Karkloof Safari Spa Review
Thai'ed and Gone to Heaven

I slip in and out of consciousness. My brain practically screams at me to keep awake to experience this exquisite agony, but to no avail. The next minute I'm being contorted like a rubber doll and I'm wide awake.

I'm literally in the hands of Kae, a slip of Thai girl and she is pulling and pushing me in ways that completely rubbish that silly Newton fellow and his gravity obsession. I grunt like a troglodyte. Her lovely, smiling reply is: "Noo don't cly don't cly!"

I'm not at Guatanamo Bay or an extra in Apocalypse Now 2 - Now and Then. No. This delicate torture takes place in one of the most fantastically marvelous places on earth - Karkloof Safari Spa. Located just 24kms from Pietermaritzburg, in Kwa-Zulu Natal's midlands, Karkloof Safari Spa is an ultra-luxury boutique lodge, marinating in the magnificence of 3500 hectares of bountiful terrain abundant with wildlife.

We arrived the night before from Johannesburg, a good five hour trip by car. From the moment the lodge reception entrance revealed itself in the mist of the setting dusk with fairy lights everywhere, I knew this place was special.

The d├ęcor is opulent and it's obvious that good many hours have gone into pouring carefully over every artifact, piece of furniture, decorative detail, colour and composition of the Lodge. Special touches include the professional photographs of ALL the staff, lining the walls.

We are warmly welcomed by the vivacious and charming General Manager Jonathan Lithgow and shown to our "quarters". Well... I would imagine Europeans and people from India may be perplexed at what one should do with what I think is practically your own little universe of space the villas offer.

Their website says it best: "Settle into seamless luxury where under floor heating takes the edge off the night chill, sunsets rival satellite television and chattering birds outdo internet connectivity."

Apart from the Rolls Royce of Italian coffee machines, the rooms also offer a well stocked bar fridge, air conditioning, heated towel rails, laundry service, work area and large private viewing deck. The attention to detail in the rooms mirror that of the rest of the Lodge including a bespoke giant bed adorned with 1000 thread count percale linen and a choice of down or allergy-free pillows with a note of the weather forecast for the next day provided every night in your room. Streams trickle gently around the units while linked wooden walkways connect the villas to the Spa, Lodge and dining area.

After a long soak in my gigantic bath with a view we head off for dinner. What a hedonistic delight this proves to be. I had the best goat's cheese tartlet I have ever experienced. This chef understands the magic of cooking - to elevate the simplest, most humble dish to heady heights by using the freshest ingredients that love each other.

But back to my neuro pathways being rearranged... T'is the following day and the rain is still coming down so I decide to try out the world-famous spa for myself. You can choose from an exotic list of natural treatments and signature spa journeys.

With a team of exceptionally skilled and hand-picked Thai therapists I am in the very best hands, I am assured. Indeed I emerge from Kae's therapy feeling brand new and slightly dizzy as if I'm walking on air. It's a fantastic feeling.

In the afternoon the sun breaks through on the newly washed earth and we venture out for a game drive. The game here is abundant. The large mammals found on Karkloof Safari Spa include white and black rhino, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, blue wildebeest, eland and kudu.

Predators include caracal, serval, clawless otter, spotted-necked otter, black-backed jackal and smaller species such as slender mongoose, water mongoose, large grey mongoose and genets. We spot various buffalo, giraffe, many antelope and a gorgeous baby rhino, flanked by mom and dad rhino.

The following morning brings a sad good bye to Karkloof but the memories are etched in my mind - the fantastic service, the smiles, the food, and of course, Kae... From Karkloof it's another hour's drive or so to Durban. The rain starts again with a vengeance and the drive feels longer than it actually is. Getting lost in Durban because of street name changes everywhere doesn't help my mood much.

Still, it's good to be back in Durban, a city I spent some of my distant youth in. Durban is South Africa's third largest metropolis, after Johannesburg and Cape Town, and foremost seaport (the harbour is Africa's biggest and busiest and is ranked ninth in the World).

We eventually arrive at The Quarters on Avondale (on Avondale Road in Durban, in case of confusion). In the tradition of the original Quarters (on Florida) which was restored to its Victorian splendour, Quarters on Avondale offers quiet luxury in an 'Edwardian' setting. The original Edwardian era home has been beautifully restored to its former glory to mirror the original architecture.

The main building, a double storey, comprises a reception area, a guest lounge and 10 en-suite bedrooms on the two floors. The newly built annex is a single storey set a few metres from the main building and joined by covered walkways. The annex has seven en-suite bedrooms and this is where we stay.

All the bedrooms are beautifully furnished with period furniture imported from France and colourfully decorated with quality soft finishings. We are cold, tired and starving so the lovely Jam restaurant on the premises provides very welcome reprieve. Jam restaurant is in a separate building behind the main hotel and is also a restored Edwardian residence.

Jam restaurant offers guests a superb choice of breakfast fare, both hot and continental as well as lunch and dinner. Cocktails are served from 16h30 in the trendy cocktail bar that boasts gorgeous fuchsia pink bar stools! I have the most delicious fillet steak I can remember for a long time, with tequila and béarnaise sauce - yummie!

The food is unusual yet delicious and presented with flair but it is not outlandish as one sees so often nowadays. The aromas in and around the hotel are a heady combination of scented herbs and spices.

Another option you might want to explore if in Durban for business overnight is the charming, Riverside Bed and Breakfast, a four-star luxury establishment situated in Durban's up-market northern suburbs. With seven tastefully decorated and air-conditioned bedrooms our guests are assured of comfort in a relaxed and peaceful environment, for a fraction of the price of similar establishments.

It is a mere 10 minutes from the city's International Convention Centre (ICC) in the south, the famous Gateway Theatre of Shopping in the north and a five-minute drive from Durban's major sporting facilities including the 2010 Soccer World Cup King Moses Madiba Stadium, ABSA Park Rugby Stadium and the Kings Park Swimming Complex.

The next morning the bleak weather continues to mock us as we hit the road to Hluhluwe, en-route to the Zululand Tree Lodge for a very different experience. It's about a three and a half hour drive through this beautiful part of the world.

The Zululand Tree Lodge is a deep-in-the-bush, rustic Lodge, far from everything. Antelope happily graze metres from your verandah and a feeling of peace is prevalent. Quick as lightning a monkey runs into the tent between my photographer's legs but unfortunately he seems less keen to pose for pictures than he does looking for a snack. The luxurious stilted tents make for a special retreat, set in the cool, whispering tranquility of a fever tree forest.

Each of our 24 luxury 'Tree Lodges' include an en-suite bathroom with shower, a double bed, a bar fridge, tea and coffee making facilities, and a private balcony with enchanting views into the surrounding forest.

All rooms are fitted with ceiling fans and insect nets, and are serviced daily by housekeeping. We make our way to the main lounge area where dinner awaits. The buffet by the fire side is old-style, home made fair - roast beef and lamb, lamb stew, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding with an array of creamy veggies and salads, desert chocolate mouse, vinegar pudding and fruit salad. The evening is lively and hearty and filled with good-humoured tourists.

The next morning we decide to experience the freedom and beauty of the Ubizane Wildlife Reserve on horseback. We saddle up early for a relaxed ride and spot antelope, many bird species and the odd giraffe. Being in the bush on horseback is one of those once-in-a-lifetime things you have to do before you die.

With delicious and bitter-sweet irony, the sun comes out as we get on the road back to Johannesburg but never mind - come rain or sunshine, Kwa-Zulu Natal's hidden treasures await you. Book now!

By Jo Kromberg

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