As I was being “pretzeled” I told myself “pain is good for the soul” – and I was reminded of a giant comic relating his beating at the hands of a tiny Thai woman. Much the same was happening to me – and I was loving it.
Phanumart (Ting) was administering a Thai yoga massage with superlative skill. Quite simply the best I’ve had, even in a five-star Thailand resort. But this time I was a lot closer to home – at Karkloof Spa, 24km from Pietermaritzburg.
You don’t have to take my word for how good the spa is. It has won many awards since opening seven years ago, the most recent and prestigious being the World Luxury Spa Award for “Best Luxury Safari Spa”. The spa itself is the biggest in Africa – bigger than most lodges. The offerings are quite something and the spa menu actually had me salivating.
I was duly scrubbed, wrapped, facialed and massaged, something that is available to guests for approximately 12 hours a day. I say approximately, since spa times are merely a guideline. It closes when guests leave. All this is in line with owner Fred Worner’s idea of “timelessness”. He set up Karkloof Spa using his considerable experience of top class hotels and spas around the world, and has been most particular in setting his standards. And it shows.
Only the best will do for Fred, and his guests. I really don’t know of anywhere else with such high standards – or price – at R9 000 per person per day. “Nine Grand?!” I thought. “How does one justify that?” But I get it now. If I was a high roller, I would be a regular.
That sum, broken down over a “timeless” 36-hour Karkloof Spa day, reflects comparatively good value – and there are no chits to sign, no tips expected. Everything, barring perhaps French champagne, is included. There is a butler service, 24-hour room service, meals at your whim. If you want wall-to-wall spa treatments or personalised yoga, tai chi and other classes, no problem.
After a day at the spa, wanting something different, we picked up the phone and 45 minutes later were off on a game drive. There’s a packed breakfast and fishing gear. Needless to say our personal guide, Lovemore Mhindu, was outstanding – entertaining and educational. After a Champagne breakfast overlooking Albert Falls Dam and views to snow-capped mountains, we cast a line or two.
Most guests spend their time in the spa, but once word got out that we were reeling in bass there was a rush on fishing gear.
The 3 500-hectare property is about much more than world class accommodation and facilities. While guests come to take a path to wellness and restoration Fred, together with leading wildlife and ecology experts, is taking a similar journey in restoring the land to its natural diversity.
This beautiful area is well worth exploring. There are several rivers and five waterfalls, the 105m high Karkloof Falls being the crown jewel. Wooden walkways, paths and trails weave through thorn thickets, over dolerite rocks, into the mist-belt forest or across the savannah. Hiking or cycling in the company of butterflies, including the rare Karkloof Blue, is a treat.
There is game aplenty, including black and white rhino, buffalo, hippo and giraffe. The sanctuary is free from large predators, which means animals are unusually approachable. If birding is your passion, over 300 species have been counted on the property, including the bronze-naped pigeon, unique to the area.
Also unique to Karkloof Spa is the controlled breeding programme for prized, disease-free African Buffalo.
Fred’s holistic vision requires forward thinking and planning, and evidence of this are the extra villas already in readiness, so that guests will never be disturbed by future revamps and construction.
Although we spent little time in our villa or the main lodge, these are a stylish mix of colonial and contemporary – think thatch and Swarovski crystal chandeliers, well integrated with their surroundings and all offering superb outlooks. The main lodge has water features, fireplaces, comfy couches and and everywhere else there’s under-floor heating. Villas boast 1 000 thread count percale linen and thoughtfully stocked bar fridges.
I particularly enjoyed seeing guests unwind on a comfy couch in front of a fire and dining in dressing gowns.
The chefs at Karkloof Spa have full creative license. When we asked to see the menu at the café, we were asked which villa we were in, since there were seven menus according to guest specifications. That takes some juggling.
Even the standard menu has a delicious raw food option for every course. It’s been a while since I had such faultless cuisine. My complaint? Having to leave.