THE folk at Tala Private Game Reserve claim it’s Durban’s finest game reserve and is possibly the finest within easy reach of Durban – barely an hour away in the quiet farming community of Umbumbulu/Eston.
The reserve is not huge – a tad over 3 000ha – but has diverse environments (acacia thornveld, open grassland and sensitive wetland) and a good variety of game, including kudu, giraffe and the rare sable antelope.
On entering, we almost immediately spotted hippo, impala and zebra and later came across white rhino. Possibly because there are no predators, such as leopards and lions, the animals seemed relaxed and we were able to get up close.
Tala is great if you’re a birder because there are over 380 species.
There are also several distinctive and remarkable plant species. The fiery aloe is in full bloom in winter and the smell of the fragrant wild sage on a dewy morning left a lasting impression.
It was so quiet at night that we were lulled to sleep early and slept soundly. We were woken each morning by a bird pecking at its reflection in the window.
The accommodation at Tala is spread over the estate with a mixture of rondavels and cottages. There’s a central lodge with a restaurant and bar.
We were ensconced in luxury Leadwood Lodge. Built, by a team of artisans, from locally sourced shale, Leadwood Lodge was the dream home of Tala’s original owner. The décor is an eclectic blend of antique and African.
The lodge and its six luxury cottages were designed with nothing straight or painted and the result is a wonderful mix of earth, water, glass and hardwoods under towering thatch, all tucked away in privacy.
Apart from Leadwood there are the four-star Figtree, Paperbark and Mahogany lodges – all different in design, three-star Aloe Lodge and self-catering rondavels, A-frames and fisherman’s cottage. Day visitors can picnic at rock pools.
Tala is popular for weddings and conferences – it even hosts its own bridal fair – and there is a plethora of venue options, including the grand and aptly nicknamed “government house”.
It’s not only the accessibility that makes Tala popular but also the service. The staff all live on the reserve and have a vested interest, that shows in their attention to detail and willingness to help.
The food is of a high standard and the restaurant is beautifully positioned on the hill with fantastic views of the reserve.
Tala is a great, convenient escape from city life. If you are after a quiet, relaxing time surrounded by nature, this is one of the easiest getaways, with options for every budget.
Unless you’re celebrating your special day, do not expect the intrusion of loud music and TV sets (there are only two on the reserve).
Do expect well-informed and educational game drives or walks, comfortable conversation with sundowners in hand, followed by delicious repasts and peaceful nights.
Tala is currently upgrading facilities and services under new general manager Sean Lubbe.
The Education Centre is being revamped and will reopen in October. Even Leadwood and other lodges are having unobtrusive, sensitive overhauls.
For information and reservations, call 031 781 8000, e-mail [email protected] or visit www. tala.co.za. Be aware that the park does not accept cash – only credit or debit cards.