A whimsical breeze wafts the mist out of the valleys and up the mountain slopes where it meets a thick layer of cloud boiling down the slopes towards it. Ever-changing light and shadows race across the landscape, revealing brief glimpses of silver ribbon waterfalls, hidden valleys, and layers of mountains around the forestry village of Sabie in Mpumalanga.
Almost Lost in Long Tom Pass
We stop for a moment or two near the top of Long Tom Pass, almost a thousand metres above the valley floor, to gaze upon this magical, misty wonderland. And then, in the blink of an eye, everything disappears, engulfing us in a grey void.
Cautiously, my husband eases our car out onto the road. There is no valley, no mountain, no sky, only us and a small sliver of black tarmac ahead of us. The slightest miscalculation and we’ll slide off into the valley below. No one would see us drop. No one would hear our screams as we vanish into the gap below.
Ok, so in hindsight, the last bit might be a little dramatic, but I think you get the point.
By the time we reach our turn off, somewhere in the middle of the pass, we’ve dropped below the void of nothingness. Now, soft grey swathes of mist ebb and flow around us, revealing wraithlike blue-gum trees and glimpses of the almost other-worldly stone cottages at Misty Mountain Lodge. It feels as if we’ve stepped back in time.
The Weather Gods Have Other Plans
We plan to dump our bags and head down the pass to the village. Sabie is a waterfall lover paradise with six different waterfalls near each other and the village. So, a stroll to one of them followed by a stop at the local craft brewery for a beer or two sounds like the perfect way to spend an afternoon.
But the weather gods have other plans for us. I’m about to fling my camera bag over my shoulder and head out the door when a deep thunderous growl echoes through the mountains. Its power reverberates through our bodies, stopping us in our tracks, and then, the heavens open. We’re not going anywhere.
Our Cosy Refuge at Misty Mountain Lodge
And besides, our stone cottage offers a cosy refuge from the cold. A huge picture window looks out across the valley. Which, when the weather gods eventually allow, reveals itself as a vast panorama of valleys surrounded by layer upon layer of hills that seem to stretch out to infinity and quite possibly beyond.
And to seal the deal, an inviting, packed fireplace with a pile of extra logs next to it begs to be lit. We oblige and relax with a glass of wine in front of the picture window. We watch the mists roll up the hill to envelope us and then slide dreamily back down the hillside as the light fades on the day.
It’s a perfect start to our getaway, far from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Mother Nature Says, ‘Take it Easy!’
A profound stillness wakes us. There is an absence of sound. No early morning birdsong or even the intermittent traffic noise from the nearby road. We’re enveloped in an opaque pearly white cloud so thick we can barely make out the patio railing. It seems the rest of the world vanished overnight, and we are the only people left in this blanched world.
Somewhere out there, the rays of the rising sun, at least I think it’s the sun, intensifies the whiteness to a blinding brilliance. I’m about to reach for my sunglasses; it’s that bright when the colour changes to a smoky grey, and imperceptibly the cloud retreats.
First, to the patio’s edge, then the surrounding shrubs, and finally the treeline not too far away from our cottage. Where the misty cloud will lurk for the rest of the morning, occasionally making forays up to our cosy little stone house.
I poke my nose out the back door, thinking I’ll go for a walk, but a fine drizzle and a chilly breath of wind stops me dead in my tracks. There will be no strolls to pretty waterfalls in the Sabie valley this morning. Instead, we’ll heed Mother Nature and stay put in our cosy nest and take it easy.
It turns out to be the perfect spot for our lazy selves. We happily spend the morning in front of the picture window with a fire blazing in the fireplace. We watch the ever-changing light patterns. Observe the mischievous breezes waft the mists this way and that with no discernible patterns. And stare spellbound at the infrequent reveals of the panoramic view while occasionally reading another page of our books.
Hiking the Misty Mountain
By mid-afternoon, the clouds lift. So we decide to go for a short hike. We are both a lot more fit than our previous attempt at this hiking thing at Thendele, and according to the friendly lady at reception, the short 2.7 km trail is easy!
It is, in the beginning. We saunter through a pretty manicured green dell, past a dam with convenient benches dotted around it. We follow the feeder stream. Gradually, the plant life becomes more and more unconstrained.
Until we reach the edge of the open grassland and what appears to be a gentle mound of a hill at first glance. We stroll jauntily along the path, waist-high grass on either side of us. And then, the gradient increases.
Of course, neither of us will admit that this sudden ascent is gruelling. Instead, we each find breathless moments to stop and show each other an ‘interesting’ plant or comment on the view. It turns out the top of the mound is at 1700 meters, and I blame our breathlessness on the altitude.
An ecological island of lush green afro-montane grassland filled with delicate tiny yellow and white summer wildflowers awaits us at the top. And a sweeping view of bottle-green timber plantation clad mountains that seems to extend beyond the horizon.
But the weather has changed again. Gloomy grey skies mute this African green summer colour palette. Except for the startling clusters of shocking hot pink dotted around the landscape. On closer inspection, this un-African colour reveals itself as an agapanthus-like crown of delicate flowers on a single stem.
We don’t stay long because isolated fat raindrops begin to fall, chasing us at great speed back down the mountain to our cosy cottage and warm fire.
P.S. Roaming Fox is my go-to blog guide whenever I’m planning a trip anywhere in South Africa.
Lazy Misty Mountain Days
Misty Mountain is the perfect spot for our lazy selves to unwind far away from our city lives. The inclement weather binds us to our snug cottage for the first two days. Nevertheless, we’re happy to take it easy in front of the big picture window watching the continually changing panoramic splendour below us while occasionally reading another page of our books.
And when the lazy is not so strong and the weather improves, Misty Mountain becomes the perfect base for exploring the waterfalls and scenic spots along the spectacular Panorama Route.
Misty Mountain Lodge Good to Know:
Where is it?
You’ll find Misty Mountain Lodge somewhere in the middle of the Long Tom Pass between Lydenberg and Sabie in Mpumalanga. Here the scenic beauty of the indigenous forests, pine plantations, open grasslands and incredible views take your breath away. But, of course, the 1700-meter altitude might be a contributing factor too.
There is a range of cottages available on a bed and breakfast basis. There’s also a good bar and an excellent restaurant at the main lodge.
Each cottage has basic self-catering facilities with a fridge, microwave, crockery, and a braai (barbecue) on the private patio outside.
And you’ll never be cold at Misty Mountain. The thoughtful owners have made sure of that. There’s an interior fireplace, electric blankets on the beds and heaters.
Not all the cottages have views! Some of them face the Long Tom Pass road, so make sure to reserve one with a view when you book.
Things to do
There are hiking and mountain bike trails on the property but remember to bring your own bike. And what I imagine might be quite an exhilarating experience, a 1.7-kilometre toboggan run, although we didn’t try it out.
For more things to do and places of interest in the area, click this link for short day trip drives from Sabie.
Weather and Best Time to Visit
The winter months are dry, and you do have a better chance of clear views, but it can be bitterly cold.
We visited in the wet summer months when you can expect to encounter heavy mists and lots of rain. And it can be quite chilly too, so remember to take your warm winter coats and your swimming costume.
If you can, plan your visit to avoid public holiday weekends and South African school holidays the nearby scenic attractions in Sabie and the Panorama route can be a little crowded.
DISCLOSURE: I have no commercial relationship with Misty Mountain Lodge or any of its affiliates. All photographs, experiences and opinions expressed in this blog post are my own.