“Ghost Mountain Inn at Mkuze in northern KwaZulu-Natal is like an overgrown country home surrounded by beautiful gardens with sycamore fig and fever trees….”
African travel writer Roxanne Reid recently stayed with us and has a thorough article about her experiences on her blog, originally posted here: https://www.roxannereid.co.za/blog/at-the-foot-of-ghost-mountain-serene-spaces-and-lots-to-do
Below is an excerpt from the blog on things to do from Ghost Mountain Inn.
By Roxanne Reid
Don’t you love it when places turn out to be better than expected? That’s true of Ghost Mountain Inn at Mkuze in northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Discover how peaceful and relaxing this Zululand country inn is and how much there is to do in the surrounding area.
Things to do from Ghost Mountain Inn
1. Go birding
Whether you walk around the inn’s large garden and the jetty next to the dam, or you go out into the wider area to game reserves like uMkhuze, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi and Manyoni, this part of Zululand is paradise for birding, with up to 420 species of birds. Take your binos and go in search of some of the area’s specials like African broadbill, pinkthroated twinspot, narina trogon and woodland kingfisher. There’s also a bird walk along the Mkuze riverbed – see point 5.
2. Take a boat trip on Lake Jozini
Lake Jozini is worth visiting just for the views, especially attractive from the steep roads above the dam or from on the water during a boat trip. One of the country’s largest dams (it used to be called the Pongolapoort Dam), it’s also good for birding and you might even spot elephant, hippo or crocodile. The dam wall was built in 1968 and stretches 27km towards the border with Eswatini. Our skipper, the ebullient Isaac Gumede, said it was now only 53% full whereas about 20 years ago – before some bad drought years and climate change – the average level used to be over 90% and they’d open the sluice gates to ease the pressure on the dam wall. ‘That doesn’t happen anymore.’
The hills rising up on both sides of the dam are covered with thorn trees and sculptural euphorbias. During our boat trip we saw numerous birds like reed cormorants, kingfishers, osprey and African fish-eagle, as well as water monitors on the rocks along the edge of the dam.
3. Go tiger fishing at Lake Jozini
If you love the challenge of fishing and spending a day on the water, go tiger fishing at Lake Jozini. Remember that the winter months of May to August aren’t good for tiger fishing. You can also fish for other species like tilapia, carp and catfish.
4. Join a guided wildlife safari
The big kahuna here, of course, is a guided safari to one of the Big Five game reserves in the area – Manyoni Game Reserve, uMkuze Game Reserve or Hlhluwe-Imfolozi Park. Ghost Mountain Inn & Safaris offers either half-day or full-day safaris, even specialist birding or photographic safaris. Leave before dawn and return to the inn at lunchtime (half-day safari) or late afternoon (full-day safari). Feel the thrill of seeing big and small game in its natural habitat, smell the bush and the dust, hear the alarm call of birds. Learn from your guide about animal behaviour and the diversity of habitats in the reserve. Return to the inn full of the thrills of your game drive, ready for some downtime and relaxation.
5. Do a walking safari
Have you eaten too much or relaxed around the pool too much? Get out into nature to stretch your legs and enjoy your surroundings. A hike up Ghost Mountain (Tshaneni) is perfect to enjoy mountain vistas and learn more about the Zulu history of the area, in particular the Battle of Tshaneni in 1884. You’ll hear about the haunting legends too.
Keen birders will enjoy the Mkuze River walk around the dam in front of the inn and into the Mkuze riverbed. Apart from views of Ghost Mountain, expect to see both water birds and savannah species, including palm swifts, kingfishers, barbets and more.
For something truly special, take a game drive through uMkhuze Game Reserve to the start of the Fig Forest Walk. Then wander under the canopy of huge sycamore fig trees, listen to the calls of trumpeter hornbills and look for birds like Pel’s fishing-owl and blue-mantled flycatcher. Although it’s not a demanding walk, it’ll take about two hours and see you crossing two short swing bridges over the river.
6. Enjoy a scenic Lebombo mountain drive
To get a deeper understanding of the area, we took a guided drive into the Lebombo Mountains with Sakhile Mathenjwa. Lebombo means ‘long nose’ and this mountain range stretches 800km from Hluhluwe through to Mpumalanga and Limpopo, with parts of the range in Eswatini and Mozambique.
The drive took us up a steep pass to 650-700m above sea level, where people of the uBombo community have their houses, vegetable patches and orchards. ‘There’s little money,’ Sakhile said, ‘but they have all they need from crops like watermelon, oranges, pumpkin, avo, onion, banana, cassava. They also have cows, goats and chickens.’ It was a reminder of the beauty of authentic rural Africa.
As we passed cycads and other plants like wild guavas on the mountain and soaked up the views, he told us about the cultural customs of the Zulus. For instance, if you die far from home someone must fetch your body and/or your spirit back home, the importance of a buffalo thorn branch (with its thorns pointing both backwards to the past and forward to the future) and the role of the ancestors.
Our drive finally crossed over the top of the mountain, descending on the other side to sweeping views over Lake Jozini as the sun set with a hot orange belt above the horizon, gradually softening to pink. Magical stuff.
7. Experience a cultural interaction
Before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, you could choose to join a cultural interaction with the local people. Visiting a local school, community centre or home to meet the locals and learn about rural Zulu customs is a great way to connect with the warm heart of Zululand. At present, for the safety of all concerned in these times of social distancing, these interactions aren’t available. Once the pandemic is under control, no doubt these special opportunities will return. In the meantime, if you’re keen to learn about the local communities and Zulu traditions, the scenic Lebombo mountain drive (see point 6 above) is a safe way to do that – and to enjoy some spectacular views at the same time.
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