|Fairmont Zimbali Resort’s beach is not safe for swimming but there are several pools on site.|
Here are some ways to get your clients real value for their money.
For many people, a trip to South Africa is a once-in-a-lifetime event that requires years of saving. But if travelers (and their agents) are willing to look beyond the big-name game reserves, they can find plenty of cost-effective options. This spring, Travel Agent toured KwaZulu-Natal on the country’s eastern coast with Rung Button of International Travel and Tours (ITT) and her partner Julius Le Roux of Julnic Tours and discovered some hidden gems.
About 40 minutes from Durban, the Fairmont Zimbali Resort, is a high-end and good-value property with both a Resort on the beach (plus a few residential homes) and a Lodge up in the rainforest. (Note: The beach is not safe for swimming, but is great for a walk. There are several pools at the Resort and Lodge for swimming.) Shuttles bring visitors into Durban for shopping and other perks of urban life.
The Resort is ideal for families. Top rooms are the Penthouse Suite (#6022) and the Presidential Suite (#3009). Good for families: Some standard rooms can be connected for parents and kids. The 10-room Willow Stream Spa is good for mother-daughter events (kids are welcome) and offers special programs for bridal parties. A popular treatment is African Potato Anti-Aging Body Treatment—a traditional African therapy that includes a purifying scrub, an application of marula oil and rooibos extracts, a herbal wrap and a massage. To book, contact Spa Manager Peta Carrera (011-27-32-538-5000, [email protected]).
Up the hill, the Lodge is a slightly older property, but is much more suited to honeymooners and couples who want peace and quiet and nature right outside their door. The main dining room’s windows look out onto a solid wall of greenery, and it has a classic, intimate vibe.
Private butler service is available in these rooms, and golf carts can be used for getting around the property. Also, the Lodge is significantly less expensive than the Resort, but is no less appealing.
Our next stop was a nearby hidden gem, the Coco-de-Mer Boutique Hotel, a gated property right off the beach. The hotel has some high-ceilinged rooms and lovely soaking tubs in the open-plan bathrooms, but only a part-time reception desk. (This makes it difficult to schedule wake-up calls before going to bed. Also, Wi-Fi is only available in the lobby, so this would not be an ideal hotel for business clients.) Agents should contact General Manager Sara Barendse ([email protected]).
The next day, we visited Shakaland, which was built as the set for the 1986 TV miniseries Shaka Zulu and later turned into a tourist attraction and a three-star Protea hotel with 55 traditional huts for guests to stay in. (The “huts” are more like cabins, and have all the standard amenities one would need to be comfortable.) We walked through the re-created village, attended a performance of ceremonial dances by the locals and learned about traditional Zulu life. Bonus: Guests staying in the cabins can spend more time learning about Zulu culture and watch more performances. It’s a complete inter-active experience.
The next morning, we met up with our guide Trevor from Heritage Tours & Safaris to go on a drive through the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi (also spelled Umfolozi) Game Reserve, the only state-run park in KwaZulu-Natal where visitors can see all of the Big Five (lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalo). The entry fee to the park is less than $20 for adults, and there are lodges inside for longer visits.
Moment to splurge: Visitors to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi can legally go on self-drive tours through the park—your clients can rent a car and go exploring at their own pace—but they shouldn’t. The animals in the park can cause a lot of damage, and unless your clients know how far away to stay from a napping lion or what to do when an elephant gets cranky, they could get seriously hurt. Tell them to hire a trained guide for the day. A guide can take them to all the best spots, or help them find whatever they want to see.
We spent the night at the Ghost Mountain Inn, a four-star property with a lot of five-star elements (huge rooms, private verandahs, floral gardens and lots of very tasty food). Bonus: Everything at the Inn is on a single story, making it ideal for those who don’t like navigating stairs.
The Executive and Garden rooms are the most popular options at the hotel, and the latter are best for families and groups. (Nannies are available for kids, and there are even special bedsheets for children—think Barbie or Spider-Man.) The Inn’s Suite has a standalone tub in the huge bathroom and an outdoor shower in the garden.
The Inn’s spa has two treatment rooms (the staff lives on site, so last-minute bookings are rarely a problem), and we hear the Signature Massage is a popular treatment, as is the Africology exfoliation and body wrap with natural South African products. Even better: The spa has a private enclosed garden for post-therapy relaxing.
For inquiries, contact General Manager Christine Maucher (011-27-35-573-1025, [email protected]).
|A Garden room is the best option for families at Ghost Mountain Inn.|
Note: In the evening, local wild nightlife (cute little lizards and frogs) roam around the gardens and terraces (and, occasionally, the rooms), so warn your guests to watch where they step.
In the morning, we set off with Safari Manager Jean Toucher for a boat ride on the nearby Lake Jozini to look at elephants, impala and buffalo. Jean, who knows the animals of the area intimately (she called out to various elephants by name), shared fun stories about various safaris she’s guided. Guests at the Inn can go on boat rides or game drives in both Mkuze and Hluhluwe-Imfolozi reserves.
A Private Game Reserve
On our final night in KwaZulu-Natal we stayed at Amakhosi Safari Lodge, a Big Five, five-star property on the Mkuze River with a private landing strip for chartered flights. The lodge’s eight cabins are massive, with three rooms alone dedicated to bathroom facilities—one room has a soaking tub, toilet and two sinks; another has a shower stall; and the third serves as a guest powder room. The living room has a refrigerator where snacks are deposited throughout the day. The windows look out over the river and there’s plenty of wildlife to be seen around the site. The area is a haven for all kinds of birds (more than 420 species in the reserve), and while tracking down the Big Five can be a challenge, bird-watchers will have a blast.
A word about meals at Amakhosi: Because of the timing of game drives, meals are arranged a bit strangely. Tea and biscuits are served at 6 a.m. before the first drive and a full breakfast (more like a brunch) is served at around 9:30 a.m. upon return. Since a noon lunch wouldn’t be appropriate so soon after a large meal, a high tea is served at around 2:30 or 3 p.m. The evening drive runs from around 5 to 8 p.m. and dinner is served upon return.
Another note: Internet access is only available in the reception area and there is cell phone signals are weak at the reserve. Agents should reach out to Lodge Manager Linette Swart ([email protected], 011-27-34-414-1157).
Heading back to Durban, we stopped off for some quick shopping at Zaminphilo, an outdoor market organized by local artists in Hluhluwe. Unlike many other markets in South Africa, the vendors here don’t hassle shoppers and the very reasonable prices are non-negotiable—a very comforting aspect for tourists who are unaccustomed to haggling.
|Amakhosi’s spacious, amenityladen cabins look out over the Mkuze River and wildlife.|