Every now and again you come across a view so perfect that all you want to do is roll it up, put it in a bag and take it home with you. There’s something about casting your eyes over the vast rolling KwaZulu-Natal hills that helps – no, forces – you to forget all your troubles (and in these trying times of the Covid-19 pandemic, we certainly need to switch off ).
While sipping a cocktail sitting poolside at Zulu Nyala Game Lodge, in Hluhluwe, you can’t help but relax. The views to the Indian Ocean to the east, Zululand to the north and inland to the west are stunning, with the lodge cradled in between the wilderness reserves of Mkuze, Hluhluwe, St Lucia and Sodwana Bay.
You’re in the bush, but you can almost smell the sweet sea air. It’s sheer bliss … the rat race backhome a distant memory. Zulu Nyala Game Lodge is less than a seven-hour drive from Johannesburg, and just 30 minutes from the popular Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. We went for the long weekend, breaking the trip with a three-hour drive to Wakkerstroom late on the Thursday afternoon, before making our way down to KZN via Piet Retief early the next day.
Zulu Nyala Game Lodge. Picture: Trevor Stevens
On the way back we took less than seven hours to get back to Joburg on the Monday. It’s probably just too far for a two-day weekend, although the trip back was pleasant, so it can be done. However, the game lodge is less than three hours from Durban – ideal for a quick escape.
After a warm welcome from the staff on a humid Friday afternoon, it was straight to the swimming pool for our two children. They had the pool all to themselves, and my wife and I took advantage of the down time by sipping on a sundowner or two, admiring the wonderful scenes of northern KwaZulu-Natal from the elevated poolside area.
We spent a few hours watching a journey of giraffes making their way down, then up the valley below us, feeding on the leaves of the acacia trees.
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The vast land before our eyes provides so many possibilities. The lodge is 56 hectares in size and home to four of the big five – there’s no lions – and a number of species of birds and antelope.
There’s lots to do in the area. St Lucia is an hour and 15 minutes from the lodge, and Sodwana Bay is 90 minutes away. There’s a reptile park down the road and we popped in to the newly-revamped Ngweni Railroad Brewery & Cafe down the road for a quick bite and a craft beer before checking in.
The friendly staff at Zulu Nyala immediately make you feel right at home. From the moment Bongani greets you while you sign-in at the gate, or Melusi checks you in at reception, you know you will be taken care of.
It’s the same feeling you get from knowledgeable game drive guide James, the service you get from bartender Thulani or the smile that greets you from waitress Nozipho every time you sit down for a meal.
The breakfast and dinner buffets are generous, and offer guests a wide variety of dishes. My son, who has a massive appetite, took a special liking to the soup each night, while keeping just enough space for the variety of desserts after mains.
Energetic Vinodh “Vee” Haripersad, general manager at Zulu Nyala Country Manor, Game Lodge and Heritage Safari Lodge, made sure to check in with him each day to tell him what was on the menu.
The rooms are not equipped with TVs. Nor Wi-Fi – much to the dismay of our teenage daughter, and teen-to-be son. Shock, horror! Not so much for my wife and I.
It forces you to forget about technology and take in the beauty. As Vinohd explains, “Zulu Nyala is the chance to experience the magic of Africa”.
“We want our guests to come and experience Africa at its best,” says Vinodh. “We guarantee that experience. You have no option other than to relax.”
For those that refuse to part with technology, you can go to the reception area or the massive entertainment lounge for Wi-Fi reception or put on the telly. The magnificent thatched entertainment area, which is adjacent to the dining rooms, is furnished with a number of comfortable couches where you can enjoy some down time with a book or a board game.
If reading is not for you, then there’s a number of pool tables and a foosball table, which played host to many fierce battles between my son and I after dinner.
There’s 54 suites at the lodge. We stayed in adjacent twin rooms, which more than catered for our needs. Down the road there are 150 more suites at the Heritage Safari Lodge, but due to limited international travel because of Covid, it’s closed for now. They are hoping an uptick in international tourists later this year will allow them to open their doors once more.
As Vinohd explains; “We adhere to all the necessary Covid protocol, but respect our guests and don’t get in their way”.
There’s nothing quite like having a coffee on your stoep in the morning, as the meticulously manicured gardens offer a wonderful backdrop, but also some privacy from other visitors.
The succulent gardens are well taken care of, so it’s no wonder there’s a resident nyala family that meanders in and out of the garden beds throughout the day, much to our delight.
The highlight of our trip was no doubt the Saturday morning game drive with James. We didn’t get to see the three elephants, or rhino – they have black and white rhino in the reserve – but we saw plenty of antelope, giraffes, a variety of birds and a large herd of buffalo.
We also have a new respect for the golden orb spider, which they have no shortage of in the park, much to the dismay of my wife, who is frightened of spiders.
The lodge is committed to protecting their rhinos, and for the last seven years they have established an anti-poaching team that operate 24 hours a day. On the second day we took a drive to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park down the road.
I thought the kids would jump at the opportunity to take a drive down to the coast, but I was out-voted three to one for the bush. Being a massive fan of the bush, it didn’t bother me in the slightest.
We weren’t disappointed in the game reserve, satisfied in what we saw even though the big cats eluded us. However, we saved the best for last as seconds after driving into Zulu Nyala Game Lodge we saw three white rhinos, including a calf.
Watching the trio graze as the sun sank was the cherry on the cake for us, and our time in Hluhluwe.
The breathtaking views, friendly staff and spending quality time with the family made this a memorable trip. Those spectacular sunsets from the pool and the entertainment deck will forever be etched in our memories, as will the laughs and splendid sightings.
Hluhluwe holds a very special place in my wife and my hearts, having spent a few nights in the area for our honeymoon over 15 years ago.
We went back a few years later when the kids were in creche and haven’t had the chance to visit since … until now. We hopefully won’t wait that long before returning here again.