In the late afternoon a herd of sleek red hartebeest filed past our cottage. It was teeming with rain but they didn't seem to mind. Down in the valley fat zebras flicked their tails nonchalantly, while creamy eland plodded steadily up a small hillock. Raindrops danced on the waters of some small dams which, we were told, had been sadly depleted just days before. Now almost full, they sparkled amid a carpet of rolling green pastures.
Brahman Hills, located on the 1000ha Blue Crane Nature Reserve outside of Nottingham Road in the KZN Midlands, is the brainchild of Iain Buchan. It was he who saw the potential for developing and upgrading the former Windmills Resort.
The metal gates to Brahman Hills are decorated with cattle. Even the most inattentive traveller cannot miss the point that they have arrived. The reception, hotel, lounges, restaurants and bars, as well as a charming wedding chapel, are located a short drive from here. So is the Glass House (for wedding functions), gardens, tall trees, and a dancing water feature.
The accommodation is either in the hotel section, or in self-catering cottages. The word 'cottage' is a bit of a misnomer. We stayed in Zebra, an enormous three-bedroomed house. Each bedroom has a king or queen-sized bed. The vast lounge – with large flat-screened television set – and kitchen are open-plan and equipped with all a traveller could wish for. We could have reclined in the outdoor jacuzzi but though it was February, there was a bite in the air, so we gave it a miss.
We spent hours on the deck (sheltered from the wind by a perspex shield which meant the view was not obliterated) or in the lounge gazing out through the French doors and listening to the wind in the pine trees.
Over the next couple of days we walked or drove around part of the estate to sample what the different venues have to offer. The spa, with circular windows reminiscent of portholes, overlooks a herb garden. The chef uses many of the herbs in her cooking, so guests are reminded to keep the gate closed, to ensure the wildlife doesn't get the munchies.
The spa treatment rooms look onto interesting water features. On the one side, water flows over a corrugated iron structure, giving the impression of tiny rapids. On the other, water splashes over the 'portholes' – almost like being beneath the wake of a ship.
The wedding chapel, hanging out over a dam, has interesting architecture. By special request it can be turned into a evening dining venue for a large group.
Unusually, several wedding guests who spend the night at Brahman Hills have been known to ask for a cricket pitch in order to play a few overs. So one is freshly prepared. The Agility Hub is divided into conference rooms on one side and a restaurant on the other. Here one can get the feeling of dining in the outdoors when the window/doors are folded back.
Breakfasts in the main dining-room, the Brahman Café, with views over the countryside, are sumptuous. We were offered a cappuccino, or filter coffee to kick-start our day. I particularly relished the rich, creamy oats porridge which I smothered in cranberries, blueberries, melon, nuts and seeds. Another morning there was an unusual chia seed porridge. The chef obviously is at pains to ring the changes. The hot breakfast includes eggs, bacon, various sausages, hash browns, stir fried vegetables, baked beans, and mushrooms prepared with baby tomatoes and onions. Homemade muffins, croissants, and danish pastries all meant my belt had to be let out a notch or two.
Dining in the cellar at night, 89 on Copper, was romantic. The rough walls, with metal-lined niches displaying different bottles of wine, add to the ambience.
The staff are friendly and some extra-large cats reclining on couches and chairs add their own charm.
All that was lacking was the cattle. Then on our last afternoon, they duly obliged. We were watching hartebeest, zebra and eland grazing in an ever-changing pattern. Suddenly there was a flurry of colour on the dam's dirt wall. Slowly a herd of Brahman began to make their way uphill.
Moving as stealthily as possible in case they got spooked, I moved downhill along a cattle path to meet them. They were in peak condition; pure white, black, brown or mottled. Their leader had a fine span of horns. Suddenly, he moved to one side. Some followed, others chose their own route, and all proceeded to flow past on both sides of me.
As the main man paused just a metre away to cast an eye over me, I became acutely aware that he was very much a bull in his prime, muscles rippling as he tossed his horns. I held my breath. Had I been stupid, would it all end here in a trampling? But Brahman are gentle and well-mannered. They clearly do not stoop to such unchivalrous behaviour and I thanked them for the courtesy of their visit!
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