A Zululand adventure: Home from home

Posted on 18 May 2018

Every two months we try out a new experience. This time we do a traditional sleepover in Zululand.

Image by Teagan Cunniffe


What: Homestay with the Nkosis

Where: Hluhluwe-i Mfolozi Game Reserve

Who: Photographer Teagan Cunniffe

I think my bag is too big,’ my friend Ashley worries as we walk to the tin-roofed rondavels. It’s her first time doing a homestay, and she’s unsure of what to expect.

A last curve of the gravel road deposits us at the Nkosis’ front gate. We’re on the edge of the escarpment with only green, bushy valley and mountain ahead: it’s a location that surpasses many in the reserve itself. Nunu Jobe, walking guide at Rhino Ridge and initiator of the homestay experience, calls into the empty yard to announce our arrival.

A line of women and girls dance into sight, singing a welcome. The effect is overwhelming and unexpected tears prick our eyes. Mama Nkosi reaches us first, giving Ashley and I each a hug and a beaded necklace before Baba Nkosi leads us on a tour of the homestead.

We stop at every rondavel (‘This is Baba Nkosi’s house, this is the kitchen, this is where you’ll be staying…’) until we reach the last one. Out of the darkness comes a small, stooped figure with shining eyes. ‘Ngiyajabula!’ Gogo Nkosi says delightedly, over and over, while Nunu watches proudly. He says it’s the elders, coming from an apartheid past, who get the most out of this exchange.

A single mat, like Gogo is showing Ashley how to weave, takes three full days of work to compete; a fireplace, a great view and relaxed conversation: three simple yet universal truths for happiness. Image by Teagan Cunniffe

After learning how to weave with Gogo, nibbling sweet-potato snacks with Mama and chatting about the drought in Cape Town (FYI: she uses roughly 33 litres of water a day), we gather at the fireplace. There’s a thunderstorm looming as Baba Nkosi tells us how he and Mama Nkosi met.

The glow of the fire strengthens as the night passes, bathing our faces in orange. The stories flow, as do the laughs, as we talk about our differences. And when we leave the next day, it’s with memories as warm as the fire the night before.

Verdict: Homestays are often seen as touristy things for foreigners to do, but it’s us locals who can learn the most from these exchanges. If we could all swap families and cultures for the day, South Africa would be the better for it. The Nkosis were the perfect hosts, engaging with us in an authentic, open manner and making sure we were comfortable, happy and well fed.

Cost: R1800 per person

The details: After high tea at Rhino Ridge private lodge, you’re collected by safari vehicle and driven to the gate where guide Smanga (who’s taken over from Nunu) walks you to the homestay.

The Nkosis were chosen because of their traditional setup: the full family structure is in place, from grandmother through to grandchildren. They are mainly self-sufficient; the cows are milked daily by Baba Nkosi and Mama Nkosi has a veggie patch. Only isiZulu is spoken – Smanga translates and facilitates conversation.

You’re encouraged to ask questions, and in return questions are asked of you. Included in the cost is your choice of activities, from visiting local crafters to consulting the sangoma. You have a rondavel to yourself, with eco-loo and bucket shower, and a delightful welcome pack awaits you on the mattress. isibindi.co.za

Image by Teagan Cunniffe


This story appears in the March 2018 issue of Getaway magazine.

Get this issue →

Our March issue features three magical train journeys, how to plan your escape on a dhow safari around Bazaruto, where to eat delicious fare when you have only 36 hours in Mumbai, plus lots more.


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