The Rough and the Smooth

Premier Magazine (South AFrica) - - Motoring - Text: Dean Mc­coubrey Images © Dean Mc­coubrey, Mike Buck­ham, The Oyster Box, Hluh­luwe River Lodge

The hunt for the rosy-throated long­claw. While it may have the ring of a movie ti­tle, it is bizarrely the mo­ti­va­tion for a fam­ily holiday, an ex­pe­di­tion trip to Hluh­luwe in Kwazulu-natal, to find two rare birds or “lif­ers” (a first sight­ing in one’s life­time). Strange as though it may seem for a cou­ple with three daugh­ters to fol­low a fam­ily of six on a bird­ing trip, there was method in our mad­ness. The ease of lo­cal travel with young­sters, great com­pany, a warm cli­mate, and some­thing dif­fer­ent and ed­u­ca­tional was our in­spi­ra­tion. And I omit­ted to add, Dur­ban pro­vided a sim­ple rea­son to sam­ple the finest ho­tel in the city, The Oyster Box, mak­ing the round trip a blend of earthy ad­ven­ture meets lux­ury city break.

Our first base, Hluh­luwe River Lodge, acted as a prime lo­ca­tion for us to ex­plore the Um­folozi-hluh­luwe Game Re­serve, False Bay Park, Phinda Pri­vate Game Re­serve, and St. Lu­cia, as well the walks at the River Lodge.

The fam­ily we trav­elled with, the Buck­hams, are a pro­lific bird­ing fam­ily, “at­las­ing” birds and record­ing their lo­ca­tion on a South African app known as Bird­lasser. Daily searches took us through the sand for­est and lush coastal bush, amidst the aca­cias, down jeep tracks, across rick­ety wooden bridges, and the shal­lows of a croc- and hip­pofre­quented wa­ter’s edge which is where we found the rosy-throated long­claw in all its pink and orange glory flit­ting from tuft to tuft.

But the grail of our stay was the Mala­gasy pond heron. A lifer for many lo­cal bird­ers, Phinda Pri­vate Game Re­serve has been tak­ing fa­nat­i­cal lo­cal or­nithol­o­gists into the neigh­bour­ing Mziki share­block since the species was dis­cov­ered there sev­eral weeks ear­lier and lit up bird­ing so­cial me­dia groups like wild­fire.

We scouted typ­i­cal sites around the dam for 90 min­utes while ca­su­ally ig­nor­ing hip­pos, croc­o­diles, wa­ter­buck, and ze­bra. We fi­nally spot­ted the rare trea­sure, and ex­posed it to a pa­parazzi blaze of long lenses.

The weather was sublime as the sun set early and the day wrapped up, so we headed home to the River Lodge for aubergine in phyllo pas­try, hearty lamb chops, and crêpes with ice cream, ac­com­pa­nied by a tame and hun­gry genet at our feet through­out. The nightly three course din­ners were im­pres­sive through­out, en­hanced by the abil­ity to sit out­side with the sounds and cli­mate of the bush. Sit­ting around the fire pit each evening – po­si­tioned be­tween the glossy

wooden bar and the colo­nial lounge – owner Gavin Dick­son re­galed us with sto­ries of guests who ex­pe­ri­enced close shaves.

On our last night, we took a walk around the for­est paths of the lodge, with one of the lead­ing ex­perts on spi­ders in South Africa, Ryan Tip­pett. Armed with head torches only, we winded our way through the black­ness of the indige­nous sand for­est with the seven kids. We tracked the elu­sive cork-lid trap­door spi­der, the brown but­ton – or brown widow – and al­lowed a scor­pion to walk across our palms un­der flu­o­res­cent light, even though it can sting (but not fa­tally).

The Buck­hams demon­strated one clear prin­ci­ple: to seize the day. Hluh­luwe River Lodge of­fers a great base, but it is up to you to take the nyala by the horns.

Af­ter three nights and our com­pan­ions mov­ing on­wards in the search of more birds, the girls and I drove to Dur­ban for an al­to­gether dif­fer­ent style of break.

The Oyster Box in Umh­langa has been the finest lux­ury prop­erty in the city for al­most seven decades. Owned by in­ter­na­tion­ally-renowned Red Car­na­tion Ho­tels and leg­endary hote­liers Bea and Stan­ley Toll­man, the es­tab­lish­ment oozes old-world op­u­lence spiked with mod­ern flair and bold colour. It is a wish list tick for lux­ury trav­ellers and par­ents – a rare bird.

Perched on the shore­line over­look­ing the light­house of Umh­langa, the iconic red and white Ocean Ter­race and mag­nif­i­cent pool plays host to the kids, with im­por­tant lit­tle parental plea­sures like com­pli­men­tary sun cream and pizza de­liv­ered to your sun lounger – one less meal at a ta­ble with a four-year-old!

The Ter­race also serves buf­fet break­fasts, in­clud­ing a waf­fle and pan­cake sta­tion with ev­ery con­fec­tionery un­der the sun pro­duc­ing gasps of de­light, while in the evening there is an à la carte menu as well as a curry buf­fet (an ab­so­lute must while in Dur­ban).

With five of us, we opted to stay in a two-bed­roomed gar­den villa and loft, with a ground floor lounge and doors which open onto its own heated splash pool. The door­bell rang, and a house­keeper turned up car­ry­ing an ice bucket with white wine, and a plat­ter of sweets, chips, and yo­ghurt for the kids. Morn­ing and evening a news­pa­per hung on the door and small de­tails like TV con­trols, ster­ilised and wrapped, have been con­sid­ered. Lev­els of lux­ury lie in the finer de­tails.

High Tea, start­ing mid-af­ter­noon, brings to­gether the del­i­cacy and deca­dence of spe­cial­ist teas, fin­ger sand­wiches, spring rolls, meringues, cup­cakes, and the list goes on. The spa of The Oyster Box in the gar­dens of the prop­erty was named as World’s Best Spa in 2015, and the quiet white space, moder­nity, and serene pro­fes­sion­al­ism of its ther­a­pists were as good as I have ex­pe­ri­enced any­where.

One would as­sume The Oyster Box is “fancy”, but it is sur­pris­ingly un­pre­ten­tious. It is a pet-friendly ho­tel and I saw dogs sit­ting with guests hav­ing cof­fee. Ser­vice is slick but amaz­ingly un­der­stated, opt­ing for en­gag­ing and warm when re­quired. The Kids Club lays on hourly trips to the beach, sports chal­lenges, arts and crafts, as well as board and elec­tronic games, with a broad spec­trum of age ap­pro­pri­ate con­cepts that work in a su­per­vised, safe, and cosy bean bag en­vi­ron­ment.

The lit­mus test for most fa­thers on any given holiday is if one’s wife and chil­dren are (for the most part) happy. To achieve this, I strangely be­lieve that travel with some de­gree of polarity is highly rec­om­mended. Lux­ury, ad­ven­ture, rest, high en­ergy, a sole pur­pose, no pur­pose, sub­stance, fri­vol­ity, ed­u­ca­tion, and mind­less­ness. Life should be like that; bal­ance is beau­ti­ful, when and where pos­si­ble.

For more in­for­ma­tion on Hluh­luwe River Lodge, visit www.hluh­luwe.co.za. For more in­for­ma­tion on The Oyster Box, visit www.oys­ter­box­ho­tel.com.

The Oyster Box

Rosy-throated long­claw

Hluh­luwe River Lodge

Hluh­luwe River Lodge

The Oyster Box

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