Words: Sam Bradley | Photos: Esiweni Lodge & Cristie Bradley
Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away”has always been
one of my favourite quotes. At Esiweni, meaning ‘on the cliff’ in Zulu, there are no shortage of breathless moments. The first one is when you see the view. Situated in central KwaZulu-Natal, Esiweni Lodge is set on a majestic rock face, with panoramic views over a waterfall, and surrounded by the sights and sounds of the unspoilt bushveld. Where else can you watch birds of prey gliding and circling effortlessly, all from the comfort of your private balcony?
Game drives in the Nambiti Reserve with the qualified guides are a great way to get up close and personal with the Big 5.
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Only five years of age, Esiweni is already making a name for itself, and the friendliness and warmth of all the staff really blew us away.
From the moment we arrived until the tearful goodbyes, our every need was catered for. The food was incredible, so much so that my main aim was to make sure I could still fit into all my clothes by the time we left. Quality and freshness are guaranteed, as all meals are made right there in the kitchen, from the unforgettable warthog pie to chocolate mousse desserts. All meals are served with flair and aimed at leaving an impression – I would never have dared to try fillet steak with white chocolate sauce, but I’m so grateful I did. Another ‘wow’ moment for the memory bank. With only five chalets making up the lodge, we were guaranteed a peaceful and cozy stay, with someone always there at our beck and call. Rooms have underfloor heating, inside and outside showers, a large bath, and private balcony overlooking the Sundays River.
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The main lodge is warm and welcoming, with roaring fires during the evenings, comfortable couches, and a large deck with a rim-flow pool. There is a separate wine cellar stocked with more than 50 of South Africa’s finest fruit of the vine (the perfect setting for a romantic dinner), as well as a boma area that is used for special-occasion lunches. The game drives are an education not easily forgotten. Set in Nambiti Private Game Reserve, the chances of seeing the Big 5, as well as cheetah, are excellent. Throughout the game drives, guests are well looked after with snacks, drinks, and warm ponchos. The park also has a rule that only two vehicles may view a sight at a time, meaning we had plenty of great photo opportunities. Our host and guide had a passion for the wild and a knowledge about every animal and plant that only comes from spending a lifetime surrounded by the bush. He was able to identify every bird that darted across our path and knew exactly where to find us some grumpy Cape buffalo, as well as some mischievous bachelor elephants. The highlight was definitely watching (from no more than five metres away) a male lion and his two sons slowly waking up from a day of dozing, and then following them as they patrolled their territory and prepared to go hunting. The sight of those beasts showing their teeth will be remembered for a long time to come.
When not out stalking the Big 5, our host kept us riveted with legends and fables of the area. We passed ‘the haunted house’, which had been used as a hospital during both the Anglo-Boer War and the Anglo-Zulu War. These days, it’s apparently occupied by not only the farm manager but also the souls of all the soldiers who had passed away there. We heard the story of the Boer family that had been forced to flee during the Anglo-Boer War. While on the run, they hid their family treasure in one of the caves set in the cliff beneath Esiweni, and legend has it the treasure hasn’t yet been found.
Probably the best story of all is the true story of the successful land claim that took place at Nambiti Reserve just two years ago, and to see the park flourishing under community ownership is heart-warming.
The landscapes in the reserve are truly spectacular and great for photographs.
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What you need to know
Travelling: Esiweni Lodge is situated in the malaria-free, Big 5 Nambiti Private Game Reserve near Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal, about 280 km from Durban and 390 km from Johannesburg. Directions are available on the website. Accreditations: Esiweni is a certified AA Superior Lodge, 4 stars and registered as Birder Friendly with Bird Life South Africa. What to take: Warm clothes and binoculars for the game drives, a swimming costume for the pool with an unforgettable view, and a big appetite for those wonderful three-course dinners. Contact info: www.esiweni.co.za or Email: email@example.com. You can also find them on Facebook (they often post pictures of recent game sightings). Attractions: You can enjoy the following: • A Big Five wildlife and nature conservancy in the 20,000 acre Nambiti Private Game Reserve. • Cheetah, hyena, hippo and more than 30 mammal species. • Extensive bird life. • A wide biodiversity including grassland, savannah, thornveld, ravine bush, acacia trees, grasses and aloes with topography ranging from plains to valleys, mountains and waterfalls. • Night drives where you can enjoy and learn about the stars of the Southern Hemisphere in skies free of light and pollution. • Close proximity to the historic Anglo-Zulu and Anglo-Boer battlefields. • Elandslaagte battlefield and memorial is located on the edge of the reserve.
The plunge pool on the balcony, with the waterfall and river in the background.
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Esiweni Lodge, perched on the cliff-face with fantastic views out over the reserve.
A male lion, with his brother in the background, slowly waking up at dusk and preparing for an evening of hunting.
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Howard Therman wrote, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” To stay at Esiweni and spend time with people who are ‘alive’ and love the work they do every day, provides the most breathless moment of all. •
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The lodge at Esiweni is the perfect place to relax in luxury after a tough day of game viewing.
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