Cathkin Park or Champagne Valley, which is not a valley …but a broader community of the Central Drakensberg in South Africa, is an epi-centre of adventure tourism. This area is one of the most popular and must-see regions of the Drakensberg. Cathkin Park is a suburb of the village of Winterton, which is some 30 kilometres away from the centre of this magnificent valley. Additionally, it is an essential section of the Okhahlamba Local Municipality.
Cathkin Park or an area fondly referred to as Champagne Valley has some three thousand residents. It is also home to several major resorts or hotels. The most famous being:
- Firstly, Champagne Sports Resort;
- Champagne Castle Hotel;
- Thirdly, Drakensberg Sun;
- Also, The Nest Hotel;
- Gooderson Monks Cowl Golf Resort;
- Moreover, Cayley Mountain Resort;
- Dragon View Lodge;
- Mount Champagne;
- Mountain Splendour;
- Ardmore Guest Farm;
- Champagne Lane Resort;
- Champagne Valley Resort;
- Dragon Peaks Resort; and
- Wits End.
Over and above these resorts there are many lodges, country houses, bed and breakfast venues, camping and caravaning venues, self-catering and time-share venues and youth or backpacker venues in this area.
Cathkin Park or Champagne Valley mountain peaks
Cathkin Park or Champagne Valley has several striking peaks that are amongst the highest in the Drakensberg and Southern Africa. These are the icons of this area, namely:
- Champagne Castle Peak (3 377 metres);
- Cathkin Peak (3 181 metres);
- Sterkhorn or Mount Memory (2,973 metres);
- Monks Cowl (only visible from certain angles; 3 229 m);
- The Amplet (2,550 metres), and
- Dragon’s Back ridge (2,778 metres)
Cathkin Park is renowned for its wide range of adventure pursuits:
- Hiking. Numerous trails start at Monks Cowl Camp such as Nandi’s Falls, Sterkspruit Falls and Blindman’s Corner;
- Trail running. There is a dedicated trail that begins from Berg Air ;
- Mountaineering. Monks Cowl, for example, is a famous climb;
- Helicopter flips;
- Mountain Biking. There is a dedicated trail that starts from Berg Air;
- Fishing. Bell Park Dam is a renowned spot for fishing;
- White River Rafting;
- Hot air ballooning;
- Horse Riding;
- A cliff walk;
- Scrambling, and so much more.
Over above this, it is well known for several other sports pursuits. These include:
- Golf (Champagne Sports Resort and Gooderson Monks Cowl Golf Resort),
- Bowls (The Nest Hotel), and
- Road running. A weekly Park Run takes place from the Waffle Hut each Saturday at 08h00.
Moreover, there are many cultural related, shopping and culinary venues that you can visit. Amongst them:
- Berg Air – The Drakensberg Brewery, Chocolate Cafe, Farm Friends and The Champagne Bistro ;
- The Oaks;
- Cedarwood Shopping Centre;
- Drakensberg Boys Choir;
- Falcon Ridge Birds of Prey;
- Dragon Rock Reptile Centre;
- Deon’s Honey and Bee tours;
- Scrumpy Jack; and
- Thokozisa (right at the entrance to the Valley area).
The Gray and Sclanders families are synonymous with the development of the ‘Valley’. Moreover, the Zunckel family. The Gray’s were the first to arrive in this area in 1854. They were a Scottish family who had travelled on the barque Aliwal in 1849. This ship almost ran aground near the present-day village of Umkomaas. The famous diving reef in this area is named after this vessel.
They (lead by David Gray) initially settled in the “Valley” after a few attempts to establish farms in the Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal. They founded Cathkin Farm. Cathkin Peak is named after this famous farm. Also, Andrew Gray established “The Nest Hotel”. Italian prisoners of war built this “grande old dame” of the “Valley”.
Patrick Sclanders, a friend of David Gray, took over ” The Nest” and married David Gray’s eldest daughter Mary.
The Gray’s continue to live in Cathkin Park and operate a substantial sawmill and timber farm.
The Zunckel family featured prominently in establishing the Hotel industry in the Cathkin Park Valley, with the purchasing of Cathkin Park Guest Farm in 1935 and running it as a successful family resort named Cathkin Park Hotel for just over 30 years.
Reverend Karl Edward Zunckel emigrated to Natal from Berlin, Germany as a Lutheran Missionary in 1850. His Grandson, Otto Zunckel, married Mathilda Posselt, Granddaughter of Reverend C.W. Posselt who established the Emmaus Mission Station and Hospital in the Cathedral Peak Valley in 1847.
Otto and his 3 sons – Walter, Gerald and Udo – took part in many dramatic berg rescues in the mountains that form the frame of our valley during this time.
Otto Zunckel purchased Cathkin Park Hotel, which was run as a much-loved and well-known holiday venue, by his son Gerald Zunckel and his wife Lilian between 1935 and 1967.
The Zunckel family are still a large and integral part of the Drakensberg, mainly represented in the farming community of Bergville.
The history of Cathkin Park would not be complete without reference to the internationally acclaimed Drakensberg Boys Choir School. The school was established in 1967 by the Tungay family who also established the well known Dragon Peaks Resort. Enrolment is approximately 120 boys aged 9 to 15. The school has a 600-seat auditorium constructed in 1995. It holds weekly concerts in term time on Wednesday afternoons. The Choir has toured internationally and secured a string of international awards. This school is a ‘key ambassador’ for this Valley and South Africa as a whole.
Cathkin Park’s economic activities revolve around agriculture, tourism and forestry.
[Special thanks to Ann Gray and Delyse Ritchie (nee Binney) for their input in the formulation of this article]