From the N2 Highway Ghost Mountain looks like an angular baboon’s molar knocked out of kilter needing to be extracted from the earthly maw. It is a tooth of time that has been the dominate feature in NE Zululand for eons and the mountain gets its name because the ancient Gaza Zulus buried their kings in the caves of the jaw and the wind animated sounds are eerie and ghostly. The Zulu word for Mkuze (the name of the river, village, and nearby Reserve) means, “to send caution”.
The same family has owned the land around Ghost Mountain Inn for over 120 years, but the hostelry came into existence in 1962.
The N2 Highway parallels sugarcane fields that were burned and harvested in the autumn sun, with enormous cane trucks loaded for the two hour trip to St. Lucia and the refineries on the coast. The entire area is known as the Elephant Coast and it includes Mkuze Village and Ghost Mountain Inn and the nearby Jozini Lake backed up by a dam on the Pongola River, the northern border of Zululand, separating Swaziland from South Africa.
The three peaks of Ghost Mountain.
Ghost Mountain is actually three peaks, and after checking into Ghost Mountain Inn, my game driver and guide, Liam, drove me through present day Zulu villages hugging the Lebombo Mountains.
Ready for adventure.
A huge thunderhead appeared reflecting the afternoon light in a warm glow. The plains of the piedmont could be seen in the distance sloping down to the Indian Ocean.
The modern Zulus live in remote and relative comfort on the Lebombo Mountains.
The Chief’s house is painted a deep royal lavendar and his home stands out in the village. A microwave tower provided cell phone and TV service. Nguni cattle grazed in the lush mountain grass. The elderly strolled without purpose and the enthusiastic young waved to us; the adolescent kids were involved in a soccer tournament. The colorful cartoonish murals on an elevated middle school water tank signified that when the kids pushed the merry-go-round water is also pumped into the tank; free kid power!
The Zulu village on Lebombo Mountains.
Liam wheeled the game truck to a pull out and we hiked to the edge of the mountain for a grand view of Lake Jozini, one of the largest in South Africa at over 30 kms. long. The southern-most breeding grounds of Tiger Fish spawn in the lake, as well as tilapia and catfish. The big gorge dam was constructed on the Pongola in the 1970s to irrigate the sugar cane fields all the way up into Swaziland, and also provides villagers' water and slakes the thirst of the game animals.
I am in the area to see Nile crocs, hippos, and the elusive black rhino. Back at the Inn a baby croc skittered across the wooden plank boardwalk on the property’s pond and plopped into the pampas grass surrounded by an electric fence. A snake-like African darter flies by and then dives and dips for fish right before us. The owners of the Ghost Mountain Inn live on a ridge line on the opposite side of the mountain in the distance.
It's a moderate 3-4 hour hike to Ghost Mountain.
Bekie, a Zulu guide at the Inn, leads 3-4 hour day hikes and safaris to Ghost Mountain where guests learn about the Battle of Tshaneni; hikes are on request and Bekie treks the mountain at least 100 times a year. Special permission has to be granted by the Zulu Chief to visit the burial caves, and it is rarely given.
There are 50 immaculate rooms at Ghost Mountain Inn and my Garden Room had a private patio with the backyard shaded by bamboo and sausage trees. Huge craggy fig trees graced the expansive yard and what I thought were wasp or bee hives hanging from the limbs turned out to be lanterns lit at night.
The Inn has 50 guest rooms.
The rooms have a shower and tub.
The bedroom had an extra lengthy king-size bed and a large tub and shower. The seven Garden Rooms (34 m2) featured a sofa/lounge area. The Inn has one Disabled Room (37.5 m2), which is of a special design for accessibility, with an oversized bathroom with large private patio overlooking the garden. Bathrooms have a large shower and bath and twin beds.
The Inn has 19 Executive Rooms (30 m2) with patios overlooking a stretch of water and the Lebombo Mountain range.
There are also 22 Standard Rooms (25 m2), which comprised the original rooms of the hotel that faced either parts of the garden or pool area with twin or double beds. There is also one Suite (122m2) featuring a separate living room, bedroom, and changing room.
All rooms featured private patios, tea and coffee making facilities, safes and mini bars, and lots of channels on the satellite television; plus air-conditioning, fans and heating, hair dryers, and twice daily housekeeping. Because the Inn is in a low risk malaria area I noticed the bed had no mosquito canopy.
The private backyard Ghost Mountain Inn patios.
Liam and I were imbibing an evening sundowner at Roy’s Bar adjacent to the Inn’s restaurant when he was called to capture a baby puff adder in the reception area. He bounded out and returned with a small cooler with the puff adder flicking its tongue in anger; earlier in the day an African Spitting Cobra was captured in the entrance, but Liam assured me that no guest has ever been bitten at the Inn.
