I asked myself a couple questions prior to arriving in KwaZulu Natal and setting sail on Lake Jozini with Shayamanzi Luxury Houseboats. And now another question, is setting sail the correct terminology? My questions: Am I good on boats? Would I class myself as a keen angler or fisherman? My answers: On my first channel ferry crossing, I was seasick. On the rowing boat tour around the naval ships at Southampton harbour, I was seasick. On my last canal boat weekend, I was not sick, but I did drive the boat straight into a brick wall. My first fishing excursion as a young schoolboy, got bored, and threw my mate into the river for fun. On my last fishing trip with the family, in KwaZulu Natal, I managed to catch a huge terrapin, which took so long to set free un-harmed, it ruined the day.
The drive, after turning off the fever tree lined highway steadily climbs, and the gradient gets steeper. The Lebombo Mountains are in front of me and looking out of my passenger window I can see Lake Jozini, or using its correct name, Pongolaport Dam. Arriving at our meeting point, the lavish Jozini Tiger Lodge, I get my first proper look at the lake, it’s mighty dam wall and the houseboats below. Here too I am greeted by deck hand Lucky and introduced to fellow guests. Our luggage is collected and taken on board before we are driven down to the jetty and our houseboat moorings. From here we are ferried by tender boat, appropriately named Hippo II, to our home for the next three days: Shayamanzi II.
Ship’s Captain Anthony, looking immaculate in his uniform, greets each guest and invites us on board. We are led to the upper deck and around the bar, with a complimentary glass of champagne, he officially welcomes us and introduces us to his crew: deck hands, Lucky and Wiseman, plus chef Mike. We are talked through the boat, it’s features, including safety, our plan for the coming days, and what to expect from our cruise. From here we are taken to our luxury cabins. They are spacious, air conditioned, with double bed, en-suit bathroom, storage space, comfy chair and desk. Opposite my bed are a huge set of sliding glass doors which open onto the lake and the views beyond. Views that change as the cruise commences and we make our way out on the lake.
The houseboat, a double pontoon cruiser, is thirty meters long and nearly nine meters wide. There are three floors, my cabin being located on the middle floor with more cabins on the bottom floor, capable of sleeping twenty people in total. There is an outdoor staircase from the rear of the boat going up to the top floor. Also, on the rear of the boat there is an outdoor jacuzzi which can seat twelve people. The upper floor is divided into six sections. At the stern there is an outdoor seating area with comfy chairs and sun loungers. The main indoor area is open plan containing the well-stocked bar, a dining area and the boat’s lounge. At the front is the helm where Captain Anthony, takes the wheel, and steers the boat. In front of the helm, at the bow, there are more comfy chairs where you can sit, take in the views and soak up some sunshine.
Within in an hour of leaving our moorings chef Mike was laying out the first snacks of the journey. Everything he served came with a huge smile. I have to say that Mike is probably the most smiley chef I have ever met. Sitting on the bow in the warm winter sun, snacking, gave all the guests a chance to chat, and get to know each other. Dave, both a keen fisherman and photographer, and his partner Terri, an expert in photography were there to celebrate Dave’s birthday. Both originated from the now Zimbabwe and Dave’s prior houseboat experiences had been on Lake Kariba. Graham & Debbie were taking a short holiday, and Debbie was very keen to get fishing. They were also from the now Zimbabwe, and again, their past houseboat experiences were on Lake Kariba. I was in the company of houseboat experts who knew their fishing.
After the crew had docked the boat, where we were to spend our first night on the water, and safely secured it to the bank captain Anthony offered to take us on our first fishing excursion. Lake Jozini is a unique destination as it is the only place in South Africa where you will find tiger fish. The best freshwater game fish in Africa. The word tiger, and the use of words such as fierce and ferocious when being described, to me a non-fisherman conjured up a terrifying image. However, this non-fisherman boarded Hippo II and set off with the fishing party. Anthony prepared all our rods with lures and bait, which are provided by Shayamanzi, as he did for us on every excursion. I had a lesson in casting and what to do in the event of catching a tiger. During the cruise we fished several times, each time using a tender boat taking us away from the houseboat. We tried several methods, but trolling proved the most successful. This is where we all cast to the rear of the moving boat letting our lures trail behind us. Debbie was our tiger fishing champion landing a fighting silver tiger from the lake. Me, I had a great time, and will always have the story of the one got away. My only fish on our adventure were bottles of Flying Fish lager with a hint of citrus.
As we made our way around the lake, on one side there were dramatic hills and mountains and on the other relatively flat open grasslands. The Pongola game reserve is located on these open grasslands. The boat made an excellent vantage point for game viewing. We got to see a huge variety of birdlife, including fish eagles, jacanas, cormorants, egrets, spoonbills, ducks and geese. Game included huge amounts of warthog, impala, waterbuck and reedbuck. There were also giraffe and zebra. We had a very special sighting of a white rhino with its calf, surrounded by egrets. When elephants were spotted some distance from the boat, Lucky took us at speed in one of the tenders to give us the best possible viewing opportunity. The herd moved from drinking at the lake’s edge to the shade of the thick bush, making a memorable sighting. The lake is also home to large amounts of Nile crocodile, which were spotted several times, and hippos. We came across many hippos, pods containing animals of all ages, and single older grumpy adults. They surfaced, submerged, grunted, groaned and displayed their tusks by opening their mouths at near one hundred-and eighty-degree angles.
Mikes snacks on that first afternoon were a sign of things to come. We ate like kings of the lake. The tea & coffee station was open at first light, where biscuits and rusks were included. After early morning fishing it was breakfast. This started with a buffet of fresh local fruit, cereals and yogurts. Hot breakfast was cooked to order. Mike knew how to make smile. Sausage, bacon, eggs Florentine, beans and my number one choice, spicy minced beef. Lunch, yes there was lunch to, and my pick here was Mikes beef kebabs. During the afternoon Mike would appear placing yet more snacks on the bar. Biltong, droewors, samosas, chili bites, pate and various dips. Lake air and great food go so well together. After glorious sunsets dinner was just around the corner. We were treated to starters of prawns and mussels. On our last night Mike lit the braai next to the jacuzzi and served up a meat feast of steak and borewors served with salads and sauces. During one dinner the lights were dimmed, and the crew appeared with a homemade chocolate cake for Dave’s birthday. This of course came with smiles and the singing of happy birthday. Having never considered a cruise or really enjoyed any form of water-based travel, let alone one that included fishing, I am now a changed man. I would have no hesitation in retuning to Lake Jozini and joining up with Shayamanzi. From spectacular sunrises to magnificent sunsets, feasts of food, fishing and game viewing, it was a very special and memorable few days. Of course, a wonderful crew made all this happen. There must also be a special thank you to my fellow guests for being great and welcoming company.