By Sam Bradley
Durban - “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away” has always been one of my favourite quotes.
At Esiweni, meaning “on the cliff” in Zulu, there is no shortage of breathless moments. The first comes when you see the view: Esiweni is set on a majestic rock face, with panaromic views over a waterfall. It is surrounded by the sights and sounds of the unspoilt bushveld. Where else can you watch birds of prey gliding and circling effortlessly from the comfort of your private balcony?
Only four years old, Esiweni is already making a name for itself. Run by the fantastic combination of Natie and Magda Le Roux and their team, our every need was catered for from the moment we arrived until the tearful goodbyes. Magda is a chef par excellence, and it took some willpower to make sure I could still fit into all my clothes by the time we left.
Quality and freshness are guaranteed, as all meals are made right there in the kitchen, from the unforgettable warthog pie to the chocolate mousse desserts. All meals are served with flair and are aimed at leaving an impression – usually, I would never brave fillet steak with white chocolate sauce, but I’m so grateful I did – it was a real “wow” moment for the memory bank.
The warmth of all the staff really blew us away. Madga and my wife Cristie soon found a shared passion for baking, and in no time they were sharing recipes and ideas. Natie, a keen reader, has a wealth of knowledge about most things nature-related. He is also a keen historian and knows all about the fascinating sagas of the area, while the staff are always happy to share a smile and a story.
With only five chalets making up the lodge we were guaranteed a peaceful and cosy stay, with someone always at our beck and call. Rooms have underfloor heating, inside and outside showers, a large bath and a private balcony overlooking the Sundays River.
The main lodge is warm and welcoming, with roaring fires during the evenings, comfortable couches and a large deck with a rim-flow pool. There is also a wine cellar stocked with over 50 of South Africa’s finest fruits of the vine (the perfect setting for a romantic dinner), as well as a boma area that is used for special-occasion lunches.
The game drives are an education. Set in Nambiti Private Game Reserve, the chances of seeing the Big Five, as well as cheetah, are excellent. Throughout the game drives guests are looked after well, with snacks, drinks and warm ponchos supplied.
The park also has a rule that only two vehicles may view a sight at a time, meaning we had plenty of great photo opportunities. Natie has a passion for the wild, and knowledge about every animal and plant that comes from spending a lifetime surrounded by the bush.
He was able to identify every bird that darted across our path, and knew exactly where to find grumpy Cape Buffalo as well as mischievous bachelor elephants.
The highlight (viewed from no more than 5m away) was a male lion and his two sons slowly waking up from a day’s dozing, and then following them as they patrolled their terrority, preparing to go hunting. The sight of those beasts showing their teeth will be etched in my memory for years to come.
When not out stalking Big Five, Natie kept us riveted with legends and fables of the area. We passed “the haunted house”, which was used as a hospital during both the Anglo-Boer War and the Anglo-Zulu war. These days it is apparently occupied not only by the farm manager but also by the souls of all the soldiers who died there.
We heard the story of the Boer family that had been forced to flee during the Anglo-Boer War. While on the run they hid their family treasure in one of the caves set in the cliff beneath Esiweni, and legend has it the treasure has yet to be found. Probably the best story of all is that of the successful land claim that took place at Nambiti Reserve just two years ago. Seeing the park flourishing under community ownership is heartwarming.
Howard Thurman wrote: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Staying at Esiweni, and spending time with people like Natie and Madga, who are “alive” and loving the work they do every day, provides the most breathless moment of all.
If You Go...
Travelling: Esiweni lodge is in central KZN (near Ladysmith), about 280km from Durban and 390km from Joburg. Directions are available on the website.
Accreditations: Esiweni is a certified AA Superior Lodge, it has four stars and is registered as “birder friendly” with Bird Life South Africa.
Rates: Rates vary between R1 950 (midweek) and R2 330 (weekends and public holidays) per person per night. Rates for next year start from R2 050 per person per night sharing to R3 300 single per night (meals and game drives included). From mid-January look out for their pay-for-two-but-stay-for-three-nights special.
What to take: Warm clothes and binoculars for the game drives, a swimming costume for the pool with its unforgettable view, and a big appetite for those three-course dinners.
Contact: Phone 036 636 9002. E-mail: [email protected]
You can also find them on Facebook (they often post pictures of recent game sightings). - The Mercury