On a sweltering January morning, under a deep blue near cloudless sky, I made my way through the entrance gate for False Bay and into the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. My plans had changed as I intended to drive to my destination but an email from the lodge I was heading to offered me a ferry transfer. Following the directions, as per my email, I found the car park from where the ferry would pick me up. I stood on the shoreline of the great St Lucia Lake gazing out across the vast expanse of water wondering from where my ride would appear. Right on time it appeared in the distance and cruised towards me. After exchanging some polite waves with the crew, the ferry turned and reversed right up to me before coming to a halt on the shallow lake’s edge.

I was not sure what to expect when I was invited to travel by ferry. The last ferry I had been was to the Isle of Wight, here at home in England, along with hundreds of other people. This was a far more personal experience, as this ferry, captained by Vincent, joined by assistant lodge manager Sebeh and chef Diego, only had seating for around a dozen people. There were seats indoors, on the stern of the boat and on the roof. I tested all three seating areas during the forty-minute transfer. From the ferry you get amazing views of the lake and its lush green vegetated surrounds. There are beaches, rocky shores, dunes and thick bush. And if you are lucky you will get to spot hippos, Nile crocodiles, or some of the abundant bird life, from African fish eagles to flamingos, that reside here in the World Heritage Site, iSimangaliso Wetland Park. I must mention as well that Diego, a real bonus and surprise, served up a basket meal lunch of fried chicken, samosas, meatballs in a sweet spicy sauce and chips.

As Vincent slowed the boat’s engines the lodge jetty and moorings came into view looking up. beyond our mooring, sat Nibela Lake Lodge, beautifully nestled into the natural coastal forest. To the African beats softly playing over the ferry sound system, which reminded me of the music of the late great Johnny Clegg, Sebeh departed, or rather danced, her way from bow to jetty. Then all eyes on me. I moved my feet and arms to the sounds in my head but not those of the music coming from the sound system. Even in the loosest sense of the word this was not dancing. But this set a good tone as Nibela is as much about fun as it is about getting away from it all and total relaxation. This is a place that can be whatever you want it to be.

After checking in the fun continued. This fun was a first for me and all ‘firsts’ get a mention in my articles. I was a little apprehensive about the afternoon’s excursion, but I can honestly say it was fun and a great experience. Quad biking was never something I had ever considered but after a lesson, from guide Sipho, which included some riding tips, do’s and don’ts and basic safety we were off. Sipho led the way, followed by myself and Sebeh, through the lodge gates and out onto the open rural dusty road. Cars were a rare sight but there were plenty of pedestrians, mainly children, returning home from school. Once confident on my bike I returned their waves rather than just nodding. I probably looked as cool as I did when I departed the ferry. The main obstacles as we traversed the quiet community roads were cattle. They never want to give way to oncoming vehicles. Smaller obstacles came in the form of butterflies and dung beetles. The latter seemingly always flying at helmet height, but all were avoided.

There are a host of activities here at Nibela Lake Lodge including guided trails, mountain biking and boat trips. The lodge pool on one of the decks makes a perfect place to cool down and take it easy. Grab a sun lounger or bean bag and relax. If you want total relaxation head to the Nibela Spa and book yourself a treatment or two. After dark on a clear night head up to the star gazing deck and be mesmerised by the mass of light emanating from the universe above.

On a balmy night I chose to relax at the bar with an ice-cold beer. And when fully relaxed I took a few paces, via the specials board, to a table in the Lake View Restaurant. Possibly subliminally influenced by the water below I opted for the fish of the day. The yellow tail served with chips and vegetables, was perfectly cooked and delicious. On the subject of food, the breakfast, freshly cooked to order, was the best start to a new day. A special mention also to Phindile who left me the loveliest plate of fruit in my room on arrival as a welcome gift. For me there is no better pineapple than those grown in Zululand.

The rooms are chalets, all linked to the main lodge on wooden boardwalks, through the forest. My room was more than comfortable with king size four poster bed complete with mosquito netting. The ensuite bathroom links to a dressing area with plenty of storage space. There are both comfy seating inside and outside on the veranda. The veranda offers views of the lake below. My only regret from my visit was not being able to stay longer. Nibela Lake Lodge is a place for all with so much or so little to do, that’s down to you the guest. The Zulu name of the ferry is ‘Ubunye’ which translates in English to ‘Oneness’. Here we can be as one, and dancing your way off the ferry is optional.


About Author

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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