Zip, skim, plunge, relax- Lake Eland Game Reserve

A smear of tears as I looked sideways at 160kph, suspended high above the valley, adrenalin surging after a heart-stopping drop. 32 seconds (or so) seems a lot longer somehow at such speed. Then my legs went over my head, my sunnies went askew, as the braking system kicked in. That’s the Zip Xtreme at Lake Eland Game Reserve– a peach of a spot at Oribi Gorge, 40 minutes from Port Shepstone on KwaZulu-Natal’s south coast.

I’d been to Lake Eland years ago, just for a squiz- and, with a dreadful paint job on log walls, I was in no rush to return. All that has changed, including the management team-and so has my opinion. I love it- with a caveat. Frogs, or guttural toads, or something like.

If you go in breeding season take earplugs. Our chalet over the lower dam was lovely but loud- surround sound loud- with two opposing choirs and a couple of stray descants in between.
Frogs aside, Lake Eland is a place I’d like to return to in a different season. Winter seems a good time to get cosy, though my brother insisted on a fire anyway. We were both struck by the thought that it is a great alternative to the Drakensberg mountains.

It’s close enough for many to make a day trip and enjoy the views along the way, the game reserve and the ziplines- with lunch perhaps in the restaurant. Lake Eland has the longest zipline in South Africa- all of 4.5km- and it is a blast, with a stretch right across the gorge and another so close to the lake that you can trail your feet in the water. It also has an 80 metre long suspension bridge which takes you to a sort of prow jutting out over a cliff- perfect for some Titanic poses.

The setting is spectacular, the property worth exploring. The top section is rolling hills, becoming steeper and tougher to drive through lower down, all the way to the lake, which has bunkhouses and rustic campsites – the favourite of co-owner Trevor Dunstone. Maybe he was just in a good mood as his nephew was getting married, with the wedding venue the only spot where music (non- frog variety) is permitted, but the down to earth farmer, in overall pants and frayed shirt as he got stuck in to some refurbishments, is hugely likeable.

He explained that all the wood for the redone cabins comes from the farm, including the really nice split bamboo ceilings. The self-catering chalets look fresh as a result, be they old or one of the new ones in which I stayed. Accommodation is really affordable and varied. If you’ve forgotten something the shop has plenty, including frozen meals prepared by the chef (with some vegetarian treats) if you’re too mellowed out to make your own. There’s also a country trading store about 150 metres from the entrance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apart from camping/caravaning and the comfy chalets, you could opt for a “pipe dream”- a double bed built into an old concrete water pipe with a small patio and braai area. Or the eight sleeper park home or house, both near the swimming pool.

Kids of all ages can enjoy the mountain bike tracks, horse riding, paintball, guided game drives and fishing. Big kids can test their 4×4 prowess on the 4×4 track over the road, while little kids have a huge, fenced playground full of repurposed farm machinery, boats and other interesting “toys”.

The fence is to keep kids in I guess, rather than game out, as all the game- with no large predators to fear- is remarkably chilled. I’ve never had an eland roadblock before, with the big male just standing, looking haughtily. You will also encounter the usual suspects such as impala, zebra, kudu, nyala and giraffe- but also the rarer oribi, after which the area is named.
The 2500 hectares incorporates diverse ecosystems including bushveld, grassland, coastal forest and wetland. The large lake, shaped like the eland common in bushman paintings, gives the reserve its name.

For day trippers, there are designated braai/picnic sites, while the chalets have their own braais (barbecues). Unless you are fairly local, however, it seems a waste not to stay, since camping is from ZAR100 a person and two-sleeper chalets from ZAR700 a night.

If the ziplines and scooter rides don’t deliver enough excitement, white water rafting is popular in Oribi Gorge, and the nearby Gorge Swing is, with a 165m drop, the highest in the world.

Go on, you know you want to!

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/