Under African Skies September 2, 2014

When it comes to character stays, these are a few of my favourite things:

  • * Scenic drives through an interesting geographical environment
  • * Accommodation in a spectacular natural setting with indigenous fauna and flora
  • * A respect for local culture
  • * Interesting and typical architecture
  • * Individual cottages with plentiful windows and double doors onto private patios with views

 

And Isibindi Zulu Lodge gets a standing ovation on every one of these categories. Set in the fascinating Rorke’s Drift KwaZulu-Natal battlefields, with legends of Isandlwana, Cetswayo and Blood River rolling off the tongue, there is so much to do and see. The Lodge is in a nature reserve, offering game drives and walks to view giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, jackal, caracal and leopard.

 

Traditional thatched Zulu round houses overlooking a spectacular valley

Traditional thatched Zulu round houses overlooking a spectacular valley

 

Accommodation Experience:

Working too hard for too many weeks, I had been holding out for my stay at Isibindi Zulu Lodge to save me from myself. As one leaves the lush Midlands, heading out from Greytown towards Dundee, one gets the sense, like Dorothy in her travels in The Wizard of Oz: “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” The green grass changes to pink and ochre, and the trees become sparse – thorn trees, cabbage trees and bright orange capped aloes. One drives through dramatic ravines and over a wide river spanned by a single-track metal bridge. The architecture becomes traditional thatched rondavels and the homesteads spread out alongside kraals made of low stone walls. This is Africa at its most natural and rugged, and I guess that living out here is not for sissies. Fortunately, Isibindi Zulu Lodge is. Upon arrival, one is welcomed with a cool, home-made lemonade and a traditional warm face cloth with which to wash the dust off from the trip. One is taken past the infinity-edge pool overlooking a vast gorge, on to the accommodation, nestled into the curve of the hill. The rooms are cosy stone and thatched traditional Zulu round huts, with wooden floors, low curved windows and woven, curved ceilings. Each has its own wooden deck, making the most of the bushveld views.

 

Each 'rondavel' has its own wooden deck overlooking the valley where game roam

Each ‘rondavel’ has its own wooden deck overlooking the valley where game roam

In the evening we walk down the valley together to a Zulu homestead, and we are treated to a display of Zulu dance, the drum beats pulsing through one’s veins. We are seated around two enormous fires, hot against the cool night. Later a gracious host shows us into a typical round house, with a grinding stone, sleeping mats and a small altar used for communicating with ancestors. We are given a delicious traditional meal of Zulu beer, stew, pap, chakalaka, butternut mash and curried cabbage. Eventually I slip out of the fun and increasingly heated gender-debate which is being had between the locals and foreigners and end the evening in the silence of my own deck, overlooking the moonlit valley below. The night is quiet and open, and I imagine the slow movement of the wildlife below. The insight into Zulu culture has awakened my senses to the privilege of being in an unspoilt corner of Africa, and I have the sense that the natural environment is essential to this celebration of all that is local. Sitting out on my deck under African skies, with no time constraints or agendas except to experience this place as fully as possible, I feel a gentle coming home to myself – a simple but profound “click” as I find myself internally re-aligning and centering. John O’ Donohue says “One of the beauties of a landscape like this is the stillness and silence within it. When you truly are present to a landscape you know afterwards that something has shifted or some burden has fallen.”

 

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A review by Characterstay blogger: www.characterstay.blogspot.com. Feature photograph by Guy Upfold.

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