Those who call the Eastern Cape home and have had the opportunity to explore it will know we have some fantastic tourism assets in this province.
The Addo Elephant National Park is one such attraction. Visitors from around the globe gravitate here to see its elephants, now numbering more than 600, and many a local, too, will go back and back.
It’s also a reminder of what can be achieved when the conservation will is there, particularly when you consider that the Addo elephant was, not too long ago, on the brink of being wiped out altogether.
The Zuurberg Mountain Village, an hour and 20 minutes’ drive from the Bay, is another Eastern Cape gem.
It’s a magical mountain-top spot which, as my husband, Salvelio, and I found recently, is not only a haven of relaxation but an ideal base from which to explore Addo and embark on the elephant encounter of a lifetime.
Of course we were no strangers to Zuurberg, having had a lovely breakfast at the village some years ago.
Then there was the time we went riding in the Zuurberg section of the park, close to where the village is situated.
An equine averse Salvelio very nearly came off his baleful boerperd, much to my amusement.
I also have hazy memories of holidaying at the inn as a child. The owners had a Standard Poodle which I’d plotted to smuggle home with me.
Much has changed over the years, including ownership off the inn. Henri Alant of Plettenberg Bay’s well-known Alant family – past owners of Stromboli’s Inn – bought it in 1997 and over two decades has retained its sense of history while also bringing about many sensible changes.
One is replacing the earlier thatch huts with Edwardian-style cottages following a devastating fire in 2008. Zuurberg is prone to veld fires that sweep through every few years and each time the village rises from the ashes; its history and presence will not be obliterated.
The quaint cottages in their pastel shades looked so enchanting against the pink, early-evening sky that we found it hard to imagine they weren’t always there. There are 26 village rooms and six more in the manor house dating from 1861.
One thing that will hopefully never change is the view of rolling hills as far as the eye can see; a tangled thicket and grassland paradise appreciated by the likes of the legendary Sir Percy Fitzpatrick.
The Zuurberg pass taking you up to the village and beyond was carved out by prisoners from Grahamstown in what must have been the most dreadful of punishments.
And Matthew Woodifield, who completed the pass in 1855, is said to have fallen down a nearby ravine following a drink too many at the inn. His horse was killed and he died on the way to hospital, his name forever chiseled into the cliff face.
Stories like these give the Zuurberg Mountain Village its poignancy. Merle Hartley, who has tended the gardens for 13 years, showed us a horseshoe nailed to a wild fig tree by soldiers of the Anglo Boer War.
Nearby is the grave of the original innkeeper’s daughter, Martha Robertson, taken in 1865 at age 30. Her ghost has appeared to some, including Henri’s mother, Bessie, who told us so herself.
Bessie, now in her 80s, was visiting from Plett and still enjoys welcoming guests and sharing tales of the past. We found all the staff most friendly and helpful.
Our suite was spacious and comfortable, the large sandstone-clad shower overlooking the mountains a luxurious touch.
I was unprepared for the nippy weather at this altitude, but luckily there was heating and at night we’d curl up by the roaring fire in the manor house before a sumptuous buffet dinner.
Even if you’re not fond of buffets you’ll find chef Shaun Moss’s a significant cut above the rest. He also does an excellent Sunday lunch that is popular with day visitors.
A visit to Addo is necessarily about elephants.
Our first meeting was in the form of an elephant-back safari at Addo Elephant Lodge and Safaris in Zuurberg.
We were transferred there in one of the trusty Landrovers departing the village at 7am, 10am or 2pm for the two-hour encounters.
Our guides, Foster Mahlekete and Mishma Kamupambe, had great rapport with the elephants: “They are my first family,” Mishma said.
We rode the giants for half an hour, Mishma and I on Duma and Salvelio and Foster on Thaba. A third, Mukwa, trailed the pack.
We learnt all about their fascinating quirks and even got to feed them. This is one activity that must go onto your bucket list.
The next day, on a half-day safari in the park, we spotted 42 elephants from the comfort of the village’s open game vehicle.
We also saw lions and scores of other animals, and sat down to a fantastic packed breakfast at Jack’s Picnic Site.
Brighton Maringire, our guide, was very clued up on the animals and more than happy to answer endless questions!
- Bookings for the Zuurberg Mountain Village may be done through Cape Country Routes (CCR) at www.capecountryroutes.com. CCR is an independent group representing top-tier establishments and activities. The Zuurberg Mountain Village is on (042) 233-8300; e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- To book an elephant-back safari call 083-283-2359 or e-mail: email@example.com
Zuurberg Mountain Village’s chef, Shaun Moss, has worked all over Southern Africa over the past 22 years, including stints in Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
He and his wife, Gretel, and sons Jason, 16, and Allan, 12, moved to Zuurberg at the end of last year and have been enjoying their new mountain-top home on the hotel’s grounds, where the boys are being home-schooled by their mum.
Shaun served this delicious ice-cream as part of an impressive dessert spread on our first night at the village and we could immediately taste it was homemade.
We also enjoyed the fact that, unlike most of the store-bought versions, this one actually does contain rum!
Shaun was kind enough to share his recipe, which serves four to eight people, depending on how much they love their ice- cream.
RUM AND RAISIN ICE-CREAM
- 250g raisins
- 100ml rum
- 1 litre cream
- 1 x 250ml tin condensed milk
- 1 x 500ml carton full-cream milk
- Soak the raisins in the rum for about 12 hours.
- Thicken the cream by beating with an electric beater until it starts to become slightly firm.
- Fold in the milk and condensed milk. Do not over-mix.
- Add the rum and raisins to the cream mixture and fold in evenly.