The Umzimkulu River begins its journey in the highlands of the Drakensberg, reaching the ocean near Port Shepstone. In between it meanders through the hills and foothills of the Berg, a soft landscape of picturesque farms, grass clad hills and occasional copses of woodland. In the distance the ramparts of the Drakensberg Escarpment diminish slowly, and begin to fade into soft focus. It is a lovely landscape, so unexpected in Africa, but also, in many ways, so very African indeed. The river, and the many lakes and dams hereabouts, support strong populations of wild-bred rainbow and brown trout. The climatic and geographic peculiarities of the southern Drakensberg breed large fish, and where they are stocked they are stocked large, which makes Underberg, and the headwaters and tributaries of the Umzimkulu River, a prime local game fishing destination.
A portion of the Umkimkulu River runs through the property of Amazian Lodge, a small boutique lodge situated on the boundary of the Corford Nature Reserve, a preserved tract of this highland habitat deep in the foothills of the Berg. Amazian does not style itself as an angling establishment, and actually the fishing appears not to be particularly exploited here, which suggests, to an observant angler such as I, that there might be some surprises to be unearthed here.
Sadly time and season thwarted my reconnaissance of the river on this day, although I did earmark it for a later date. In the meanwhile I was introduced by the owner and host of Amazian, Brent Snyman, to a cultivated interior, deeply shaded against the bright highland sunshine outside, and decorated somewhat in a coffee bar/bistro style. The decor has a generally Europeanesque flavour, although with requisite African accents here and there that are not overwhelming, as many are, suggesting an authentic ambiance of South Africa, and in particular this part of South Africa. The KZN Midlands is not lavishly ethnic in texture, but presents more a synthesis of both European and African, which has in fact been the character of this landscape for many generations.
Brent Snyman is a cultured man, and his establishment – and that of his wife Trudy’s, who I did not meet – offers clear proof of this fact. The emphasis here is on wine and cuisine, the compact but overt elegance of the surroundings, add to the flavor, as of course do the soothing vistas of hills and mountains that surround the lodge on all sides. This is not the type of hospitality establishment commonly associated with Africa, in particular to those who might have traveled in East Africa, or who have acquired their expectations of Africa from tourist literature. It is a shade of Africa certainly, but one that only really South Africa can offer with any authenticity, because South Africa is not a typical African destination.
Of course the open plains and the thundering hooves a la Serengeti can be found in South Africa in abundance, but there is also available a great diversity of different, and dare I say it, more subtle experiences. The beating heart of Amazian is the Wine Gallery, a cellar of very unusual accomplishment in such an unexpected place. The cafe/deli mood is very strong here, and it is easy to imagine that the hub of the entire establishment might be right here in this very room. A comprehensive, and perhaps eclectic selection of some of South Africa’s best wines line the walls in racks surrounding a small seating area, and a display refrigerator filled with a variety of local cheeses and other delectations. The room was silent as I viewed it, a little depleted, and breathing heavily after a bout of wine tasting and indulgence that had just ended – but the atmosphere of understated pleasure was palpable, and extremely attractive.
With this under one’s belt, the bedrooms associated with the lodge – detached and attached – are as pleasantly situated as the living area itself, and naturally each is comfortable, well appointed and faultlessly decorated. All the comforts and amenities to be expected in an establishment such as this are right where you would expect them, lending a tremendously optimistic feeling to the thought of a few days of relaxation and indulgence at Amazian Lodge.
Available activities include, of course, the fly fishing potential on both the Umzimkulu River and surrounding waters, horse riding, guided nature trails in the nearby Corford Nature Reserve, 4×4 excursions to the Sani Pass, and the border with Lesotho, and further afield single or multi-day hikes in the surrounding Drakensberg Park.
Amazian Lodge gets a high score as an over fifties or boomer travel destination in South Africa, thanks mainly to the pleasantly situated and appointed structure, but also full marks for a uniquely interesting and cerebral little oasis in a touring desert often populated by tourist lodges that tend on the whole to be identical in objective, outreach, visage and entertainment.