Durban - I’d never heard of Ubizane Wildlife Reserve until recently, when my wife Mpume and I were given the chance to visit the sprawling Zululand game reserve. My GPS hadn’t heard of it either.
It insisted the destination was on the other side of the N2, the eastern side near the Hluhluwe dorpie, but with some human direction we discovered it was a mere 2km from the N2 on the western side of the highway.
It is, however, a long 270km from Durban.
This turned out to be a minor inconvenience as we were blown away by the reserve and the welcome – high tea served by a very sweet waitress was just the start.
As Hannah Mellet, the assistant general manager put it as she showed us around: “We want to give our guest an experience like no other.”
Ubizane, now part of the Three Cities group, features two accommodation options: the Tree Lodge and the Zululand Safari Lodge.
We stayed at the Tree Lodge, which consists of a line of cottages on stilts set among fever trees – known to the initiated as Umkhanyakude trees, after which the whole district is named.
The tree lodge has a communal area for guests which includes a swimming pool, large restaurant with magical views over giant fever trees and passing wildlife. When lit up at night it was particularly dramatic.
“We strive to keep it simple yet luxurious,” said Mellet about the opulent Tree Lodge restaurant with its beautiful wooden finishes and boma.
Back into the spacious rooms, we noticed there was no TV. Mpume was not so happy as she was looking forward to Idols that night but the complete bush experience is about leaving behind the trappings of modern life.
In any event, our lodge was more than adequate compensation, with captivating views of the forest from the bedroom. But be sure to keep doors and windows closed when you leave the room as the mischievous monkeys don’t miss a chance to make their own coffee while you are away.
The rooms have an en-suite bathroom with shower, dressing room, coffee or tea making facilities, bar fridge, mosquito nets, ceiling fan and private viewing deck, all kept sparkling clean at all times.
Guests can enjoy the breathtaking expanse of nature at its best while taking a leisurely stroll on various footpaths through the fever tree forest and the riverbed facing their rooms.
A big conference centre is also a permanent feature here.
The Safari Lodge boasts 27 units which are aimed at families with children or honeymooners. Surrounded by manicured lawns and aloes, it is very beautiful.
The Safari Lodge has a heritage spanning over 40 years.
Apart from the play park area, it includes double-bedded, two sleeper rooms with en-suite bathrooms with showers, as well as four-sleeper family rooms with en-suite bathrooms including bath and shower facilities. A third option are rooms that have a bath as well as an outside shower, extending the nature experience.
Mellet said: “All rooms are self-catering, with a fully-equipped kitchen. Each room has its own patio with comfortable furniture to spend as much time as possible outdoors. It’s a place where privacy is highly valued too.”
Oh, I must mention that after the high tea we were taken on an exhilarating game drive and our field guide was a humble man called Hamilton. And relax, his driving skills were more humble than those of the ace F1 driver of the same name.
We saw game, including impala, kudu, wildebeest, giraffe, nyala and zebra, grazing in harmony. Our two-hour drive also took us to a hill, where eagles gave us a spectacular airshow. Here light snacks and drinks were served while we viewed the entire 1200ha natural paradise of Ubizane through our binoculars.
The only downside was that our stay was so short, but going back is a definite yes.
l Rates at the Tree Lodge start from R760 sharing a day and at the Safari Lodge from R430 sharing. Contact Ubizane Wildlife Game Reserve on 035 562 1020 or visit www.threecities.co.za - Sunday Tribune