Cecil John Rhodes farmed cotton in the Umkomaas valley in 1870 and wrote: “I never saw such an extraordinarily beautiful place in life. There, hundreds of feet below us, stretched out the whole valley with our huts looking like specks, and in the distance there were hills rising one above another, with a splendid blue tint on them.”
We had the same view as we surveyed the 5 000 hectares of Duma Manzi Eco Lodge and Spa from the decks set above plunging cliffs and the winding Umkomaas River. The drop of about 400m to reach the specks that were the lodge roofs was negotiated by 4x4 via the precipitous Voortrekker track that originally linked Cape Town and Pietermaritzburg.
Talk about perfect location – so hidden and yet so accessible. Duma Manzi, which means thundering water, is about an hour from Durban and caters for a maximum of 22. Built on raised wooden platforms, the lodge is luxuriously furnished in colonial African style.
We would happily have sat all afternoon but, after a delicious light lunch and an exchange of glances with nyala feeding metres away, we made our way along the wooden walkways through the riverine forest to one of Duma Manzi’s main drawcards.
News had just come through that Duma Manzi Eco Lodge and Spa had been voted the Best Luxury Safari Spa in SA in the World Luxury Spa Awards.
After a footbath and an hour’s hot stone massage, we concurred. No fake whale sounds here. Just the river rushing past, fish eagles’ calls and the coucal’s cadence. The spa offers a wide range of therapies with the emphasis on privacy. Afterwards, we slunk into the thatch-and-glass tranquillity lounge, collapsing on the recliners until we were able to make our way back to our chalet for a pre-dinner soak.
Our private, glass-fronted Sandstone room was elegantly decorated with its own deck, recliners, plunge pool and vast bathroom with tub and open shower. There are no TV sets, airconditioners or fridges in the rooms, though ceiling fans would keep the room cool in summer and in winter there are gas heaters and electric blankets kept visitors warm.
Duma Manzi relies on solar power with generator back-up, gas, purified water from the river… the list of green practices is extensive.
After enjoying the genuine hospitality of Simba Mudadada around the boma fire, we had dinner in the cosy dining room. Jonathan Davel had skills that belied his slender frame and schoolboy looks.
Highlights included the superb gnocchi with sage and naartjie brown butter, and rooibos and orange-scented oxtail with rooibos dumplings. Get there if you can – it’s worth it.