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Issue 18
Africa Travel> Issue 18
UPDATED: August 7, 2015
Hands-on Heaven
A beautiful timeless experience at the “world's finest safari spa”
By Jo Kromberg

Photos: Willie Smit and karkloofsafarispa.com

Big game around every corner

I slip in and out of consciousness. My brain practically screams at me to keep awake to experience this exquisite agony, but to no avail. The next minute I'm being contorted like a rubber doll and I'm wide awake.

I'm literally in the hands of Kae, a slip of a Thai girl and she is pulling and pushing me in ways that completely rubbish that silly Newton fellow and his gravity obsession. I grunt like a troglodyte. Her lovely, smiling reply is: "Noo don't cly don't cly!"

I'm not at Guantanamo Bay or an extra in Apocalypse Now 2 – Now and Then. No. This delicate torture takes place in one of the most fantastically marvellous places on earth – Karkloof Spa. Located just 24 kms from Pietermaritzburg, in Kwa-Zulu Natal's midlands in South Africa, Karkloof Spa is an ultra-luxury boutique lodge, marinating in the magnificence of 3500 hectares of bountiful terrain abundant with wildlife.

We arrived the day before from Johannesburg, a five hour trip by car. From the moment the lodge reveals itself shyly between the beautiful surrounding mountains, you know this place is special.

The décor is opulent and it's obvious that many hours have gone into pouring carefully over every artefact, piece of furniture, decorative detail, colour and composition of the parts that make this Lodge so beautifully whole. Special touches include the professional photographs of ALL the staff, lining the walls. An assuring old-world colonial feel is lifted with contemporary accents; think Swarovski crystal chandeliers, oversized blown-glass vessels and hand painted aloes on canvas. Whether you settle on one of the countless cozy couches, hugging winter fires or catch a cool summer's breeze on the wrap-around exterior deck overlooking the valley, the pervading feeling is oneness with nature.

Elegance in the African bush

Warm welcome

We are warmly welcomed by the vivacious Lawrence from reservations and driven to the main lodge. Our butler David meets us and shows us around the main lounge and dining area with its magnificent bar, library and wine cellar. "Would you like breakfast now?" he says. No, I say, requesting what time lunch is. "Anytime you want! Here you have whatever you want whenever!" he replies with a toothy grin. He then accompanies us to our "quarters". Well… I would imagine people from over-populated countries may be perplexed at what one should do with practically your own little universe of space the villas offer. Their website says it best: "Settle into seamless luxury where under floor heating takes the edge off the night chill, sunsets rival satellite television and chattering birds outdo internet connectivity."

Apart from the Rolls Royce of Italian coffee machines, the rooms also offer a well-stocked bar fridge, air conditioning, underfloor heating, heated towel rails, laundry service, work area and large private viewing deck. The attention to detail in the rooms mirror that of the rest of the Lodge including a bespoke giant bed adorned with 1000 thread count percale linen and a choice of down or allergy-free pillows with a note of the weather forecast for the next day provided every night in your room. Streams trickle gently around the units while linked wooden walkways connect the villas to the Spa, Lodge and dining area. The villas all have beautiful views overlooking the valley and mountains beyond with a veranda, where you can relax and just drink in all this peace.

Our delectable lunch, which we have at a civilised 13.30 pm, consists of butternut soup, roast chicken salad and a heavenly almond and lemon cake with vanilla ice cream. The wine list is also one of the best in the world and, once again, included in the price. One of the waiting staff, Tendei, notices my handbag on the floor and brings a chair especially for it – that is how good and attentive the staff are here.

Massage by Thai experts

Supremely satisfying spa

After lunch I decide to try out the world-famous spa for myself. Built to embrace the natural environment, the spa features 17 generous treatment rooms, all with wonderful views over the native bush and surrounding gardens. The eco-design incorporates natural materials, with thatch and living roofs which invite game to graze gracefully in full view.

Facilities include a glass fronted four chair Hand and Foot Massage lounge, Moroccan flavoured Rassoul, Floatation Pool, Kneipp Therapy Pools, open-air Jacuzzi, Saunas , Steam rooms and Reflections lounge.

