked after here and perhaps to say thank you.
Another story is that of Hangman’s Tree. When you walk up the mountain behind the dams, it’s best to hear it there. It’s about a man who was so scared of getting into trouble for using a motorbike without asking, that he hung himself. Instead of just saying sorry, he killed himself.
And there’s The Woodcutter’s Grave. It’s a cross on a tree in the Fern Forest, which marks the grave of a child who was born in the forest while the people who lived there cut down the yellowwoods. Nobody really knows what happened… it was really long ago, but the story goes that the child was buried next to this tree, and because of this, over all these years, no moss has grown over the cross to cover it up.
Pick up your own copy from Love Books in Jozi, Bamboo Centre, 53 Rustenburg Road, Melville
As 2016 draws to a close we wish you a blessed Christmas and prosperity and peace in the New Year.
Megan, Hilton, Lesley & The Cavern family