Chobe Water Villas- Inspiring Tranquility

Crossing the wide expanse of Chobe waters from Botswana to Namibia, all one sees is the row of A-frame peaks, like the zigzagged scales on a crocodile’s tail. Grinning Gilbert sees us safely onto the sturdy boardwalk-jetty and then…

Secluded Sophistication

A tranquil, sophisticated ambience is endorsed by the warm, welcome smiles of graceful Subiya tribe staff who drift through our neutral-coloured, fascinatingly designed “home” for the next few days. The simplicity, the open spaces, the cubist arches and columns- all reminiscent of an Afro-Roman palace. Organic textures, desert sand and seed-pods capturing the essence of Namibia’s simple beauty.

Stylish, chic, elegant, arty and many other adjectives apply. The attention to detail is noteworthy, furnishings, fixtures reflect a fine eye for design with an enviable artistic flair. So too the architecture.

The complex and intriguing layout leads the eye and invites exploration of interleading indoor and outdoor spaces. Gentle steps to a patch of manicured grass, sunken seating with hot rock firepits, a long infinity pool, overhead metalwork extending the indoor-outdoor flow, ringed by trees and shrubs with cushioned alcove seating dotted about- one could spend hours just taking it in.

“God, this place inspires me! I love beautiful things, beautiful places”

exclaims Hilary. I had popped in once for a quick lunch and had been dying to return, so am chuffed to be so vindicated- especially by someone with a home on the riverbank and a good idea of what is on offer elsewhere.

Boardwalks interwoven amidst natural flora of silver clusterleaf and sausage trees lead to the villas. 

What a welcome. A cool, spotlessly clean space where an impressive variety of materials have been cleverly used to create ultimate luxury and comfort. Meshed inner curtains soften the view onto the daba grass and the river.  The room itself has the best of everything including a cabinet containing a kettle with multi-boiling points, exquisite wines, full mini bar and snacks, great coffee and a superb selection of teas and black china- all lit by automatic lighting. The bathroom is superb, as are the lemon-verbena pampering lotions.

The outside deck has been cleverly railed like the bow of a cruise liner to maximise the effect of being “at sea on the Chobe”. I keep expecting distant trees to move past the uprights, or past the windows when lounging on the emperor size bed. Delectably comfortable loungers are a temptation to stay on deck all day but once the clouds of whistling ducks have settled into the evening, resist the temptation of staying aboard as disembarking back to the palace heralds the start of another experience – a feast for any aesthete.

Clever lighting maximises the spaces and the art. Epauletted fruit bats silently dance amongst the giant leaves of fruit trees. The rim flow swimming pool has transformed into ink, reflecting the last hint of the African day. In the dining area, resplendent with gleaming glass, crockery, cutlery and crisp linen, one gets very excited at the thought of a menu which will surely complement. And it does, magnificently.

A degustation menu- seven little courses of delectable tastes- awaits. Chef Linus Siyambangu changes his menu daily, so the following night it’s his Sense Experience. Tastes to remember include seeded and rosemary lavash, fresh basil pesto, apple and cucumber gazpacho, superbly plated kudu fillet with perfectly complementary selection of veggies, red pepper puree and red wine sauce- probably trumped by the pan seared Norwegian salmon dish and the excellent strawberry cheesecake.

The lodge is transformed at night by the truly exemplary lighting (did I mention the lighting?), seducing one to tarry here, tarry there.

Tarrying is lovely but the sun rising in front of the villa reminds one there are things worth doing.

A quickish breakfast (we never get beyond the Continental option) and we are on a boat and across the river to Botswana immigration to get passports stamped and be welcomed by N’Jay Sankwasa, our Flame of Africa game guide. Then we’re into the unfenced 11700km2 Chobe National Park for a morning game drive- never a disappointment.

Back from learning about the wildlife, including a lion we spot within a few minutes- as well as the birds, history and plants and our game vehicle becomes a boat- surely the best way to view game? Undoubtedly a wonderful way to enjoy a lunch and an afternoon cruise, with a quick nap before din-dins.

The bed itself provides inspiration for me, seeking an air conditioning solution to a double volume house. The overhead canopy does not merely provide a rail for the mosquito curtain, but a curtain of air-conditioned air.

We’re not the only ones to be inspired. SABC3’s Top Billing had just been and their take of Chobe Water Villas plays on screens (elsewhere), while we just play.

Getting There:
Airlink is a privately owned airline business, operating as a regional feeder Airline, connecting travellers to more than 55 routes within southern Africa and St Helena Island.
Airlink provides direct scheduled flights from Johannesburg to Kasane (Chobe), Botswana. With an all Jet service, Airlink provides a Business Class service, styled in the manner of a European intra-continental service.
Through airlink’s alliance with SAA, travellers can connect conveniently, effortlessly and seamlessly, with SAA, their Partner airlines and other carriers throughout Southern Africa and the world.
Airlink is a member of South African Airways Loyalty programme -Voyager.
Discover more:  www.flyairlink.com
Book Direct:  https://www.flyairlink.com/destinations/flights-to-kasane

Nalitumila (thank you in Subiya).

