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Issue 3
Africa Travel> Issue 3
UPDATED: August 27, 2014
Smell the Roses...
Established in 1983, the Zingela camp has been lovingly created from the natural materials that occur in the area
By Jo Kromburg

It is midday on an icy cold day in April. But I don't mind the cold. I'm staring out over the unusually peaceful Tugela River with muffled, happy chatter of the staff in the background and the scene and sounds gently take me to a place of quiet reverie. But this is the alchemistic nature of this place known as Zingela. It changes color like a chameleon: you can either feel like the only person on earth or you can immerse yourself in a water world with all the river activities - rafting, kayaking, fishing, the list goes on. After a rather bumpy ride over the last stretch of road (well, maybe "road" is the wrong term for the dongas and valleys our 4x4 had to traverse at night), we arrived the previous evening to a welcome akin to the long lost son's homecoming. Our hosts Linda and Mark Calverly founded and have been running Zingela's Stone and Canvas Bush Camp for decades and everything about them epitomizes hospitality, spontaneity and eternally young souls. After much merriment around the fire in the boma, we retire for dinner which consists of a buffet with lamb curry, crumbed chicken and pumpkin fritters, the likes of which I have yet to taste in a Michelin star rated restaurant. The older folks go off to bed and the river guides entertain me with hilarious stories for a while longer. Senior guide Jodi escorts me to my room and I'm reminded of my friend Neil's comment earlier about my lodgings. "It's the larney lane," he said and by golly so it is. My abode comprises of a tent set up around the natural rocky environment and it is by a long stretch the most nature-friendly, magnificent room I have ever had the pleasure of lolling about in. The four-poster bed has mosquito netting of course and all the small luxuries may be found but every little detail takes into account the natural environment. The outside shower for instance is built around a massive rock and standing under it you feel like Eve - or Adam.

I sleep like Rip van Winkle that night and I awake to the birdsong, aromatic coffee and the freshest air I have ever breathed. Ominous dark clouds cover the sky and I lazily make my way to breakfast. It is clear there will be no rafting today due to the weather so instead Jodi takes me on a tour of the grounds after my delicious English breakfast. The Lodge is set deep in the Kingdom of the Zulus on the banks of the Tugela River. Established in 1983, the camp has been lovingly created from the natural materials that occur in the area. From simple beginnings, it has evolved slowly over the years and has stretched the concept of outdoor living to its limits.

As their website says: "Whether you are here for relaxation or an adventure filled holiday, conference or team building session, the magic beauty of Zingela assures you of a special and memorable stay."

You will not be staying in a chalet, rondavel or tent. Each en-suite design is unique and has been built in unity with its immediate environment. River stone, reed and canvas are used as building materials and this natural approach is reflected in each of the unique "accommodations," for lack of a better word.

'Larney Lane' is ideal for couples while 'Hotel' and 'Aloes' are more suitable for family groups or friends. The price remains the same for each unit and Zingela books on a first come, first serve basis.

'J. Camp' is an extension of the main camp but as it has its own bush kitchen and dining area, it does double up as a Bed and Breakfast or self-catered camp for those who prefer that option.

Each lodging is exquisitely appointed with a view of the river and natural surroundings and they are far enough away from each other to ensure almost complete privacy – the kind of privacy you will pay an arm and leg for at a five-star lodge, five times the price.

The recently refurbished 'House On the Hill' is the original Zingela farmhouse. Perched on a cliff overlooking the river, it is just down-stream from J Camp. It is used both for those who want catered accommodation as well as for groups who would prefer to self-cater and join the main camp for selected meals.

The Zulu Kingdom boasts superb all-year-round sub-tropical weather with an annual average of 320 days of sunshine. Zingela's average rainfall of 600 mm falls mainly over the summer months and this is when the peaceful Tugela wakes up from its hibernation and provides some of the most exciting rafting in the country. With these statistics in mind you might decide to do absolutely nothing while unwinding at Zingela. The camp is a paradise for kids and teenagers and ideally situated for guided game walks, birding or fishing.

The adventure activities are largely dictated by the seasons and nature has provided a wonderful playground here: the river for rafting, kayaking, fishing and zip sliding; the cliffs for abseiling; spectacular terrain for 4x4s, quad and mountain biking and then of course the variety of birds, trees and game that makes every walk an adventure.

Jodi tells me that Zingela has twice hosted the South African white water rafting championships. There is an excellent 20 km stretch of rapids and pools on this section of the Tugela Canyon. The experienced guides are trained by and registered with the African Paddling Association and many of their guests are novices so no previous rafting experience is necessary.

Guests are welcome to bring their own mountain bikes. The 20 km bush track is tailor-made for off-road adventure. Eco-friendly quads are also a great way of seeing the area and sensible riding often results in excellent game viewing along with the 4x4 terrain. Those keen on things less man-made can choose to go on the cross-country horse ride. The highlight of which, is the full moon ride. This is NOT for novice cowboys and must be booked in advance, as the horses are not based at Zingela.

After lunch we settle in for a long, rainy afternoon of shooting the breeze by the fire. We didn't expect TVs or technology of any kind really (there is hardly any cell phone reception) so the rugby fans among us were pleasantly surprised when a TV was pushed in for the special occasion of a Super Rugby game.

Dinner that night almost surpasses dinner the previous evening, but this time I had an early night. A shy sun winks at me the next morning and I know my anticipation of a lazy river tour will not be thwarted by the weather today!

Jodi and I take one kayak while the two kids of a guest family take the other two with their own guides – only the six of us in this amazing canyon. The boy is about eight and his sister about 13 and neither has ever been river rafting. The scenery is astounding as we glide by in a seeming time warp on the calm, still Tugela. But I know it can turn with the first rains like a schizophrenic, premenstrual, bi-polar maniac off her medication. The rapids tickle and tease and the kids – both novices – are having the time of their lives. They call this the "smell the roses" ride and there are a couple of quaint beaches along the way where you can stop and have a lazy picnic before moving off again. The notions of rush hour, time-constraints and stress seem too foreign to even compute in this haven.

All to soon we have to leave but thoughts of Zingela will pour through my memory like the soft, languid flow of the Tugela forever...

Please expect the following:

A bush camp. An off-road 27 km track to the camp. Predictable weather! Generally the days are warm but if it rains, the evenings can cool rapidly. Informal dress code. Contact:

Go to http://www.zingelasafaris.co.za/default.phpfor more info, specials and bookings

Getting there from China:

Cathay Pacific has daily flights between Hong Kong and Johannesburg. Flight duration is 12.5 hours and the planes used are Boeing 777-300ER and Boeing 747-400s. Go to http://www.cathaypacific.com/ for schedules and bookings.

South African Airways operates the Johannesburg-Beijing/Beijing-Johannesburg route non-stop three times a week using its Airbus A340-600 long-haul aircraft.

Flights between Johannesburg and Beijing take on average 15 hours, and flyers will be able to make use of the Air China Lounges in Beijing. Bookings through travel agencies and www.flyssa.com.

Getting there from Johannesburg:

ChinAfrica Travel recommends that you organize a transfer from Johannesburg if you are not familiar with the country. Speak to your travel agent.

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