You can choose from an exotic list of natural treatments and signature spa journeys. It's an all-you can-eat spa buffet since all treatments are included in the price as well. With a team of exceptionally skilled and hand-picked Thai therapists I am in the very best hands, I am assured. Indeed I emerge from Kae's therapy feeling brand new and slightly dizzy as if I'm walking on air. It's a fantastic feeling…

After a long soak in my gigantic bath with a view, we head off for dinner. What a hedonistic delight this proves to be. I had the best goat's cheese tartlet I have ever experienced. This chef understands the magic of cooking – to elevate the simplest, most humble dish to heady heights by using the freshest ingredients that love each other passionately. Local fare is freshly prepared and set to satisfy the discerning gourmand in search of health, indulgence or simplicity. Local farms bordering the area are a source of many of the ingredients like organic avocados and game meat.

The next morning I make my way to the Spa again after a slap-up breakfast.

This time I indulge in the rasool treatment followed by a Thai de-stress massage. Who knew you needed one massage to recover from another one, but hey someone's gotta do it…

My therapist this time is Dicky and I fall asleep during the wonderful massage, lasting 90 minutes.

After a fantastic dinner filled with mirth, cosy fires, wonderful food and brand-new friends, I experience dreamless, restful sleep that night which I haven't enjoyed in years.

Luxurious bedroom setting

Spacious bathrooms

Waterfall splendour

I sleep late the next day I have a wheat-grass shot to counter the effects of the good red wine the night before. In the afternoon the sun breaks through on the newly washed earth and we venture out for a game drive with our wonderful guide Freedom. The game here is abundant. The large mammals found on Karkloof Spa include white and black rhino, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, blue wildebeest, eland and kudu.

Predators include caracal, serval, clawless otter, spotted-necked otter, black-backed jackal and smaller species such as slender mongoose, water mongoose, large grey mongoose and genets.

We spot rhino and a myriad of antelope. We are the only people on the vehicle with Freedom and again, you can choose your activities when and how you want and there is no need to spend your time on the game drive with strangers asking stupid questions… I cannot emphasize enough what a luxury this feature of Karkloof is. The area around the Lodge is mountainous with abundant forests and rivers and features diverse biomes and vegetation. We stop at the Karkloof River and hike for about half an hour along the river on wooden walkways in the deep valley with towering cliffs on either side. We reach the spectacular Karkloof Waterfall, the same in length as the Vic Falls although not as broad of course. Seeing it from below is indeed a different experience. I ask Freedom if there is a lot of interest in the game and waterfall scenic trips. "The Spa swallows them and you never see them again," he says with a chortle. It is a shame since the tranquillity, isolation and beauty of this area is sublime. It reminds me of a quote by Hermann Hesse: "Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself."

The following day brings a sad good bye to Karkloof but the memories are etched in my mind – the fantastic service, the smiles, the food, and of course, Kae…

So discover this hidden treasure and KwaZulu-Natal's best kept secret for yourself and book now!

Out of Africa relaxed splendour

Fact sheet:

The cost per person might seem a steep at $900 per person per night but it includes the following:

• Unlimited meals, snacks and beverages (excluding French champagne). You can eat and drink as much as you would like, including fine wines and premium spirits and it is all included in your overnight rate.

• Personal consultation with chef on arrival to discuss dietary preferences

• Private guide and game drive vehicle for your stay. This means you can enjoy your game drive or outdoor activities with your own private guide and game drive vehicle, at your own pace and leisure and do not have to share with other guests.

• Privately guided activities (walking, hiking, mountain biking, bass and fly fishing)

• Unlimited spa treatments by specialist Thai therapists throughout your stay. They mean it: unlimited!

• Unlimited use of the Spa Hydro Therapy facilities (e.g. saunas and steam rooms)

• Daily yoga instruction

• Customised wellness programmes for longer stays

• Superior quality suite accommodation with all the modern conveniences. There is under-floor heating throughout each villa, as well as air conditioning. Guests can expect luxury amenities.

• Mini bar stocked with your personal preferences

• Cafe Complete including Nespresso coffee selection and automatic espresso machine per suite

• Guest laundry and pressing

• Unlimited high-speed internet access

• Personal villa attendant

Picture perfect dining



Telephone: +27 (0) 33 569 1321

Email: reservations@karkloofspa.com

Getting there:

Fly to Durban with a couple of international carriers from China. Once in Durban it's an easy hour's drive by car to Karkloof – go to http://www.karkloofsafarispa.comfor directions and if you stay for three nights or more, Karkloof will arrange a transfer for you free of charge.

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