 

 

Umkhumbi Lodge

“Time for a lemonade” said Anton Roberts as we sat atop the riverbank in Ukuwela conservancy, some way outside the small town of Hluhluwe in Northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

One or two “lemonades” later and the sun was setting over the trees of neighbouring five star Phinda Game Reserve, a very different affair from where we were sat. Here the stars shine brighter, since there is only bush and distant Albizia Camp- a nice rustic camp for large or small groups with permanent ablutions and a central hangout. Perfect for Roberts’ frequent volunteers and interns- the latest batch being veterinary students from the UK whose moon tans vie with the luminous fever trees in the fading light. It’s also available as a glamping  option for people who want to just break away from the hustle at a reasonable rate.

Conservation In The Bush

I need to backtrack to 2011, when I first met Anton and Emma Roberts at Umkhumbi Lodge their three star lodge a short distance from Albizia, where the focus is on families and small groups. I was struck with the care they had taken in building guest units in the indigenous sand forest, using wheelbarrows to cart materials between the shrubs and trees for minimal environmental impact.

About The Lodge

Umkhumbi is a quiet, comfy place and the subdivided units dotted around the forest are roomy and airy, with lofty ceilings and private decks. No tvs, except at the bar, but all-important aircon and bar fridges, en-suite bath and separate shower. The main hub for guests is the dining area and upstairs bar with fantastic sunset views. Chef Meva Zisongo is a keeper and his meals are definitely four star, as is the very friendly, laidback atmosphere.

The upstairs bar

It’s an ideal base for exploring the region and you are likely to meet people from all walks of life, including the aforementioned veterinary students and film crews.

A visit to Umkhumbi is not complete without a close encounter with some creeping, slithering or crawling creature from the Roberts’ collection. Anton has helped facilitate wild life documentary film crews in 96000 hectare Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, the oldest proclaimed reserve in Africa, as well as other game reserves in Southern Africa and the Roberts’ have hosted The Survivor Man – Les Stroud, Nitro Circus, Nat Geo, BBC, Animal Planet and many others. Anton will find the creatures required for wildlife programmes and conservation, assist with inserting telemetry tracking devices and afterward monitor the animals and the transmitted data.

“I’ve led tour groups, film crews, scientists, film stars, presidents and other so-called important people from all over the world in Namibia, Botswana, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique” he says.

Here you can see what he gets up to in his spare time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCAHAdOuD4E&t=34s

The large female also had a large clutch of babies, which Anton saved from certain death at the hands of the terrified local community.

The environment, its preservation and sustainable resource usage are driving passions for the Roberts family.  Umkhumbi is not a huge money spinner. But they are not in it for the money. “If we were we could simply start a pineapple farm” Emma says, rolling her eyes. Pineapples are big business in the area but that would mean destroying their forest, home to endangered Suni antelope and many other species.

Instead they’ve partnered with like-minded people and associations, most notably the Wild Tomorrow Fund. Anton says “John Steward and Wendy Hapgood are amazing people with total dedication to conservation and wildlife. I have been in contact with many NGO’s and non-profits but they are mostly top heavy with egos and consultants with nothing but theory and paperwork, which stalls the actual efforts where the money is badly needed. With Wild Tomorrow Fund the funds go straight into the field where it’s used and managed by the people doing the actual work. Their ecologists are 100% committed and have a great relationship with everyone they work with, both in private reserves and government parks”.

Their relationship with The Wild Tomorrow Fund resulted in the Ukuwela conservancy, the base for their environmental awareness courses.  Emma is often an “office widow” as Anton spends weeks at international trade shows and presenting to schools, colleges and universities to get youth groups- from veterinary students to expedition groups, sporting and educational school tours- to South Africa on very hands-on, customised programmes that cover all facets of ecology and the importance of conservation.

Umkhumbi offers internships with up to three month placements, or a minimum of two weeks (www.wildvolunteers.com) volunteering. Included are basic bush skills, core conservation principles, night skies, game walks, game drives, iSimangaliso Wetland park visits and more- work and play combined.

Umkhumbi Lodge has a clinic and interns spend time working on animals that have generally come from rehabilitation centres such as CROW (crowkzn.co.za ) and are now ready for release into the wild.

“Rewilding” the animals often involves weaning them off any form of human contact. The puff adder being treated for pneumonia and the hissing spotted eagle owl in the aviary seemed well keen to be rid of humans and the interns joshed each other about their reaction times.

“Releasing the rehabilitated wildlife in a very low game density area such as Ukuwela gives them the best possible chance of survival” says Anton. Various studies on the conservancy include game density studies with camera traps that have revealed the likes of aardvark, porcupine, honey badger and four leopards that were previously not known of. Bucket traps are also in place and data of insect and reptiles is recorded on a daily basis and the conservancy is also home to a variety of plains game- antelope like wildebeest, nyala, zebra and impala.

