By Kathleen Sterling
Thirteen years ago, I fell in love with Africa.
The wide open spaces, the umbrella trees silhouetted against the sky, the burning orange sun dropping down over the horizon, the Southern Cross in the night sky.
And of course, the animals.
The animals! The whole point of going on safari is to see wildlife up close and personal in their own habitat.
Finally, post-pandemic I was able to return.
I brought my family to Zulu Nyala, located in the southeast corner of the continent near Durban and the Indian Ocean.
Zulu Nyala is a privately-owned game reserve sprawling over the KwaZulu Natal region. It is home to over 40 different animal species and hundreds of birds and indigenous plant life.
There we took two game drives a day – early morning and late afternoon.
Feeling very Meryl Streep in Out of Africa, we jumped into an open air Jeep at 6 am, binoculars and cameras in hand, and took off across the veld to search out game. The two-hour drives with a knowledgeable ranger took us to a different part of the reserve each time.
Depending on the day we found rhinos on the banks of the watering hole, hippos lounging in the mud, zebras grazing, scurrying warthogs darting across the plains everywhere, and water buffalo grazing next to the nyala, the native African antelope.
Every drive is a different adventure. We had a herd of elephants, including babies, parade across the road just in front of our Jeep. We came across three cheetahs pacing back and forth and keeping a sharp eye on grazing antelope nearby. No matter how many times we came across them, seeing the graceful giraffes stretching the necks up into the trees to eat was always a thrill – and a great photo op.
Returning to the Heritage Lodge we had breakfast in the gracious building, originally built in the 1940’s and now restored to its original colonial grandeur. Three meals a day are served buffet style in the safari lodge. The food was very good, always with both a meat option and a vegetarian option. In the adjacent thatched boma or “human watering hole” was a full bar where we gathered after the late afternoon drive to catch up, share photos and relax.
Retiring for the night we returned to our really comfortable huge room, which had a queen bed and two sofa beds to use if you were traveling with family. A ceiling fan or air-conditioning kept us cool, and the bath featured a large shower and a deep, claw-footed tub to soak off the day’s dust. A separate seating area was a great gathering place after dinner for all of us to meet and plan the next day’s adventure.
Between the two game drives there is a whole day to explore.
On site there is the traditional Zulu Cultural Village, which offers interactive tours where you can learn about and experience the Zulu culture first hand. There’s also a curio shop with local crafts.
If motivated, there is a fully equipped gym at the preserve. We opted out, but did take advantage of the on-property spa one night to work out the kinks after a long Jeep ride.
A variety of excursions off property allowed us to see other sites and parts of the country.
A trip to Santa Lucia offered a boat ride on the estuary with an abundance of hippos. We also took a dip in the Indian Ocean and visited the Zulu Arts & Crafts Center in town for souvenirs. A trip to a local grocery store in Santa Lucia let us buy the creamy African liquor, Amarula, and some local snacks and spices.
We took a day trip to Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park to see lions in their natural habitat. (Since Zulu Nyala is a preserve there are no lion predators on the property.) We found a male lion sheltering under a tree devouring a kill, and saw a female lounging in the river bed while her cubs were secluded nearby.
There is also an elephant interaction tour to meet rescued, free-living elephants, and the cheetah rehabilitation center where you can take a photo with the sleek, beautiful animals.
Taste pineapple gin and brandy at a working still, or visit more creepy crawlies at the reptile center.
The Zulu Nyala seven-day package leaves plenty of time to relax at one of two pools, or hang out at the fenced pond hoping to catch a glimpse of the resident crocodile. Monkeys roam the Heritage Lodge, always entertaining, and nyala freely wander the property, so on your way to breakfast or dinner you might find a mother and baby nibbling the bushes next to your room.
This is a bucket-list trip for sure. The vistas are spectacular, the animals amazing, and the experience one for the books.
Zulu Nyala is available to purchase from one of the many nonprofits here in the valley. The owners of the property generously donate the week-long package to charity auctions and the prices are incredibly reasonable. I would recommend it for individuals – or families with children over the age of 11 or 12.
Some additional notes:
– There is an option at Zulu Nyala to practice “glamping” in their Hemingway Tented Camp on the same grounds as the Heritage Safari Lodge. They looked fun – but we loved our huge lodge rooms!
– We felt safe the entire trip. We spent three days in beautiful Capetown to start, and loved the wharf area, the great food and the spectacular views where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet.
– The hardest part of the trip is, of course, getting there. The flight is over 20 hours, and then there’s a short flight from Cape Town or Johannesburg to Durban. We saved our miles and upgraded so we could stretch out and sleep.
– The people of South Africa are incredibly gracious and welcoming. We had two minor incidents unrelated to the trip that required emergency room visits. I cannot say enough about the head nurse at Victoria Hospital in Durban, Veroshni P., who took great care of us both times! You never want to go down on vacation, but Veroshni was a huge help and got us fixed up and back on tour in no time!
– For more information on Zulu Nyala visit zulunyala.co.za.