Explore KwaZulu-Natal: the best bush breaks in Zululand

Posted by Pippa de Bruyn on 4 October 2021

Up near the border of Eswatini, you’ll find a wild and wonderful corner of South Africa, with some great Big Five conservation areas – and surprisingly good deals for a bush break.

Soak up the sights and sounds of the bush on the edge of Lake Jozini at ShayaMoya. It’s the only lake in SA with tiger fish. Picture: Teagan Cunniffe

Best Luxury Bush Villa

Thuleni Homestead

Picture: Lar-Photography

Guy Hamlin’s love for the bush took root on school holidays in the Greater Kruger, but it was only in 2005, on his return from another scouting trip in Mpumalanga, that the fierce beauty of Zululand sank in. As luck would have it, a friend produced the sale documents for a 4  660-hectare game farm within Manyoni Private Reserve two days later. Guy chose a prime location to build his house: flanked by marulas and knob-thorns, with expansive views of a waterhole and the veld dotted with sausage and fever trees. ‘I wanted it to blend in and be moulded around the existing vegetation, so when you’re in bed you feel as if you’re virtually lying in the bush, eyeball-to-eyeball with visiting rhino.’ Designed by award-winning architect Richard Stretton and elegantly furnished by Guy’s wife Lisa- Jane, it accommodates three families holidaying together but it’s also intimate enough for a couple. Includes daily service and two game drives with a qualified nature guide.

Room Tip
There are four bedrooms, each opening onto the surrounding bush. The master bedroom is the best, so if you’re sharing costs equitably you’ll have to draw lots.

Cost
From R21 000 a night. Sleeps 10 (six to eight adults and two to four children).

Contact
021-790-0972 or visit them here.

Best View

ShayaMoya Tiger Fishing & Game Lodge

Picture: Teagan Cunniffe

The website does this gem no justice and yet it’s super-popular, with a fantastic hilltop location set amid wild gardens, and the most magnificent view across Pongola Game Reserve to the distant waters of Lake Jozini, backdropped by the Lebombo Mountains. You could spend hours just gazing at this from the communal lounge bar, enjoying the birds and splendid garden filled with sculptural aloes. Most guests head out, though, to explore the reserve and lake to hook Africa’s most ferocious freshwater fighting fish. Owner-manager Lindy Blevin’s parents built their unpretentious stone-and-thatch lodge in 1997, and deliberately kept it simple: only eight rustic bush chalets, privately located, with mesh windows, TV, bar fridge, overhead fan, outside shower and deck to enjoy the view. Book a surprise massage for your better half – R540 for 60 minutes (about the cost of a cruise on Lake Jozini) – followed by a private dinner in the wine cellar, and the scene is set for romance.

Room Tip
Only the honeymoon suite has air conditioning. The family chalet has a king-size bed, bunk bed and pull-out couch (sleeps six).

Cost
From R950 per person sharing B&B.

Contact
034-435-1110, or visit them here.

Best Stopover

Mpeti Lodge

Picture: Teagan Cunniffe

Just over three years ago, Mpeti Game Reserve was bought by the Senekals, local sugar-cane farmers who developed neighbouring Zimanga Game Reserve into one of the world’s most sought-after wildlife photography destinations with six special underground hides. Mpeti was purchased as a backup to relocate animals from Zimanga during times of drought, but sisters-in-law Colette and Daniela spotted an opportunity in the run-down lodge that came with the land. Avid decorators, they persuaded their husbands to part with a small start-up budget and set about revamping the seven-suite lodge, with its pretty swimming pool and views of distant Lake Jozini. ‘It’s not a Big Five reserve, but for parents, this can be more relaxing,’ says Colette. ‘It’s a great stopover en route to Kruger, Sodwana or Mozambique, and we have plenty of parking for trailers. And we like to include special touches, like discovering a hot bath waiting for you after dinner.’ Their instincts are bearing fruit – this season was the busiest yet, and the 2020 rates have been adjusted.

Room Tip
The Main Lodge’s six deluxe suites are identical, so book whichever is closest to the pool. For a self-catering option, the four-bedroom Family Villa is good value.

Cost
Main Lodge from R1 100 per person sharing B&B, with a daily game drive. Family Villa from R3 000 a night (sleeps six adults and two children).

