Can you imagine staying somewhere where a whole lodge and seven thousand acres of game reserve have been placed at your disposal? Add to that your own personnel chef & host, with assistant and a game guide! I had not considered how special this could be. In fact I could not really imagine how it would even work? That was until we settled into our home from home at Zulu Waters Game Reserve. When I say home from home I just wish we had a home like this place!
The reserve is nestled into the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains and is surrounded by rolling hills. We were staying in the main Shaka Lodge but there is a choice of accommodation. The lodge itself, from the outside, is a very modern architecturally designed building. It combines local stone, wood, corrugated steel and glass. The combination of materials and design make this a very impressive and unique looking structure.
The interior is even more stunning on the eye. Smooth polished concrete floors leading to varnished wooden floorboards with designer patch work cowhide rugs. Leather couches, the most impressive interior doors running from floor to ceiling and open beams. Finishing touches included glass, ceramic and wooden bowls containing porcupine quills mixed with fresh and dried flowers. The bedroom was huge with an immaculate en suit bathroom. Cupboards were hidden amongst the wooden panelling. Even the mosquito net slid out from grooves in the walls. Every room also came with a huge view through iron framed glass doors and windows.
The kitchen is a cooks dream and we were welcomed in by our chef and host Mbongiseni. Being an hour early we felt like we were imposing, however we were treated to a chocolate brownie cooking demonstration. This was followed by the treat of eating the brownies on the balcony of the lodge. Below us on the lush green grass waterbuck, blesbok, impala, zebra and black wildebeest grazed as we tucked in.
It is not often that I am happy to be stuck inside but I really felt comfortable in my new domain. I sat and read books from the lodges’ coffee table and shelves and Melanie sketched all afternoon. She was inspired by our architectural surroundings. We had arranged for a late afternoon game drive however the weather had taken a turn for the worse and rain was closing in. Mbuyiseni our guide met us and showed us to our vehicle. After less than fifteen minutes we decided to turn back due to torrential rain. Under normal circumstances I would have been deeply disappointed but I was more than happy to return back to the lodge. Mbuyiseni said he had seen a blue crane that morning and superstition meant that the bird always bought rain. How right he was. I was keen to see the reserves rhino as here a relatively new method was being adopted in the war against poaching. All the reserves rhino have had their horns infused with poisonous toxins and a permanent dye. This renders horn useless to poachers and the users of the end product. The poison is harmless to the rhino but will make a person very ill. The dye is also detectable to customs officials if the horn should be poached.
Our chef and host, assisted by Sandile, were on hand to welcome us back to the lodge with snacks and drinks. We then discussed dinner. I was having venison in the form back strap of blesbok. Melanie was having chicken, and both were reared on the reserve. “Mark for you, we have hung your blesbok for sixteen to seventeen days. If I had served you kudu we would have hung it for twenty four days” Mbongiseni explained. He added that any spices were added to the venison as it were hung to maximise flavour. Home grown baby marrow, roast potatoes and butternut squash were accompanying our meat. We discussed the difficulties of growing butternut and how the weather can create variants in the final crop. Ours was exquisite, slowly pan fried in fresh orange juice and a perfect accompaniment to the perfectly cooked venison and chicken.
Breakfast was another culinary special occasion. Again we were talked through our menu and the preparations it entailed. Fresh fruit with home made muffins and muesli to start. Who makes their own muesli? Melanie opted for an omelette and I chose a full cooked option. Of course this was not just sausage & bacon. It was home made venison sausages with home cured and smoked wild bush pig bacon. I discovered that our chef and host as a boy had wanted to be a jockey. Mbongiseni had no ambition to be a chef, but after studying at the local Midlands Community College he discovered an inner passion to cook. Look out for the ‘Zulu Waters Cook Book’.