Durban - How do you decide which are your favourite spots? Nearly every place has something to offer, a memory to hold on to. So I pondered and agonised for hours.
For me, it has always been about the setting. I make no pretensions to being an expert on fine dining and am happy in two-star accommodation, provided the bed and pillows are comfortable, though I’m not averse to some pampering in a five-star retreat.
A bit of the hedonist still lurks… but nature and the bush, long strolls along golden beaches, a chance to frolic in a rock pool, stroll in an extensive garden, stride across the veld, are the criteria. Throw in interesting owners, and a sprinkling of fascinating history, and I’m hooked.
So, here goes.
Rocktail Bay’s walk over the dunes – along a path meandering through coastal dune forest – to arrive at a wonderful vista of a deserted beach at sunrise is special. Nearby Black Rock beach is, for me, one of the most beautiful spots, with crystal-clear aquamarine waves creaming in.
Tonga Beach Lodge, too, has a magnificent stretch of snowy beach and tidal pools.
The Pumula Beach Hotel down the South Coast also takes some beating. Rolling lawns, a large swimming pool, views over the ocean and tasty food make it a winner, especially for families.
When I want to chill out more cheaply, Happy Wanderers at Pennington fits the bill: the sound of waves pounding the shore at night; sitting on the balcony of a self-catering unit, watching the maritime world go by; cooling off in a rock or tidal pool, make for a laid-back break.
Other reserves offer more dramatic animal sightings, but despite this (and unpleasant land invasions), Ndumo Game Reserve in the far north of the province, with its magnificent pans and fever trees, holds a special spot in my heart. Its slightly old-fashioned parks board cottages are a reminder of the days when luxury was not the main priority – when families got together in less comfort, but had more fun.
Going upmarket is Phinda Rock Lodge – perched on a rocky outcrop. My memory of lying in a plunge pool on the deck of my room, listening to a lion roar at sunrise, can never be erased.
The Bush Camp, situated in the forest, on the shores of Lake Banghazi in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, is loaded with atmosphere. Waking on a moonlit night, to a view of hippo hanging out on the shores, framed by silver-white sands, and grunting their contentment, is pure magic.
Duma Manzi, deep in a valley, with the sometimes turbulent, sometimes lethargic, Mkhomazi River flowing alongside the suites, while red cliffs brood on the opposite bank, takes some beating. Its spa, with a rain forest-type entrance and small waterfall, makes the visitor feel as though they are somewhere in the South American jungle.
Indigo Fields, near Nottingham Road, offers treatments alongside a stream, in a slice of indigenous bush, and at the main house. The idea of a different treatment in a different spot is appealingly different.
At Karkloof Spa, in the Midlands, luxurious chalets contemplate the adjoining forest through large picture windows. Their ladies can put the ouch into massages – proving you are not as toned as you might think you are.
The most “wow” setting of any mountain resort has to be Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s Tendele Camp. You feel as though you can reach out and touch the mighty Amphitheatre, which fills the whole frame of your view. Spend hours just drinking in this majesty, or take a wonderful walk up the Tugela Gorge.
Alternatively, if a hotel is what you are after, Champagne Castle Hotel has one of the best locations among the Berg hotels, only just (in my book) pipping the famous Cathedral Peak Hotel.
Several spring to mind, but Fugitives Drift wins the battle. Sit on your veranda, gaze across at the brooding face of Isandlwana, picture some of the British fleeing towards a crossing point just below. Join one of the guided tours, listen to stirring tales, and be transported back to those days of high drama.
For something different
The treehouses at Sycamore Avenue, just outside Mooi River, transport the visitor to a world where Harry Potter would feel right at home. You almost expect wizards to fly in, flourishing their wands.
Gliding around Lake Jozini, on a houseboat, lying in your cabin at night, as gentle breezes billow the curtains, is one of the most relaxing ways to unwind.
I sailed when the houseboats were based in the northern part of the lake, and it was nothing unusual to watch animals on the nearby shore while reclining comfortably in bed.
A setting hard to beat
For a truly dramatic setting, the Gorge Private Game Lodge, with floor to ceiling windows, located on the lip of the Oribi Gorge, is one of those places where you do not feel a need to rush around taking in the sights. It is all there, right in front of you.
For those driven to do adventure sports, though… head on out to abseil, zipline, etc.
The most difficult of all. So many places to choose from, be it self-catering cottages on trout dams, with mountains as a background, or charming B&Bs offering peace and quiet.
At Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse – especially when autumn colours the world – food is a major drawcard… even for me.
St Andrew’s Retreat, in a converted church outside Mooi River, has a special aura.
Lemonwood, in The Dargle Valley, is the place to feel part of an indigenous forest. It beckons just beyond your window.
This has to be Thangami Safari Spa, overlooking the Black Mfolozi River, deep in the bush north of Ulundi, and south of Vryheid.
Slide into the mineral-rich mud pool, down in the valley, then take a long, hedonistic soak in the warm Roman baths.
It has to be the most relaxing way to unwind and ease any aches and pains.
Now, I am going to stick my neck out! Sadly, I don’t think this is our province’s forte.
Although I have visited some here, I tend to rather head for the eastern Free State or the Karoo for these.
However, if readers can point me in the direction of one, I would be delighted.
Mail me at myrtle.ryan@ inl.co.za and maybe make my day. - Sunday Tribune