By David Hughes
It may be a little over four hours drive from Durban to Mkuze, (two hours less if you are in Richards Bay), but the drive is worth a leisurely haul and should not be rushed.
There are several freeway roadside stops where you will find the ubiquitous, but convenient shops, restaurants and, of course, restroom facilities. Richards Bay is not that far off the freeway, however, and also lends a more picturesque stopover perhaps for lunch at the colourful Tuzi Gazi Waterfront.
Now for Mkuze, which is a small town and boasts some convenience stores, a well-run country club, and then there is the Ghost Mountain Inn where my partner and I stayed a few days to explore the area. This hotel is the obvious choice unless you are intending to stay over at the nearby Mkuze Game Reserve.
Apart from the game viewing, there are other tour options tantalisingly offered by Ghost Mountain Inn, which has its own in-house safari tour operator.
We sampled the Lebombo Mountain drive, which is ideal for a leisurely afternoon drive. You are driven up to the top of the Lebombo mountain range, and see how the local folk live up there. There are scenic viewpoints aplenty, and from one corner, you overlook the vast Jozini Dam (which brought back memories for me of having attended – or rather endured – a military camp there some years ago). Another vista shows you Swaziland in the distance, though it has to be a clear day. We paused for a refreshment stop on this mountainous wonderland. It is a treat truly not to be missed.
We did not include the Jozini Dam tour on this trip, but there is one on offer that includes a boat ride on the lake, with possibilities of sightings of hippos and crocodiles, as well as other game in the near vicinity (at the Pongola Game Reserve). This can be taken up as a half-day or full-day excursion with lunch. Also a birdwatcher's paradise – there are apparently more than 420 species of birds to be found on Jozini Dam.
A definite must-visit is the Mkuze Game Reserve. We took up a half-day tour and saw a reasonable amount of game, including zebra, giraffe and elephants. A bird-hide stopover was included, and I am sure this is popular at sunset with the birdwatchers.
It was quiet at Mkuze and did not have the busier flow of say Hluhluwe Game Reserve, but I suppose in full season one would encounter many more travellers. We had a refreshment stop included, which was also most welcome, with beer or wine or fruit juice on offer, along with snacks provided by the hotel. The afternoon drive was well worth it, and possibly because the animals were starting to re-appear, now that the heat of the midday was over.
Now for a little information about Ghost Mountain Inn. The hotel has beautiful gardens, leading down to a lake looking directly across at Ghost Mountain itself, where the legendary Battle of Shaneni between local African tribes once took place. The dinner/bed and breakfast package that we took up is a good idea, and there are always specials advertised on the hotel website. Prices change according to the season and the time of the week.
What makes the Inn special is that it is family-owned, and not part of any chain of hotels or hotel group. Rooms are beautifully laid out, with courtyard style suites on offer for the more budget-conscious. We had a garden suite, which boasted its own balcony, a lovely area to sit out and enjoy a sundowner, or that early morning cup of tea before breakfast. The garden includes a super pool deck area - in fact, there are two swimming pools, ideal as an immediate escape from that Zululand heat.
A central lounge and bar are also most attractive, also featuring lovely views across the garden and pub lunches are popular on the upper terraces. One can get thirsty too in this part of Zululand!
For more information, you may contact Ghost Mountain Inn at email [email protected] or view their website at www.ghostmountainn.co.za