A Very Fulfilling Day at Cathedral Peak Hotel (Hectic Route Day 4)

On Day 4 of The Hectic Route, our Johannesburg to Cape Town road trip, we attempt to cram in multiple days worth of experiences (and food) in and around the Cathedral Peak Hotel. 

The hotel's model of all the hikes in Cathedral Peak Hotel
The hotel has this awesome to-scale model of Cathedral Peak with all the hiking routes and little lights marking each. Here, the hotel is lit up.

Pure Luxury

Today was to be a luxurious day.

We had the luxury of not having to drive because we were staying a second night at the luxurious Cathedral Peak Hotel, where we had the luxury of dozens of hikes, and countless activities and amenities—like rock climbing, horseback riding, village tours, mini putt, pool lounging—to choose from.

In an ideal world, we'd have at least four days to take full advantage of such luxury but, with only ten more days to cross South Africa, we had to cram it all into one day.

We did our best.

Kim looking at forest stream.
Rainbow Gorge is nice, but the forest is not what Cathedral Peak and the Drakensberg is famous for.

Two Wrongs…

The breakfast buffet looked fantastic—it had all the staples like an omelet stand and tons of exotic cheeses, fruit, bread, and pastries, plus local dishes like boerewors sausage and ox kidney—but we skipped it.

We'd gorged on too much the night before and wanted to save up to eat even more tonight.

So instead we jumped straight into hiking.

We'd initially planned on hiking Cathedral Peak, the 9 to 10-hour "feature hike" of the hotel. But the rains last night made it unsafe to reach the summit, so we settled on a less-intimidating hike instead: Rainbow Gorge.

Wrong choice.

In retrospect, hiking Rainbow Gorge was like deciding to eat Mexican food in Japan. The trail went through thick vegetation instead of the open mountain trails and incredible scenery that Cathedral Peak is famous for. Maybe for someone who spends a week at Cathedral Peak Hotel it'd be a nice change of pace, but not for us with only two days.

We tried to cut our losses on the way back by taking a trail we saw on Maps.Me that looked to return to the hotel over the mountain instead of back through the forested gorge.

Wrong choice again.

Looking back on Rainbow Gorge
We tried to find another way back from Rainbow Gorge… and failed.

After an hour and a half of scaling steep slopes and roaming around unable to find any trace of a trail, we had to give up and go back the way we came.

But not all was lost. Our two wrongs turned out quite alright…

A Silver Many-Colored Lining

Thanks to our ill-advised hike choice and detour, we made a few memorable finds.

First, hanging low in a protea tree on the hill above Rainbow Gorge, Kim found a cradle-of-your-hand-sized nest with three bright blue eggs in it.

Close-up of baby blue bird's eggs
Low-hanging bird's nest we came across in our failed attempt to escape Rainbow Gorge.

Then, back down in the gorge, we found the coolest looking insect I can recall ever seeing: a large-thumb-sized grasshopper that looked as if was coated with some sort of tribal war paint.

Crazy looking grasshopper
This grasshopper doesn't look real, right? And it's so intense-looking I was scared to try to catch it.

Half an hour later I found another gnarly-looking grasshopper—this one with green flame-colored spotted wings, a striped body, and a warty red cap.

Another cool-looking grasshopper
Imagine how crazy the offspring would look if this grasshopper had babies with the other one!

I also had the chance for a much-needed natural massage in one of the Rainbow Gorge's waterfalls on the way back.

Chris in Rainbow Gorge waterfall
Kim spying on me getting my waterfall massage.

Thanks to these little discoveries, we ended up not regreting our choices at all.

Splitting Up

Back at the hotel, Kim was keen to take advantage of the hotel's inexpensive spa services, while I'd already gotten my massage in the Rainbow Gorge waterfall and was eager to get back into the mountains, so we parted ways.

I made the better choice.

Kim said her 520 rands ($37 USD), 1-hour full-body massage would've been good except for one big problem: The masseuse was sick. Every minute or so, she had to break from rubbing Kim's muscles to blow her nose.

