Durban - Between battles, King Shaka might have eased his aching muscles in the mineral springs and mud pool of Thangami Safari Spa, deep in the Umfolozi Valley, north of Ulundi, and south-east of Vryheid.
I could picture the mighty warrior, accompanied by some of his chosen few, reclining in the soothing waters while on the hillside above his envious impis looked on longingly.
Even getting to Thangami was evocative. Approaching from the Vryheid side, the traveller passes thornbush, euphorbias, sheer cliffs and hills peering shortsightedly through a haze of dust. The sun was already contemplating a nightcap before retiring as I drove down towards the Black Mfolozi River.
The journey out, heading for Ulundi, was even more spectacular.
Surprisingly this road – which links with the Ulundi-Nongoma Road – is tarred; the reason being that it also serves the Ceza Hospital.
I first visited Thangami 32 years ago, when it was known as Swart Mfoloze, and it is still in the hands of the same family. Although instantly recognisable because of its setting, naturally the place has changed considerably.
Now, parts of Thangami give the feeling you’ve wandered into a Mayan village. There are several levels, some shored up with stones, covered in moss, lichen and tangled, gnarled roots, looking like ruined walls in a jungle. The lush, sub-tropical growth adds to this impression. One wall, to the side of the area where I stayed, has carvings and a Mayan-like mural.
There are a series of pools amid the undergrowth, and wooden decks and twisted walkways add to the atmosphere. The Roman baths are probably the trump card. Located indoors, they are fed by water from the main eye nearby. A late swim, an early bathe, an afternoon soak – the choice is yours.
The chalets are self-catering. There is a restaurant, with a limited menu, and a small shop. The best spot to dine is probably on the outdoor deck, with a spectacular view of the valley.
The dip in the mud pool, located in the valley, is special. It being winter, the water was icy, but once the mineral-rich mud encompasses your body, the chill is forgotten. So thick and gooey is this mud, you certainly cannot swim, and need to hang on to one of the randomly placed wooden poles to help you get out.
Abseiling is one of the favourite activities, and Thangami’s 50m plunge down the cliffs is pretty spectacular. Three university students doing it while I was there said it was one of the most exciting they had encountered (I chose discretion and only watched).
Other activities include a zipline; clay pigeon shooting; 4x4 trails; game drives; hiking; fishing; checking out some caves and an obstacle course for children.
Thangami is one of the best deals around for pensioners in particular. If they stay two nights or more, they pay only R100 per night, Sunday to Thursday.
At sunset, a trumpeter hornbill gave a muted call, turacco croaked their signature tune, then flashed red wing-feathers as they flitted from tree to tree. The steep, bush-clad hills opposite seemed devoid of life – as it must have been centuries ago. This is the Africa I love so deeply. - Sunday Tribune
l Contact: 083 256 6036/7; e-mail: email@example.com