The Eastern Cape Drakensberg is the most southerly section of Southern Africa’s highest and most extensive mountain chain, stretching east across Lesotho and up the west flank of KwaZulu-Natal into Mpumalanga. The obvious goal of this world of San rock paintings, sandstone caves and craggy sheep farms is Rhodes, one of the country’s best-preserved and prettiest Victorian villages. Since there is no national park in the Eastern Cape Drakensberg, activities are all arranged through private farms. Very remote, Rhodes is reached from Barkly East, which itself is 130km from Aliwal North on the N6. The 60km dirt road to Rhodes from Barkly East is tortuous and rough, taking a good ninety minutes, with sheer, unfenced drops.
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RHODES is almost too good to be true – a remote and beautiful village girdled by the Eastern Cape Drakensberg. Few people actually live here: like other villages in this region, Rhodes was progressively deserted as residents gravitated to the cities to make a living, leaving its Victorian tin-roofed architecture stuck in a very pleasing time warp. Today, its raison d’être is as a low-key holiday place for people who appreciate its isolation, wood stoves and restored cottages. Although electricity reached the village a few years ago, very few establishments have it, and paraffin lamps and candles are the norm. Given that Rhodes is not on the way to anywhere (on some maps it doesn’t even appear), it is a place to dwell for a few days, rather than for an overnight stop. While nights are cool even in summer, in winter they are freezing, and there’s no central heating, so pack warm clothes.
The village itself is not much more than a few crisscrossing gravel roads lined with pine trees. At the heart of the village is the Rhodes Hotel, a general shop and a garage; there’s also a post office and payphone, but no banking facilities and no public transport in or out of the village.
Rhodes used to be busy in the winter, when skiers used it as a base for the artificial snowed Tiffendell slopes, but this activity has ceased due to mysterious legalities. The village is an hour’s 4WD drive into the highest peaks of the Eastern Cape Drakensberg. December to May are the best months for swimming and hiking.