South Africa is a dream destination for many travellers, promising breathtaking landscapes, unrivalled animal spotting plus luxury accommodation and world-beating food and wine. As a result in its most popular areas the country can feel a little overrun. But there are still less-visited and lesser-known areas (to a UK audience at least) that offer the finest of everything without the crowds. The KwaZulu-Natal region, for example, has the Big Seven (the Big Five of lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino plus humpback whales and great white sharks), the UNESCO-protected iSimangaliso Wetland Park where you can also see leatherback turtles and incredible bird life, the Limpopo mountains, grasslands and the finest and quietest stretch of the Drakensberg Mountains on the border with Lesotho.
Just north of iSimangaliso and the popular town of St Lucia, at the foot of the Lebombo Mountains lies the Ghost Mountain Inn, a historical hotel that offers the perfect jumping-off point to explore the incredible surrounding countryside. The hotel is named for the nearby Ghost Mountain, which was given its spooky moniker thanks to the tradition of local cheiftans being buried in its caves and the resemblance of its peak to a haggard old woman. Despite its long history, Ghost Mountain Inn is a thoroughly modern hotel with extreme comfort and luxury at its heart. Reserve the enormous and beautiful Tshaneni Suite if you can – the views across the gardens, lake and mountain are unbeatable, as is the choice of whether to take inside or outside showers and whether to nap in the expansive four-poster bed or the chaise-longue on the terrace. All rooms, however, are well appointed and luxurious with an excellent attention to detail.
The hotel is deeply involved and invested in its surrounding natural and cultural world. Guests could happily while away the days soaking up the sun by one of the hotel pools, getting a massage at the spa, and relaxing in the lush gardens and spotting birds, butterflies and perhaps the occasional monkey from the comfort of their sunlounger. But you are also positively encouraged to get out there and find out just why this part of KwaZulu-Natal is ripe for exploration.
Ghost Mountain Inn lies a short drive from the wonderfully scenic Lake Jozini, a man-made body of water that has become a haven for wildlife including hippos, crocodiles and hundreds of bird varieties. The lake is set against the absolutely spectacular background of the Lebombo Mountains and is surrounded by game reserves, meaning you can spot wildebeest, elephants and antelope grazing nearby. It’s a particularly breathtaking spot at sunset and is also recommended for fishing trips from the hotel.
Ghost Mountain also offers scenic drives up and around the Lebombo Mountains, taking in the striking vistas and local flora and fauna along with sundowners if taken at the right time of day. The connection the hotel has to the surrounding landscape and people is truly extraordinary. One of the excursions they are proudest of is the opportunity to meet local Zulu people and explore what rural Zulu life is like during the course of a three-hour walk through the beautiful local landscape. Guests can also visit a community project or nearby school and explore sites of significance to Zulu people and trips can be customised according to interest.
The Inn is also a fantastic starting point for wildlife safaris – including ones on foot through the nearby uMkhuze Game Reserve and through the neighbouring mountains. The hotel lies right next to a small lake and guides will also take guests for a short couple-of-hours stroll straight from the hotel through the waving sugar cane and around the water, spotting monkeys, birds and insects along the way.
Ghost Mountain Inn is the perfect base for exploring one of South Africa’s richest and most rewarding areas, especially given the incredible connection between the hotel and its location. It’s a real passion project from the owners who will make sure anyone planning to stay for just a few days will wish they’d booked a few weeks or more.
A night in a standard room at Ghost Mountain Inn starts at R1,860 per night (£103). The Tshaneni Suite starts at R5,400 a night (approx. £300). ghostmountaininn.co.za