Durban - My journey to five star Duma Manzi Eco Lodge and Spa reminded me of driving with anticipation through Arizona, in search of the Grand Canyon.
I could have driven straight past, nestled as it is in the Umkomaas Valley, 650 metres below road level.
That adds to the intrigue and mystery of the wellness and lifestyle retreat, which is only accessible with a 4x4. After a one hour trip from Durban, heading towards Richmond, I arrived at the 5 000 hectare reserve. I left my car on the farmhouse property at the entrance and joined other guests for the half hour descent to the lodge.
It was as though the wildlife was on tap. Minutes after the gate we encountered buffalo, followed by giraffe, loads of impala, nyala, kudu, eland, blesbok, zebra and warthog.
Aloes framed our first striking vista over the meandering river, but the vegetation transformed as we descended into the valley. Vibrant splashes of mauve plumbago and deep purple and yellow flowers formed a beautiful valley carpet and wild jasmine hung in abundance over bushes alongside the road.
On arrival we were met by the friendly young team and were taken straight to the expansive deck overlooking the river. What a breathtaking setting of the mighty river and towering sandstone and dolerite cliffs.
Duma Manzi is 'thundering water' in isiZulu and the sound of the mighty river has, paradoxically, an extremely powerful yet calming and rejuvenating effect on the soul.
I was very happy to see that my luxury unit had a private little splash pool and I took my ample lunch snack and retreated to my very own little piece of heaven. I imagine that savouring traditional local treats of mini bunny chow and melktert whilst basking in the African sun on a private deck must impress international guests.
The lodge - and especially my secluded luxury room - has a romantic African charm in the beautiful setting. I loved the open living design, with massive boma, bar and dining areas spilling onto the viewing deck overlooking the river.
My primary interest was in the spa which also has a beautiful river setting, immersing one fully in nature. Therapist Yolandi Marais incorporated a bit of reflexology into my Swedish massage. The treatment and the insightful feedback she gave me thereafter were a bonus and definitely a highlight.
Also revitalising was the food. Dinner was preceded by drinks and camaraderie in the bar, followed by stargazing at the boma.
Butternut soup and homemade bread rolls, garden salad, oxtail served in individual potjies, fresh veggies and chocolate mousse, were perfectly prepared and I was able to congratulate the chef personally as the entire staff came onto the deck to sing happy birthday to one of the guests.
After a good night's sleep in a comfortable bed (with wonderful pillows) I ventured on an early morning walk alongside the river. Skittish impala darted across my path and I felt guilt disturbing them in their own territory. What a privilege it was to be able to share my walk with these gorgeous creatures. Other guests went fishing, which must have been rewarding as September and October are good fly-fishing months for yellow fish in the Umkomaas river.
There are over 300 bird species including my favourites- the African Fish Eagle, Martial Eagle and Ground Hornbill.
The area is steeped in history. The first wagon road from Pietermaritzburg to Cape Town is situated in the reserve and Cecil John Rhodes, who farmed cotton in the valley in 1870 said this about the area; “I have never seen such an extra-ordinarily beautiful place in life. There, hundreds of feet below us, stretched out the whole valley, with our huts looking like specs, and in the distance there were hills rising one above another, with a splendid blue tint.”
Virtually on our doorstep, Duma Manzi is an intimate sanctuary celebrating the African wilderness in a garden-like setting.
And, with the holistic spa accommodating only eight guests per day, you are sure of individualised indulgence- just allow additional time for the valley descent if you have booked treatments!
* Call 031 5663210 and visit www.dumamanzi.co.za