The name Hluhluwe invokes an image of gentle, rolling KwaZulu-Natal hills covered with verdant bush and fringed by the St Lucia marine reserve, a place dear to many of our South African hearts, so an invitation to immerse myself in its embrace wasn’t going to go amiss.
This is the land of Zulu culture in its most romanticised form, set in arguably the most beautiful stretch of the country (sorry Capetonians) between iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Hluhluwe– iMfolozi game reserve, with its abundance of wildlife on land and in water.
It’s Africa at its most bucolic and the best way to explore it is to find an unassuming but comfortable lodge that fits in snugly with the surrounds.
Enter Emdoneni Lodge, a privately owned three-star snuggery on a small game farm close to the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi game reserve.
The beauty of places that aren’t actually in a game reserve is you can walk about, so here you can go on guided and non-guided walks or hikes, spotting zebra, nyala and impala along the way, which gives one a sense of freedom that game lodges can’t offer, lest you get eaten.
The suites are large and comfortable if not luxurious. Hats off to the kitchen staff here as they produce some very tasty meals (try the curry dish), better than some of the pricey cuisine in some five-star game lodges I’ve been to.
There’s also a spa here, which is a great value-add in any bush retreat. There’s nothing like being pampered to the sounds of the bush teeming with animals.
A very special offering at Emdoneni is a visit to its Zululand Cat Conservation project, right on the property, where you encounter cheetah, serval, caracal and African wild cats up close.
If you love the ephemeral nature of cats, you will love them even more at the end of this tour, because despite being predictably psycho, they each have their own loveable personalities.
And before you get on your hind horse about the cats being “canned”, they are all rescues that would be compromised in the wild, so for now they live hedonistic lives being fed and loved in enclosures that are larger than required and equipped with ample shade, vegetation and running water.
Since it started 25 years ago, more than 100 wild cats have been taken in and cared for and at least 30 of these cats have been released back into the wild after rehabilitation.
From Emdoneni you can take day excursions with Heritage Tours to the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, which embraces the north coast stretching from the small village of St Lucia in the south to the border of Mozambique in the north.
I recommend the hippo and croc boat safari up the St Lucia estuary, for R300 per person, or the half-day iSimangaliso Safari Tour which includes game drives and snorkelling in the sea at Cape Vidal for R650 per person.
From Johannesburg, Emdoneni is about five-and-a-half hours drive, and from Ballito north of Durban, it’s a two-hour drive.
A two-night package including double bed & breakfast, a cat tour, one game drive and one Lake St Lucia boat trip plus one signature massage is only R3,773. Emdoneni also does weddings.
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