So there may have been some extra moisture in the massage oil, if you know what I mean.

I, on the other hand, made up for missing out on the mountains in the morning by going for another hike—actually more of a run because time was running out—to One Tree Hill and back. Normally I don't even like running but, in a setting like this, I couldn't resist.

Trail to One Tree Hill
The Cathedral Peak scenery compels even non-hikers and runners to get out there and explore.

The 500-meter climb wasn't as spectacular as the previous day's hike, and clouds blocked the views of the surrounding peaks, but it was fantastic nonetheless. In the vast, open, and unpopulated mountains I felt I had the whole place to myself.

View of Cathedral Peak Hotel from One Tree Hill
Looking down on Cathedral Peak Hotel, a.k.a. The Playground for Grown-Ups, from One Tree Hill.

I had also worked up an appetite for what I'd been looking forward to all day:


A Very Fulfilling Ending

Yesterday, the Cathedral Peak Hotel's outstanding buffet dinner spread caught us off guard and we weren't quite hungry enough to take full advantage of it.

This time, we were ready (especially me).

And the food didn't disappoint.

For my first plate, I enjoyed some slices of roast beef with mushroom sauce, Cornish hen, grilled veggies, cherry-bacon skewers, and a selection of cheeses whose names I can't remember and could never pronounce.

Dinner plate #1 at Cathedral Peak Hotel

For round two, I had a spicy bean curry, creamy cauliflower, more butter chicken and bacon cherry skewers.

Dinner plate #2 at Cathedral Peak Hotel

For thirds, I managed to cram in some more roast beef (this time with a Yorkshire pudding), butter chicken, skewers, and cheese.

Dinner plate #3 at Cathedral Peak Hotel

And for dessert, I topped my meal off with some berry cheesecake, peppermint crumble, and two slices of pecan pie, all covered with whipped cream and chocolate sauce.

Dessert plate at Cathedral Peak Hotel

In between plates, we also had the chance to talk Sam van der Riet, a daughter in the family that built the hotel back in 1936 and still owns it today. She was incredibly hospitable and took a break from her family dinner to write us a two-sided sheet of paper with recommendations and tips for the rest of our trip.

We went to bed content that we'd filled our two days at Cathedral Peak Hotel (and our bellies) to the maximum amount possible…

…but still wanting more.

Cathedral Peak Hotel and mountains

Quick Tips for Cathedral Peak (and the Hotel)

  • Don't get their packed lunch. The bland sandwich, sugary granola bar, fruit, piece of cheese, and juice box wasn't worth the 120 rands we paid.
  • Look at the events calendar. We missed what we were told was an entertaining musical performance by a visiting artist because we didn't check the daily events calendar at the reception.
  • Save Rainbow Gorge for later. If you're staying in Cathedral Peak for four days or more, definitely do it in day three or four. Otherwise, don't.
  • Hike Baboon Rock instead. Some German ladies I chatted with after my second hike said Baboon Rock was up there with the Mushroom Rock / Ribbons Falls hike we'd done the day before as their favorite hike in the area.
  • If you can, hike Cathedral Peak. Weather and fitness permitting, this is apparently THE hike to do. Once or twice a week, Cathedral Peak Hotel has a guide to lead the hike. It's free for guests and 600 rands otherwise.
  • Bring your own drinks. Bring your own wine, or drink of choice, to leave in your room and enjoy there while you're getting ready for dinner. You don't need too much though, since the hotel does have two fun pub-style bars.

One day in Durban cover image of Warwick Market with downtown in background

Next Up (The Hectic Route Day 5):
Feeling the heat, and the inequality, in Durban

South Africa Road Trip Planning tips cover image of a sign saying bon voyage in xhosa
"Hamba kakuhle" means "bon voyage" in Xhosa.

How to Have an Even Better South Africa Road Trip than Ours

For everything from safety tips to how to find the best rental car to what our absolute favorite experiences are, check out our South Africa road trip tips.

Atop a mountain after hiking in the Drakensberg

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