As we ascended the steep rocky cliff, our game ranger Simon advised us to hold on tight to our vehicle. I must admit – it was a bit nerve-racking at first, but the adrenalin rush, the breath-taking scenery surrounding us and Simon’s entertaining anecdotes conquered any traces of anxiety soon enough and we ended up laughing instead. We were at Gwahumbe Game and Spa , one of Kwa-Zulu Natal’s best kept secrets, and this was one of the bumpiest game drives we’d ever been on. The wide variety of terrain types included lush forests, dense bushveld, deep valleys, and plateau grasslands and there was an abundance of plains game everywhere.
My children thoroughly enjoyed it especially when we ascended the steep inclines and descended into the water puddles. They likened it to a prolonged thrill ride! We drove to a green algae-covered dam, where Egyptian Geese reigned, then to a beautiful waterfall where we had a restroom break. A sign on the toilet doors warned us to close the door unless we wanted to share our toilet break with a two-metre python. Needless to say, we ensured that we did this.
Of course, these were the same roads that enticed the producers of BBC’s Top Gear to come and film here and brings leading motor manufacturers to come and test their latest models frequently. It also attracts off-roading enthusiasts who want to challenge themselves and each other in a dramatic setting. Off-roading is normally associated with roughing it but Gwahumbe offers the best of both worlds – challenging terrains for off-roading and delightful luxury to unwind in later.
Gwahumbe Game and Spa began life almost two decades ago, as a sugar and wattle farm. It is now a luxurious family owned eco-lodge in the KwaZulu Natal bush with a wide range of accommodation options to suit different budgets and group types. It is also a recognized natural heritage site and a malaria-free environment. Located near the sugarcane-farming town of mid-Illovo, it is just an hour away from Durban making it easily accessible. It derives its name from the Zulu word for river, after the river that flows through the reserve.
The lodge has beautiful gardens dotted with cane swings and wooden benches, overlooking the hills and valleys. I loved sitting on the patio with a steamy latte and enjoying the views. For kids, there is a trampoline and a jungle gym to burn their excess energy on. The swimming pool was enticing but the weather was just a tad too cold for it. In the evenings we sat around the crackling fireplace and enjoyed the complimentary wi-fi. Other activities at the lodge include mountain biking, birding, fishing, hiking, off-roading and game drives. Books and board games were available at reception for indoor days. There is also a curio shop which stocks local crafts and activities for kids.
The spa was another jewel in this sanctuary. I had a relaxing session in the steam room followed by a delicious hot stone massage. My daughter had an aromatherapy massage – and loved it. Yes, the spa at Gwahumber caters for kids too! Kelly was an excellent masseuse and we left the spa feeling euphoric.
Our deluxe farmhouse-style room was huge and charming and so was our bathroom. The room had wooden floors, a massive bed, a wardrobe, a minibar and a comfortable sitting area. A ceiling fan and panel heater were installed to counteract the elements. Our tea and coffee facilities included a plunger with freshly ground coffee, a tea chest and delicious home-made rusks. Fresh milk was provided in the fridge. At turndown, decadent nougats were left on our pillows.
The main bathroom had his and hers washbasins, a large bathtub with tealight candles provided, and a shower.
We had a balcony with two deck chairs, a table to eat on and a coffee table made from a tree trunk. It was the best place to bask in the winter sun and had an amazing view of the surrounding mountains especially at sunset. I was in my happy place and so was my husband – he was so comfortable that he fell asleep on the balcony.
Our breakfasts were freshly made to order and we enjoyed candle-lit dinners by the fireplace. . Our dinners were delectable and consisted of soul-warming vegetable soups and prawn spring rolls for starters, pan fried kingklip with garlic sauce and crunchy fried calamari for mains and malva pudding – which was the highlight of my kids’ meal for dessert. The talented chef cooks with vegetables sourced directly from the organic garden where possible. Our dietary requirements, as all our other requirements, were well taken care of. There is a special all-day menu for hungry kids or junior rangers as they are called.
Before you think that you need a 4X4 to experience Gwahumbe, I can assure you that you don’t. We drove there with our sedan, promptly parked it off and proceeded to let Gwahumbe’s attentive staff take over. Gwahumbe caters for conferences and team-building events and day visitors are also welcomed. The lodge’s slogan is “Wilderness on a Whim” which I thought was quite apt. I have a feeling that this well-kept secret won’t be one for much longer.
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