A hillside of aloes

As I said in the cover page of Destinations, Africa, just as wonderful as it is to travel abroad, here in South Africa we have some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. That said, to those outside of South Africa, I encourage you to explore your own country. You will find many hidden gems.

A hillside of aloesA hillside of aloes
A real steam train

A real steam engine

This is just what I discovered a week ago (June 2017) when I went on the Creighton Steam Train to see the Valley of Aloes in Southern KwaZulu-Natal. I had first heard of this activity last year when some friends said that they had done the trip and how wonderful it had been. In January 2017 I looked up the website and discovered that bookings opened in March so I bookmarked the site and put a reminder on my gmail calendar so as not to forget.

By booking early I was able to book for the pensioners’ weekend at a reduced cost and get placed in the Casual Lounge coach where seating is on comfortable chairs and couches set out in groups of 4. Originally there were to be 4 of us as a group but unfortunately my husband was unable to come at the last minute. The 3 of us who did go had a wonderful day and felt that it was worth every penny (or cent).

Our day started early having to leave Durban at 07:00 so as to be at Creighton by 09:15 which we achieved with a few minutes to spare. It was a beautiful clear day but at that hour still rather cold. People were standing around wrapped in warm pants, heavy jackets, scarves, gloves and beanies while they drank steaming cups of coffee, tea or hot chocolate. Also on sale on arrival were muffins and egg & bacon rolls. We had all had breakfast so we each had coffee and a muffin.

We boarded the train and enjoyed watching the steam engine, the only running Standard Garrett locomotive in the country the GMAM 4074, pass by on an adjacent line and then reverse shunt to attach to the first coach. We were in the second. We started our journey at about 10:05 already starting to feel that there was no hurry. Good old fashioned way to travel.

The train chugged gently along past fields of dairy farms and fields of dry grass. A couple of small buck were seen on one hill and, at one stage, the train had to slow considerably as some horses were running on the line in front of it. The leisureliness of the day further evidenced. We crossed over the upgraded steel bridge, built in the early 1900s, over the Mzimkhulu River which flows from the mountains in the Southern Drakensberg to the sea at Port Shepstone.

Abe Lyn board the trainAbe & Lyn are helped to board the train

Gradually more and more aloes came into view and when the train stopped we were in a valley both sides of which were covered in aloe plants with hundreds in flower. At the bottom of the valley flowed the Gwagwaan River which we didn’t try but it certainly looked very cold. The majority of the passengers alighted the train at this point but it was not that easy even for those of us who are physically fit. This was because the height from the bottom step to the ground was about 1m. Thank goodness there were plenty of helpful gentlemen around.

A flowering aloe beside the riverA flowering aloe beside the river

While we were wandering around taking photos and admiring the valley the train reversed about half a km to where it was just rounding a corner and returned full steam ahead. It was a wonderful sight and brought back many memories from our younger days. Who cared about some soot in the hair! Also on the train were a number of families with small children who were absolutely fascinated at the noise, smoke and steam. This reversing of the train also gave us the opportunity to go across the line for some different photos. Should you take this trip I need to point out that on the river side of the tracks there is a lot of loose stone on a slope   which can prove to be dangerous.

The river flows through the valley

The River Gwagwaan in the valley

 After approx. 30mins we re-boarded and continued the trip to the small village of Riverside. The town was developed by a Mr James Cole who built the hotel which today would be considered the equivalent of a 5* hotel and a trading store in the 1860s. The hotel boasted a beautiful Blackwood staircase but this has been destroyed and the remains of the hotel are not safe to explore. There was also a saw mill but, like the hotel, it has also been closed due to a lack of wood which was sourced from the Kokstad area of the E. Cape.(Kokstad is now in KwaZulu-Natal Province)  Sadly, this has meant that there is no form of employment for the local population.

Home of original settlerThe remains of the hotel of Mr Cole

On arrival at Riverside most passengers disembarked as it was far easier here with the platform level with the lowest step. While the engine was uncoupled, shunted along an adjacent track and then recoupled to the other end for the return journey, we were entertained to some local dancing by local ladies and a gentleman. It was midday and pretty hot by now and yet they kept going for all of the 20mins we were stopped there. donations are basically their only form of income. In addition, the organisers had arranged oranges for the children.

 Dancers on the station

Dancers on the station

Unfortunately there was one not so happy incident where a middle aged man walked up and down the platform insisting that we leave with all our fancy goods (gold and silver etc) as there was nothing for him. Many considered that he had imbibed a bit too much but it was later explained that he has a mental problem and is on medication. Personally, I thought that it would have been helpful for the organisers to have told us of this issue before we left Creighton. It would have saved a lot of unnecessary and unkind remarks.

We returned to Creighton without any further stops and finished our outing with a delicious lunch at the Country club across the road from the station. I can only end by saying that this was one of the best days out in our own Province of KwaZulu-Natal I have had. Do consider booking for next year if you have not been but do so early as there is only one Pensioners’ weekend at the reduced price. Paton’s Country Railroad offer an excellent deal.


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