South African Adventure
Posted — under Luxury Holidays.
I’ve just returned from the KwaZulu Natal region of South Africa, what an amazing experience it was. After our nonstop flight with BA from Heathrow to Durban, we wasted no time when we arrived at our first stop Makakatana Lodge in Lake St Lucia. This lodge is family owned and it feels like you are truly one of the family with their warm hospitality and homely feel. With individually designed rooms, on stilt and just meters away from the lakeside, our first adventure started with a ride in one of the hotels Mokoro, a flat-bottomed canoe. Paddled by the lovely Hans. The feeling of being completely at one with nature was quite overwhelming, the perfect opportunity to enjoy the beautiful scenery and many stunning birds and large family of noisy hippos that sat just a little further than we paddled! The following morning, we were off for a boat ride on the lake to enjoy breakfast with the many pods of hippos, there are over 1000 of them living in the lake and sharing the water with as many crocodiles!
A few hours’ drive away, we arrived at the brand-new lodges at Umfolozi Grand Reserve, home to the Big 5. Our overnight was at the stunning Mthembu Lodge. Both lodges, Mthembu and sister lodge Biyella are new and luxurious, perfect to come back to after a fantastic safari experience. Our first game drive here was one to remember – an encounter with a young bull elephant who within 15 foot of the vehicle decided we were making him feel a little uncomfortable. Our guide Chris was amazing and calming talked to this gorgeous boy and eventually defused a rather tense situation – he maintained he always had it under control which we know he had!
Our third game lodge was the Thanda Tented Camp, another Big 5 game reserve and a lovely way to experience Tented accommodation. Here we saw a huge herd of elephants, a sleep pride of lions and a beautiful giraffe family with a baby of only a few weeks. Our afternoon drive soon turned into a night drive and with blankets tucked over our knees we searched for the reserves nocturnal animals of which there were plenty. We eventually stopped in what felt like the middle of nowhere but being led into the bush we came upon our dinner location for the evening – a bush BBQ and African entertainment made for the most memorable of nights and great conversations with our guide and tracker gave us much insight into old and current Zulu traditions.
On day four we left the game reserves behind and headed for Fugitives Drift and a tour of the Anglo Zulu Battlefields. Our first evening, we walked to Rorke’s Drift where we learned about the battle and bravery of the British soldiers and paid our respects at some of the graves. The next morning, we travelled to the area where the famous battle of Isandlwanda had taken place. Our guide was a great grandson of a Zulu warrior and his words and the fact that we were standing right where this battle took place brought it all too clearly to life in a highly emotive way. Many of us were moved to tears and the tragic tales of this bloody battle was brought to life and the stark reality of the casualties were right in front of us - piles of white stones marked the mass graves of soldiers at the spot they fell.
We next headed to the delightful Three Tree Hill Lodge, overlooking Spioenkop Game Reserve, midway between Johannesburg and Durban and with the Drakensberg Mountains as the back drop. Warmly welcomed by the private owners, we then headed out for a stunning sun-downer followed by a quiet dining experience where much of the produce is locally grown. The following morning we had some time to ourselves - some of our group enjoyed a horse trek, others took themselves off on some of the self-guided trails around this delightful property. The choice of these activities as well as battlefield tours, walking safaris and mountain biking were all there for us.
Our next evening was spent at Montusi, located in the North Drakensberg Mountains, the setting of this property is stunning and provided fantastic accommodation that had so recently been refurbished. There are several walking options on the property itself or you can easily head into the mountains from here and tackle some more challenging walks depending on your fitness.
With our trip coming to an end, we arrived back into Durban to spend our final evening at the divine Oyster Box Hotel. Privately owned it is easy to see why this hotel enjoys such huge repeat business. Reminding me of the iconic Raffle Hotels in Singapore, it manages to combine a distinctly colonial feel with touches of contemporary all adding up to be the most luxurious hotel of old. We experienced their renowned curry buffet lunch and, in the evening, we dined A La Carte in the Grill room, an experience. We were attended to by Henry who has worked in the hotel for 55 years and is an important icon at this wonderful hotel – in fact he is nearly as popular as the resident cat Skabega who even has his own set of children’s books written about him!The following morning, we left the Oyster Box and headed back to the airport for our direct BA flight home.
It’s taken me a little whilst to adjust back to normal life but my memories of this wonderful part of the world and the experiences that it afforded me will stay with me for a lifetime!