Durban - I had never experienced natural hot springs, so I was looking forward to a weekend at the Gooderson Natal Spa in Paulpietersburg.
There are a few ways to get there from Durban, and we chose the route via Pomeroy and Tugela Ferry. For travellers who have a bit of time on their hands, the Battlefields route is fascinating, with many informative stops and several museums.
The Gooderson Natal Spa is set in 324 hectares of beautiful bushveld, among giant Cambrian granite boulders that are millions of years old. The grounds and gardens overlooking the Bivane River are spectacular, and the bird life abundant. It is evident that they are tended with great care and sensitivity to the endemic natural indigenous species.
As you walk into reception, you can feel your tension draining away, with a view of various sparkling blue pools nestled in the well-designed grounds (perhaps it is from inhaling the healing minerals from the hot water that springs from the ground).
You are spoiled for choice for places to sit and relax. There is a very grand bar, the cosy bistro, a pool bar, various kiosks selling all sort of refreshments and a beautiful braai area closer to the hot springs at the river’s edge.
We thoroughly enjoyed the Wellness Centre and Spa, where we languished in the indoor hydrotherapy bath (a big indoor pool, enclosed by glass on three sides) for ages while being treated to a spectacular evening storm.
As for the hot springs, they come with an interesting history of their own, and the walls to the dining room are lined with fascinating facts and anecdotes about these mysterious waters.
Apparently the San people believed that the river’s warm water and bubbles were the work of a large black snake with an underground lair.
In 1888, a pioneer discovered pockets of hot water in the river. Sandbags were strategically placed in the river, paving the way for the creation of five hot and four cold pools which are enjoyed to this day.
In 1894, ‘Oom Piet’ bought the farm with a little help from his boss, General Jan Smuts. During the Boer War in the 1900s, soldiers used one of the rocks on the far side of the river for target practice.
The thermal waters rise up along fault fissures and are heated at the source to between 36ºC and 45ºC. These “triple waters” contain healing chlorides, sulphates and carbonates which are said to help treat digestive disorders, biliary, fibrositis, gout, rheumatism, insomnia, skin disorders, and the stresses and strains of everyday life.
Accommodation options are huge with 60 extremely comfortable and well-appointed rooms, with satellite TV, aircon, hair-dryers and tea-making facilities, 22 self-catering units, and even sites for camping and caravans in the most beautiful surroundings on the dam.
The staff are extremely friendly, although service is a little slow. The Dom Pedros we ordered after dinner were delivered to our room by a smiling waiter as we brushed our teeth.
Some guests may be disappointed that there is no wi-fi but this is an amazing place to ditch the technology.
The new Battlefields paintball arena and obstacle course provide an exciting challenge for all. Activities include squash and tennis, adventure golf, trampolines, water tubes of all sizes, horse riding, archery, mountain bike and running trails, fishing, quad bike trails and much more.
The highlight of our weekend was the Green Trail. A birding walk along the river, among ancient cussonias, cycads and lavender trees, interspersed with giant Matopos-style boulders. You feel totally surrounded by nature, in a place with many secret pathways where you could bask in the sun for a few hours with a picnic basket, and take in the sights and sounds of the rich bird life.
Natal Spa is an oasis, surrounded by nature. I guarantee that families will only see their children when they are hungry.
* Call 031 337 4222 and visit www.goodersonleisure.co.za