Northern KwaZulu Natal can produce the most stunning winter days. Here in August, mid winter, it is shorts and flip-flops weather as I enjoy temperatures in the mid to high twenties. Blue sky dominates and there is not a cloud to be seen as I head due east towards the town of Mkuze and my destination, Ghost Mountain Inn. Looking through the dust rising from the gravel road, the surrounding hills are dry, very dry, with some of the only greenery provided by the giant cactus like Euphorbia trees. There is water in the distance below me and plenty of it. Lake Jozini looks fjord like with its mountainous backdrop.
Arriving through the sliding gates at Ghost Mountain Inn was like entering another dimension. The only sounds were that of birds calling from the trees above and the gentle sound of water moving through a simple man made feature. Towering over me was a stunning fever tree, its branches dripping with weaver bird nests, its yellow trunk glowing in the bright afternoon sun set against the huge blue sky.
My garden room was equally as tranquil. Very modern in appearance, huge bed, crisp white sheets with subtle colouring provided by cushions and paintings. The en-suite bathroom offered the choice of bath and shower. There were also tea & coffee making facilities, fridge, bottled water, couch and flat screen television. Sliding glass doors opened onto a private patio area with views across the rear gardens towards reed beds and the hotel’s waters edge boundary.
There are in total five acres of beautifully maintained hotel gardens containing mainly indigenous plants and trees. (the hotel is working towards removing non-indigenous species) Winter colour is everywhere. From the giant silver trunks of palm trees, the flame red flowers of the coral trees, and pinks and purples of creeping bougainvillea. There is also an outdoor swimming pool and plenty of choices of places to sit and relax. Beyond the reed beds to the rear of my room is a wooden board walk leading to a deck with more comfy seating.
I walked the board-walk twice in very contrasting conditions. Once in brilliant sunshine and once shrouded in mist. In Zululand after a hot winters day the cool night air can lead to the forming of mist clouds. The birdlife around the water and reed beds is phenomenal. African jacana scurry amongst the reeds, crake’s call and heron’s hunt for food. Above them golden weaver’s fly from reed to reed and over them a variety of swallow and swifts feed on small flies.
The gardens flow into the hotel’s interior from lush green grass, over patios, under pagodas and through dozens of glass bi-folding doors. A large lounge is lit from the sunlight where couches and arm chairs are positioned under open wooden rafters. Within the lounge and bar there are fires burning to keep the cool nights at bay. For those who want to sit outside there are patio heaters. The hotel was busy with guests from all parts of the world. They were entertained at night, outside under the stars, by Zulu dancers. In their traditional skins they sang, clapped, whistled, shrieked and stamped their feet. After a grand finale there was no silence in the darkness. The encore, equally as loud and nearly as spectacular in volume, came from the toads and frogs of the reed beds.
No one goes hungry at Ghost Mountain Inn. Dinners and breakfasts are buffet style in the main restaurant. There were many choices of starters, main courses and desserts. I opted for lamb curry which was authentic and perfectly spiced. It was accompanied with rice, sambals and chutney. Breakfast was a feast, locally sourced fresh fruits followed by a ‘full South African’ served with sausages, bacon, eggs of choice, mushrooms, beans, fried onion, potatoes and savoury mince.
There are a wealth of attractions in the local vicinity. I was here to explore and self drive the Mkuze Game Reserve, somewhere I had not visited for ten years, in search game including wild dogs and its wealth of bird-life. The hotel offers many accompanied tours and will even plan and put together specialist individual itineraries for their guests. During my stay cultural visits were top of the guests lists of things to do. Visiting Zulu villages and homesteads, tasting food & drink, and learning of both the old ways and new ways of life in rural Zululand. There are safaris to private game reserves in open top vehicles plus cruises on Lake Jozini where elephants, hippos and crocodiles can be found in abundance.
The family run hotel, since 1962, is expanding adding more rooms and more facilities. As tourism grows so does ‘Zululands Finest Country Inn’. A huge thank you to all the staff for making my stay a special one. To Bea for helping me plan my trip and to Jean for taking the time to show me round and share her knowledge of the hotel and local area.