The 10 sleeper bush camp.
The 10 sleeper bush camp.
Mpeti room view.
Mpeti room view.
Make sure you tuck into their deliciously prepared meals.
Make sure you tuck into their deliciously prepared meals.
Hippos are everywhere.
Hippos are everywhere.
There is a new buzzword in the vibrant Zululand game lodge scene - “food safari” - and we eagerly awaited chef Paul Eaton’s offerings at Mpeti Lodge, a must-stop gourmet destination in the game-rich area around Jozini Dam.

With spectacular views of the dam and Lebombo mountains, this 3500ha reserve extends to the water’s edge, offering flexible accommodation options - from a rustic 10-sleeper bush camp to two large, eight-sleeper thatched units and seven luxury chalets.

The recreational area has a rim-flow rock pool with wooden decks under a giant marula tree and a cleverly designed playground.

You’re tempted to plop onto a lounger and just watch the birdlife.

While relaxing with our cocktails on a deck before a sunset game drive, Martyn, our guide with 40 years of bushveld experience, described a buffalo giving birth that afternoon.

Minutes into the drive we saw buffalo, a giant eagle take flight and followed a magnificent kudu bull. Climbing uphill took us through a total flora change and into a surreal background of giant aloes silhouetted against the fading sky.

Rounding a corner, we found chef Paul and barman Gildo preparing a superb spread for us on a secret ravine lookout deck.

Our game drive went from delightful to delicious as we tucked into prawn skewers with a special sauce, “more-ish” mini pizzas and bush kebabs with a finger-licking roasted pine kernel barbeque sauce - thoughtfully accompanied by our drink preferences.

The lamp-lit conversation turned to stories of secret ingredients and methods of creating a sauce over two days.

Paul’s passion was palpable as he recounted experiences at Eaton’s on 80, Phinda Private Game Reserve, Ile Maurice in uMhlanga and his Hilton kitchen.

For supper, we took up Paul’s option, salivating over his starter of roasted onion bushveld soup and savoury bread (proudly presented the Zululand way).

His signature dish was Mpeti rump topped with crispy bacon, avocado and a parmesan and biltong cream.

It left my partner gasping, though her eyes opened wide seeing the hand-size, wild-caught prawns on my plate.

Brilliant grilled veggies were hardly touched as we battled to pay tribute to the quality of the food on our plates. Dessert was out of the question.

Stuffed from our dreamy deck dinner, we strolled “home” under the Milky Way, delighted to find our big, oval, candle-lit bath prepared.

In the early hours it was enchanting to see a family of nyala with young babies grazing quietly outside the bathroom window. I was soon asleep again in the huge bed, under the Mpeti spell.

The next morning we sat dreamily on our veranda and considered breakfast. Besides the usual options, the specially baked corn bread and savoury omelette surpassed my expectations and we began the day full and happy.

It was so peaceful that we could have been on honeymoon, or a retreat. What came next deserves a place in National Geographic. After passing inquisitive giraffe on the road to our boat, the most fantastic water-bound nature tour took in ostrich, buffalo and waterbuck on the grassy plains.

A large terrapin passed and, next thing, we drifted right though a huge, relaxed herd of hippos, lazily rising and snorting, picture perfect in the late afternoon sun, although we were too gob-smacked to move.

Dinnertime provided the best calamari I have ever eaten, wok fried, stuffed with seasoned crumbs, in delicious gravy, and my partner honoured a huge platter of those prawns with savoury risotto.

Back at the chalet a lovely surprise awaited us - a ring of lanterns around honey crème brulees on our stoep.

The serenity, the food culture, tasteful finishes and personal attention make a real difference, leading people to drive two hours just for Sunday lunch. When you visit, go hungry.

Call 074 127 8044 and visit www.mpeti.co.za