The first time I met the owner of the White Elephant Safari Lodge, Heinz Kohrs, I thought he was a member of staff. A very interesting one, who had gleaned a fair bit of knowledge about the area he was working in.
It was only later, as the setting sun was sending darts of flashing scarlet and orange across the surface of Lake Jozini in the Pongola Game Reserve, that I realised that his was a family connection, and a very long one at that, going back at least five generations and across several continents.
From a German mission background, Heinz's great-great-grandfather came to South Africa in 1854. His father started cattle farming in the Jozini area in the 1950s and found it an uphill battle, in the face of tsetse flies.
The idea of changing course came in 1997, when Heinz and his family decided to explore the concept of a game lodge in the oldest game reserve in Africa and the second oldest in the world. The name "White Elephant", he explains, relates to the fact that one of the elephants translocated from Kruger National Park in 1997 - 100 years after the last elephant was sighted in this region - was an albino.
Today his family's vision is a stunning reality, a wilderness experience enjoyed by many a high profile visitor, including Elton John and Carlos Santana.
You just have to glimpse a typical menu to realise that you are in for a treat. The meal, looking out on a starlit sky, could start with smoked salmon salad or garden-fresh pea and mint soup with a swirl of cream and herbs followed by seared sirloin of kudu with red wine reduction, or panfried whole trout with lemon butter and almonds.
A typical dessert would be a rich and creamy creme brulée, with a hint of passionfruit or mixed berries, served with mascarpone and a dash of kirsch.
"If people are touched - even changed - by what they see and experience here, that's all we ask," says Heinz.
And in some strange way it is his low-key touch that has made things so eminently possible at the newly refurbished main lodge. Although it is spectacular, with each menu created with a sense of drama combined with a unique traditional African flavour, this is not about new age opulence and gracious-style living, so much as enhancing and ighlighting the rich history of this fascinating old colonial
"I am glad you feel that way," says Heinz, as we chat not far from herds of elephant and hippo and the Lebombo Mountains.
"We want our visitors to feel as though they have arrived at an oasis where time has stood still and where nature is at peace with itself."
And that's exactly the feeling you get, whether watching a family of elephants browsing at dawn or unwinding on the veranda with a single malt whisky listening to birdcalls at dusk. There are signs everywhere that slowly, but surely, the natural wilderness is being reclaimed.
"We are fortunate," explained Heinz, "that in this region we have so many like-minded people. |Our ultimate vision is to seed the birth of a transfrontier park that will allow our elephants and other game to move |from one grazing and breeding area to another, without fences, just as |they did hundreds of years ago."
It is a history that quite clearly, is far from over.
The lodge is located in the Pongola Game Reserve, overlooking the western escarpment of the Lebombo Mountains, Lake Jozini and the savanna woodland of Northern Zululand.
Originally built in the 1920s, this 16-bedded lodge has eight luxurious safari-style tents, each with en-suite bathroom, outdoor canvas shower and private veranda.
Options include game drives, guided walks and elephant tracking, bird-watching and game viewing, including rhino, giraffe and zebra (there are no lion in the reserve), tiger-fishing and sunset lake cruises.
Other options include a cycling safari in the late afternoon or an air trip over the majestic Lebombo mountains
The reserve is accessible from Gauteng and Durban, situated directly adjacent to the main N2 East Coast route, between Mkuze Village and Pongola.
Click here to view the newspaper article that appeared in the Sunday Tribune.
"A Celebration From The Soul"
PO BOX 792 | Pongola | 3170 | KwaZulu Natal | South Africa