Dine by the pool.
There are many package plans at the Inn that included the bountiful buffet and made-to-order breakfasts and an expansive evening buffet or with wild game choices off the menu. The cuisine was fresh and tasteful and appealing.
The next day Bekie drove me and a couple of other guests to the 36,000 hectares Mkuze Game Reserve, a government reserve about 16 kms from the Inn. He paid the entrance fees as we were scrutinized carefully by the security guard. The Elephant Coast borders Mozambique and Swaziland, and includes ten game reserves and parks, including Tembo Elephant Park, Ndumu Game Reserve, Kosi Bay Nature Reserve, Mkuze Game Reserve, Phinda Reserve, St. Lucia National Park, Isimangaliso Wetland Park, and Hluhluwe-Umfolozi National Park (South Africa’s first National Park). Zulu huts and homes lined the dirt road into the fenced Reserve located on the western edge of St. Lucia National Park. In 2012 Mkuze Reserve will be 100 years old. The remote Elephant Coast has some of the most spectacular scenery in South Africa.
Bekie spots wild game.
Bekie closed the front canopy of the game wagon to avoid the large flying dung beetles which can put out an eye. There is a campground in the chalet area of the Reserve and the resident baboons were roadside bandits waiting for a hand out.
A herd of impala blend into the bush.
During the drive we saw a Bataleur Eagle, White Backed Vultures, wildebeest, impala, kudu, nyala, six of the 18 African Wild Dogs in the Reserve, warthogs, giraffes, and the colorful flying banana bird. There are no lions in the Reserve, only leopards and cheetahs.
I thought the high point was spotting and photographing four white rhinos that followed an established game track. They suddenly all turned and faced us for the perfect family portrait.
A family of white rhino pose for pictures.
But then we came across a sole black rhino in a dense brush and forest gulch. Bekie stated that black rhino raise their heads when chewing his browse, while white rhinos keep their lips to the ground in a mowing fashion. The black rhino barely moved so as not to mark his presence. It was the only black rhino I saw in all of South Africa. What a thrill. The Reserve is a protected breeding ground for big game animals, and Bekie stated that an annual game auction is held with excess animals sold off to populate new or established reserves.
After a hearty breakfast the next morning Liam drove us out to Lake Jozini for a cruise on the Inn’s spacious double decker aluminum pontoon boat, named Shaluza.
The Inn has two boats at its own marina.
The area is a noted birder’s paradise and on the drive along the bolt rattling old Durban highway and across the Mkuze River bridge we spotted about 141 of the 420 bird species flapping around the area, which included: Pied Crow, Glossy Starling, Wattle Starling, Yellow Billed Canary, Wattle Plover, Cattle Egret, Three Banded Plover, Indian Mynah Bird, Helmet Guinea Fowl, Emerald Spotted Dove, Burchell’s Cougal, Giant Kingfisher, Green Back Heron, Rude’s Apalis, Reed Cormorant, Egyptian Goose, Fish Eagle, Great Egret, Ostrich, African Darter, White Breasted Cormorant, Gray Heron, Spur Winged Goose, Blacksmith Plover, Sacred Ibis, White Faced Duck, Red Billed Ox Pecker, African Jacana, Little Egret, White Tailed Swallow, Scimitar Bill, Little Bee Eater, White Faced Bee Eater, Laughing Dove, Stone Chat, and African Pippet. Lucky for us that Liam could identify them even on the wing.
It was a perfect Autumn morning out on the water with no wind and plenty of sun. The lake is only a few feet deep in its southern tip; the bow thrusters brought us closer to a pod of hippos and then we watched the 55 members of the southern elephant herd break out of the tree line and wander down to slake and bathe. What a magnificent African moment.
Cape Buffalo drink at Lake Jozini.
A few grayish Reed Bucks mixed in with the Cape Buffalo. According to Liam Reed Buck are as tasty as tender lamb.
Ghost Mountain Inn offers many other leisure activities including mountain biking, tennis, the swimming pool, and a game room; but I “send you caution”, you won’t want to leave, and if you do, you will want to come back for the hiking safaris, night drives, birding trips, Myeni cultural and scenic mountain tours, Zululand Mission Air Transport (ZUMAT) flight-seeing around the coast and Maputaland, and Tiger Fish angling. Extend your stay in the region with a few days at The White Elephant Safari Lodge and Bush Cape along the northern section of the lake.
Whew, after all that I am going to need the Africology exfoliation and body wrap at Ghost Mountain Inn’s spa.
— Feature by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine; photos by the author and courtesy of Ghost Mountain Inn.