“Bring it on!” is Anton’s often heard life motto and it’s always “on” it seems, if one tracks his and the interns’ progress at Umkhumbi, at Albizia, or through South Africa into the Namib desert and other remote places. Back at the lodge, staffies Copper and Shadow keep Emma company and guests amused (Copper loves chasing bats in the evening). You should join them.

www.umkhumbilodge.co.za

 

Rockwood Forest Lodge

Who knew that one of my favourite spots would also be one of the closest to home? I enjoy my privacy but at almost every far-flung place I’ve been there’s someone staying alongside or nearby. Not at Rockwood Forest Lodge.

Here you have a double storey wooden house in a forest glade, with a rushing stream below an expansive deck, and nobody, except Jabu Dlamini who services the place in the morning- and the security service clocking in at an electronic marker once a day- to disturb you.

“Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits”- widely (and erroneously) attributed to A.A. Milne- is the most appropriate, given that you are in your own 100 Acre Wood although, at 936ha, this wood is way bigger.

Rockwood Forest Lodge – A (very) Hidden Gem

Self- catering Rockwood Forest Lodge, in the Karkloof Private Nature Reserve in Kwazulu-Natal’s midlands, is only accessible with a 4×4. If you don’t have one, no problem. Jabu will ferry you from the office on the farm Spiztkop, through several gates and over several watercourses into the reserve.

It’s rustic but four star. The little kitchen is well equipped and thoughtful extras one doesn’t normally find in self-catering spots are provided- seasoning, milk, oil, ground coffee, yummy biscuits and a bottle of red wine for example. Then there’s the Big Green Egg. This is not a braai (barbecue), it’s a very efficient cook’s delight and it’s worth working out how to use it to bake and much more.

Evening on the deck- Big Green Egg fired up

Forest Lodge won’t suit everyone. Activities and facilities are not “on tap”, nobody’s going to take your kids off your hands and you may not have cellphone/internet reception. Therein lies the charm. A complete break. Privacy, enveloped by nature.

In the heart of the second largest indigenous forest in South Africa, the lodge sleeps six (eight at a pinch) in three bedrooms with three bathrooms (well, two baths, one shower). Very large windows without bars afford lovely forest views, the babbling brook is a constant soundtrack for relaxation in the greenish light and, if the weather turns or you tire of the water music, there is DSTV, a blu-ray player and some discs and an iPod docking station/music system in the very comfy lounge, with its fireplace and never ending wood supply (Spitzkop produces firewood).

A few days here is simply the perfect way, in the perfect place, to unwind. I’ve been twice and loved every part of each experience, from just sitting on the deck listening to the rushing water below, to the plectranthus-lined walk to the waterfalls, with crowned eagles overhead.

The peace of the forest wraps itself around the place, providing friendly seclusion. Food for the soul.

If noonoos bug you the forest is not for you (nor is Africa really, especially KwaZulu-Natal). On a forest walk the lead hiker does a Gandalf impersonation, waving a staff to clear spiders’ webs, while the supplied Peaceful Sleep came in handy too. Oddly enough, almost no mozzies around the lodge, so we only used it on our walks. My brother played Gandalf and added a jig- hilarious to watch- since a couple of horseflies found his legs very tasty. They left the rest of us alone.

Goudini Falls

Aside from a shortish hike to Goudini Falls 1 and 2, we checked out the dams on the farm, well stocked with rainbow and brown trout. Bring your own rods and grab a life jacket from the office if using one of the canoes.

The whole area is a mountain biker’s delight, with trails ranging from easy enough for me to mistakenly head down in my 4×4 the first time I visited, to “Eish!”.

We also negotiated the long, winding, scenic 4×4 road to the eco-friendly Mountain Lodge, taking time out to enjoy a swim in the clear waters of the dams on the way. If you alert the staff they will open a gate for 4×4 access to the nearby and highly recommended Karkloof Canopy Tour.

The Canopy Tour is a real treat, with wonderful views over the Karkloof Valley from the uppermost platform and zipline, and thrilling, staggered descents through the canopies of the indigenous forest. Here you can hope to spot the same elusive bird species to be found near the lodge, as well as Simango monkeys. Afterward, you can enjoy a supplied light meal and check out the photos from your experience, which you can buy on a disc. I’ve done numerous canopy tours and this one remains top of my list.

Apart from the Forest Lodge and the equally isolated Mountain Lodge, down on the flatland of the farm is the fabulous farmhouse and separate cottage, 25m apart. The farmhouse does not deserve its four star rating, or maybe a star fell off. It looks great from outside, but a whole lot better inside and is wonderful for families or groups, with a loft play area complete with foosball, pool table and much more- and there is playground with trampoline and swings close by and a private dam right outside. Five stars from me!

Check them all out here: http://www.rockwood.co.za/