Once upon a time, high up within the Mpumalanga mountains, highwaymen would steal gold from passing coaches leaving the mining town of Pilgrim’s Rest. This is how the road earned its title of Robbers Pass. Today, at the top of Robbers Pass, you will find a treasure of a different sort – a blissful mountain sanctuary called Crystal Springs . Often enshrouded in a cloak of mist, due to its elevated location, the RCI Gold Crown Resort is huge at 2400 hectares. The property consists of clusters of lodges set amid beautiful gardens, interspersed with towering pine forests and adjoined by a game farm.
We arrived at the picturesque resort after an afternoon of exploring Mpumalanga’s scenic waterfalls and viewpoints. Although it was fully booked due to the public holiday, it didn’t feel crowded at all, simply due to its expansive area and abundant leisure options. Check -in was friendly and efficient and we were given a quick overview of the resort and its facilities. We drove down the beautiful road to our chalet, deeper into the mountains and unpacked the car, then settled down to watch the beautiful sunset painting hues of orange, purple and crimson over the distant peaks.
The 4-star accommodation options include one, two, or three-bedroomed lodges, apartments, and clubhouse suites and cater for groups of 2 to 8. The three-bedroomed lodges have a washing machine and a dishwasher. For the rest, there is a laundromat.
The resort is self-catering so make sure that you take your own amenities and groceries. However, if you do forget anything, there is a convenience store near the reception area which sells a wide range of items. And if you don’t feel like cooking, you can enjoy the warm and cosy ambience at Le Fera Restaurant as you tuck into a pizza or a steak, or one of their many fish and vegetarian dishes.
We stayed in a beautifully appointed face-brick lodge overlooking the mountains. It had an en-suite double bedroom, a twin bedroom for the kids with another bathroom, an open-plan kitchen, a dining and lounge area and a private patio with braai facilities. The mountain-facing rooms have floor to ceiling glass windows and sliding doors so that you can enjoy the view at all times. Beware of leaving them open though as the monkeys can become a nuisance.
A fireplace in the lounge, panel heaters in the bedrooms and heated towel rails in the bathrooms provide snug relief from the cold winds which grip the resort at nights and some days too. Some warm clothing is advised too.
There are abundant activities at the resort, both indoor and outdoor. Outdoor activities include tennis, squash, chess, jungle gyms, and mini golf under the shade of the trees. There are four swimming pools on the premises, of which two are deliciously heated. Walking trails are also available.
Indoor activities include a games room with electronic and board games, a pool table and table tennis. A kiddies entertainment programmes with structured activities is handed to you on arrival during the school holidays. Le Fera Health & Beauty Spa offers treatments for teenagers and adults.
Those over the age of 16 years also have access to the Clubhouse facilities. There are Jacuzzis, a sauna, a steam room, an indoor heated pool, a gym and a small library. While my kids had fun at the games room, my husband and I enjoyed ourselves at the Clubhouse.
Safari addicts like me can get their bush fix at the 2400 hectare game farm. Animals such as zebras, giraffes, and many other types of plains game roam the game farm and often venture out to the chalets. Leopards, caracals and other small cats also live there but are not seen as often – except by the late night staff. Bird watchers will have a great time too – with many different species inhabiting the area. There are morning and afternoon open-vehicle game drives and self-driving is also permitted.
If you can drag yourself away from the resort, the historic town of Pilgrims Rest and its namesake, the Pilgrims Rest golf course are a short drive away. Kruger National Park is about an hour away and other Mpumalanga attractions are within short proximity as well.
With such an abundance of activities in such a beautiful environment, it is easy to see why Crystal Springs is rated as one of South Africa’s best big family resorts. Wherever I looked, I saw families having fun together. My kids made new friends and I met a long-lost cousin from Kwazulu-Natal who I hadn’t seen in ages. I left the resort reluctantly, but revitalized by the fresh mountain air.
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