Only twenty minutes from the sprawling coastal city of Durban is the upmarket suburb of Kloof. It was here in 1976 that ‘plants-man’ Leslie Riggall purchased a twenty acre property. Over a twenty five year period he created something remarkable he called ‘Fern Valley Botanical Garden’ that he expanded into thirty acres. He used both indigenous plants and imported exotics. Camellias and rhododendrons, orchids and azaleas, aloes and orchids. Water features were incorporated and now there are eighteen of them including a waterfall.

In 2002 the property was purchased by Chick & Danna Flack and was renamed Makaranga. Their vision was to create a boutique lodge set within the thirty acres of now mature, pristine, botanical gardens. On further reading I have discovered there are two reasons for the name change. There are many macaranga trees, wild poplars, on the property and behind one water feature an avenue of them stands tall and majestic. Secondly Danna was bought up in Inyanga, Zimbabwe, where the local people are Makaranga tribes-people.

So now here I sit on the Makaranga main deck looking down across well kept lawns towards the water feature where the pale trunked macaranga trees show their reflection. Looking closely an African darter bird is sitting on the shoulder of a stone statue catching the late afternoon rays of the setting sun. Here I meet Lauren Spencer for the first time. She has helped me with accommodation during my last two trips to KwaZulu Natal. I cannot fault her advice, recommendations and enthusiasm. And here at Makaranga she has arranged a viewing of the gardens. To ensure we fit in as much as we can we have a driver, equipped with a golf buggy!

Even though the lodges restaurant, bar and delicatessen are very busy and there are people walking accompanied by children, the atmosphere is quiet and relaxed. We drive making several stops to get off and enjoy sections of the gardens. There is something here all year round to be enjoyed. In winter, now, the main colour is provided by aloes flowering red and yellow. Spring must be stunning to looking at the volume of agapanthus which must send swathes of blue through the gardens. The cycad collection is very impressive and the light shows off their primitive almost prehistoric beauty.

The grounds are also home to Italian sculptures, like the lady with the Darter on her shoulder. Then there is the largest collection of Zimbabwean stone art in Southern Africa. Amongst this collection there are alternative modern pieces along with what I will describe as fun art. These depict children playing leap frog and cycling.

My room overlooks a section of garden with mainly mature trees. The room itself is big and the bed matches the room. It is both modern and spacious with flat screen TV, tea and coffee facilities and for the cool evenings a decanter of sherry is on hand. Dinner and breakfast are served in the Nonna Restaurant or on its adjoining decking. My dinner of baked kingklip with vine tomatoes, caramelised onions on a bed of linguine, finished with basil chiffonade was cooked to perfection. The trio of crème brule for desert ended my day perfectly.

This is a truly stunning yet tranquil lodge and I have not even mentioned the on site spa. The location is ideal for Durban or as a link from the coast to the rolling midlands. It also made me think I should have been better equipped as a writer to cover horticulture and sculpted art. I am more times than not, in KwaZulu Natal, found lacking in the skills of a food critic. Having said all that is was yet another thoroughly enjoyable stop over.

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People say that Africa has an effect on your soul and Mark Henson the ‘author’ of this site is no exception. He first travelled to South Africa and the province of KwaZulu-Natal in 1993 and has been coming and going every year since. Twice now most years!

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