By Nerissa Card
As South Africa continues to trudge through its mire of problems – Covid-19 aside – seeing the country through the eyes of foreign custodians of a small part of our beautiful Drakensberg is the proverbial breath of fresh air.
Recently, Garth and I were treated to a night at Zulu Waters in the Giants Castle area. The private reserve was established 18 years ago, when Australian Ian Gowrie-Smith bought five farms with a vision of returning the land to what it once was.
Zulu Waters is now in the gentle hands of Danes Bettina and Michael Tetzlaff, who went into partnership with Ian in 2019. Former Danish farmers, it is abundantly clear they have bought into Ian’s quest to conserve the area.
Promising – and delivering – a “unique experience of the African wilderness”, the 3000-hectare grassland estate, just two hours from Durban and four from Johannesburg, is now home to herds of game, including buffalo, wildebeest, blesbok, reedbuck, eland, oribi, you name it. Sightings can be enjoyed on game drives, horseback or walks, or watch the animal world go by from the comfort of your accommodation.
It goes without saying that Zulu Waters is also a paradise for bird-lovers – I spent hours watching four bee-eaters about two metres from where I was sitting – and trout fishermen, being situated on an 8km stretch of the Bushman’s River, including Lake Murray.
Just after we arrived, we took a drive with ranger Cyril, who also conducts walks of the estate. After imparting much knowledge of the various species and surrounds, we enjoyed a picnic under a pecan tree, where I spent time gathering nuts and crunching them open. This took me straight back to childhood holidays at a resort in the berg, where I loved nothing more than collecting their bounty and munching my way through the shells to get to the squiggly nuts inside.
There is one downside to a picnic with Cyril, though, there is so much delicious fare it’s easy to forget that dinner at Zulu Waters is a feast, so do your best to keep your fingers out of the biltong, which is produced from venison on the estate when culling allows.
When you tire of the African sun, retreat to the understated luxury of three accommodation venues.
Nandi House, which sleeps four guests and is named after King Shaka’s mother, dates back to the early 1900s, when it was a reservoir. It was redesigned in 2005 and formed part of the SAIA-Afrisam Award for Sustainable Architecture, which was won in 2010 by Zulu Waters. Renovated last year, it retains its original style and consists of two double rooms. It can be utilised as a self-catering unit or as an add-on to the spectacular Shaka Lodge.
We stayed at the latter, a three-bedroom, three-bathroom stunner, which was Ian’s home and, in keeping with his conservation efforts, was partly constructed using invasive timber from the estate. It is the epitome of contemporary luxury, with a heated rim-flow pool from which to watch the game go by, tennis and soccer courts, and a fully-equipped, top-of-the-range kitchen. But don’t worry about that, you won’t have to go in there if you’d rather not. Chefs Mbongenseni and Jonathan are on hand to sustain you, assisted by Londeka, head of housekeeping.
Next door to Shaka Lodge are three recently renovated units which each sleep two and can, like Nandi House, be used as add-ons to the lodge, making this a perfect getaway for family reunions, get-togethers with friends or small conferences.
Last, but by certainly no means least is the romantic Lake Cottage, which is tucked away from the lodge action in the heart of the reserve, perfect for a getaway for two.
The night we stayed at Zulu Waters we enjoyed a fabulous three-course meal, courtesy of Jonathan, in the company of Michael, Bettina and friends of theirs from Johannesburg, Gunther and Sharon Hadsbjerg.
There was much laughter and chatter as we discussed how they came to be here to take care of this piece of paradise. What became abundantly clear is that they are totally committed to making this the unique African experience they describe on their website www.zuluwatersgamereserve.com and it is a joy to experience it through their eyes.
Some may describe the trio’s vision for Zulu Waters as a foreigner’s folly, but it’s “follies” like these that enhance Africa’s rich heritage and sustain its communities. They should be welcomed and supported.