Contact
074-127-8044 or visit them here.

Best Host

Msunduze River Lodge

Picture: Teagan Cunniffe

With just five neat, compact chalets sharing a comfortable central lounge-bar-dining room (with hammocks) overlooking the Msunduze River – but not inside a reserve – this is a peaceful and intimate guest lodge. However, it’s the hosting by Rose McLoughlin and her partner Mike Toft that really sets it apart. Rose, a holistic healer who works with sound, has just finished building her therapy boma, while Mike, a wildlife vet with a clinic on the premises, has just upgraded his on-site predator and rhino bomas. Rose has the hospitality gene in spades, planning evenings around what she intuits guests want rather than some strict rotation – some nights a djembe drumming session around the fire at the boma braai (great value at R185 per person); the next a curry-themed evening, or a simple fish dinner sourced from the coast. The property is right on the border of Manyoni Reserve.

Room Tip
The chalets are all identical and en-suite (shower only); the three with bird names face the river, the other two are bush chalets.

Cost
R750 pp sharing B&B.

Contact
082-449-4063 or visit them here.

Best Value

Rhino River Lodge and Bayala Safari Lodge

Picture: Teagan Cunniffe

If you’ve done any research into the cost of staying on an excellent Big Five reserve, the rates below should have you dancing a jig. Who needs a private butler when the luxury that counts is being driven through the bush in an open-topped vehicle, with a qualified guide providing edifying commentary and thrilling, up-close encounters? Both of these lodges offer excellent game viewing. Rhino River (below) is the smaller, more intimate one: comprising just six units and two private bush villas, it’s located in the southern part of Manyoni Private Reserve. On the other side of the N2, Bayala Safari Lodge & Camp (pictured bottom) is less personal – there are 48 rooms – but a stay here offers access to 30  000-hectare Munyawana Conservancy (which includes Phinda), and you are able to add on fascinating activities such as rhino dehorning, elephant collaring and lion relocation.

Picture: Teagan Cunniffe

Room Tip
Rhino River has the edge in terms of character and facilities; my entry-level choice is room 6. There are also two private houses here which sleep four each.

Cost
Rhino River Lodge from R1 500 per person sharing. Rates are full board and include two game drives daily. Bayala from R2 475 pp sharing DBB; the rate includes one game drive daily, additional drive R909 per person.

Contact
Rhino Lodge: 083-781-4924 or visit them here. Bayala Safari Lodge: 035-562-0498 or visit them here.

Exclusive Luxury For Couples

Rhino Sands Safari Camp

Picture: Teagan Cunniffe

If you want both the luxury of a full-service lodge but the solitude and exclusivity of having virtually an entire camp to yourself, then Rhino Sands is the perfect pick. Luxury sister to Rhino River Lodge, it has just four enormous suites built under canvas on timber decks set within the lush riverine forest that hugs the Msunduze River in southern Manyoni. Hands-on owners Dale and Shannon Airton have always valued the special relationships that develop in the hallowed silence of the bush, hence the decision to keep the number of suites small, but this is the only small thing about the camp. Public areas are expansive, decadently furnished with antiques and Weylandts collectables, and entirely off the grid. Working with decorator Taryn Flanagan, Shannon has created a glamorous East African-style safari camp, by far the most luxurious option in Manyoni and, given two vehicles between max eight guests, the most exclusive.

Room Tip
Though each tent is individually decorated, all four are identical in layout and facilities, including private pools overlooking the river. No kids under 13.

Cost
R6 900 per person sharing full board, including two game drives daily.

Contact
074-170-8406 or visit them here.

Worth A Look

Ghost Mountain Inn

Picture: Facebook

This classic country hotel offers great value, excellent service, wonderful guided tours as well as knowledgeable self-drive advice. You have to drive into Mkuze town to reach it, but once there the atmosphere is both groomed and rural. I like the location of rooms 13, 14 and 15. From R1 325 per person sharing B&B. Visit them here.

Africamps @ White Elephant Safaris

Picture: Facebook

That reliable name in glamping has just opened in Pongola Game Reserve with 12 luxury self-catering tents (sleep five). Game drives and walks, boat cruises, canoeing and more are on offer, and breakfast (R110 per person) or braai baskets (R175 per person) can be ordered. R695 per person sharing, R250 per person extra. Visit them here.

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