Perhaps because game viewing at the Karkloof Safari Spa was limited to mostly non predator species the animals we encountered were relatively unafraid of vehicles. Many, including a rhino mom and her young, allowed us to park within scant feet of them with nary a glance in our direction. They knew we were there. They just didn’t mind/ Having a private vehicle with a knowledgeable and friendly guide enhanced the experience manifold.
When on safari spa treatments are a well deserved respite from the bump and grind of the four wheel vehicles and the dust of the rides. However, spa time is always scarce and limited to non game viewing hours when everybody scrambles to book treatments. Frequently spa facilities are limited and often seem like an afterthought. The idea of a customer centered luxury and gourmet oriented safari and spa property appealed to me as soon as I heard about it. I was hesitant because reaching Karkloof Safari Spa required a side trip to KwaZulu-Natal, a province of South Africa I was not planning to go to on that trip and the airfare was not inexpensive. In the end, I could not resist the temptation of an all inclusive luxury spa and safari property. I was glad I went.
From the moment Judain from reception greeted me in the off street gated parking lot until his colleague Fenna waved good-bye from the main building terrace I felt welcome at the Grande Roche Hotel. Amenities like fresh flowers, wine and tasty treats in my suite on arrival added to my comfort. Smiling faces and offers of assistance met me at every turn. The staff followed up courteous words with immediate action. For example, when the WiFi in my suite wouldn’t work Judain bent over backwards until it was fixed. Like her staff Anja Bosken, general manager, who I met for dinner, was a charming and welcoming host.
Arriving in the early evening at Ryan’s Kitchen I felt instantly drawn by the casual atmosphere. Lana, who I later found out was the chef’s wife and restaurant co-owner, welcomed me in from the chilly outdoors with a bright smile, and seated me right away. Her warm reception was in evidence all through the meal.
By the time my dinner companion arrived the food smells that permeated the restaurant had awoken my appetite. We selected the tasting menu with wine pairings. I appreciated the chef’s versatility. He was able to prepare venison with the same apparent ease with which he prepared fish in spicy coconut milk in a bag. The South African wine pairings kept up the pace.
Sitting in a corner table in the newly redone glass enclosed veranda I marveled at the beautiful view of the Buitenverwachting Estate’s vineyards in the foreground and the Constantiaberg Mountains in the background. It was true to the property name which I’m told translates to “beyond expectations.” Even if the meal had been disappointing, which it was not, I would have enjoyed my time there.
Shumbalala is within the Thornybush Game Reserve, a private fenced game reserve near the southwestern boundary of South Africa’s legendary Kruger National Park. The Big Five (buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino), along with close to 150 species of mammals large and small, roam the reserve’s 14,000 hectares of bush. Although Shumbalala game viewing vehicles shared space with game viewing vehicles of 11 other properties on the reserve we seldom crossed paths with vehicles from other lodges. From the instant I passed through the gate of the Thornybush Game Reserve, the game viewing was indeed exceptional. No more than a 15 minute drive into it, the Shumbalala ranger who had welcomed me at the gate (no private vehicles were allowed in Thornybush) stopped within feet of a scene that made my eyes pop: white rhinos, a half dozen of them, snoozing in an untidy heap in the shade of a roadside tree.