A single zebra and an impala bachelor party greeted us at the entrance of Gwahumbe Game Lodge and Spa. And so began our first safari experience in South Africa.
Our excitement was palpable for our first safari in South Africa.
We had arrived in the country without any safari plans, and it didn’t take long for us to realize the folly in this omission. Sure, we usually prefer that our adventures involve exotic foods and fine wines.
As it turns out, we ended up experiencing not one, not two but three safaris during our ten weeks in South Africa. Each safari experience provided us with a unique opportunity to connect with South African nature and was special in its own way.
But we’ll always have a soft spot in our heart for Gwahumbe – our very first safari experience.
What Makes Gwahumbe Game Lodge and Spa Special?
Wilderness on a Whim
Located on a former sugar farm in the KwaZulu-Natal province, the Gwahumbe game reserve is just a one hour drive from Durban. This prime location makes Gwahumbe easily accessible to residents of Durban, South Africa’s third largest city, as well as to travelers who visit the coastal city of Durban as part of a South Africa dream vacation or business trip.
Close enough to Durban for a day trip but even better for an overnight stay, Gwahumbe is a wonderful place to see animals, eat great food and get spa treatments. Yes, Gwahumbe is a game lodge AND a spa.
Our Stay at Gwahumbe Game Lodge and Spa
We felt very connected to nature during our two-day stay at Gwahumbe Game Lodge & Spa. Animals roam freely on the property, and the eco lodge is verdant with green vegetation all around.
As much as we enjoyed connecting with nature, we enjoyed the understated luxury throughout the Gwahumbe complex even more.
Gwahumbe offers a range of accommodations from thatched huts to catered apartments.
For our two-night stay, we slept in a comfortable Serengeti room with typical features like a big bed, modern en-suite bathroom and a coffee maker. The extra details like fresh milk, home-made rusks (South African cookies similar to biscotti) and a bottle of sherry made this room truly special.
We especially appreciated our room’s private balcony with two deck chairs and a front-row view of the lodge’s stunning mountain range. We’re not normally early morning people, but this view motivated us to wake up at the crack of dawn to catch the sunrise.
Rates for the Serengeti room, as well as the lodge’s other accommodations, vary based on the season and whether the fully inclusive option in selected. This option includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, afternoon tea and a game drive.
There is no need to be bored at Gwahumbe… unless that is your goal. True adventurers can go on a 4×4 or mountain bike outing. Naturalists can enjoy a birding or fishing expedition. Families can play board games by the fireplace in the Gwahumbe lodge.
All guests can and should participate in at a game drive – more about that later.
Just a short walk down a path from the main lodge, the Gwahumbe spa is a delightful retreat from the hustle bustle of everyday life in cities like Durban and around the world. The relaxation begins in the spa’s secluded courtyard and continues in private rooms like the one where we enjoyed a couple’s massage.
Though we were tempted to try a “theme” treatment like the spa’s African Wood Massage, we were happy to let the capable masseuses work their magic on our backs and shoulders while serene music lulled us to la la land.
Schedule a spa treatment after your game drive. These drives are surprisingly physical due to the natural terrains and bumps along the roads.
We have just one regret about our stay at Gwahumbe – we didn’t take a dip in the pool.
The overcast weather was fine for a game drive and perfect for relaxing, but it wasn’t particularly conducive to lounging by an infinity pool. In retrospect, we should have taken a dip in this pool for the magnificent view alone.
Let’s cut to the chase – we loved the food at Gwahumbe.
Trying Durban’s take on Indian food was high on our hit list after we heard about bunny chow, and Gwahumbe’s chicken curry dinner option was our first (but not last) taste of the cuisine. We opted for the curry dish for our second dinner after eating a more refined steak dinner the night before. Though we enjoyed the steak, we preferred the curry for its bright spiciness and fun presentation.
Our breakfasts and lunch were more casual affairs where we dined outside under umbrellas while facing fabulous views of the green property. The attentive staff served us omelets in the morning and hamburgers during the day, embellishing the satisfying, simple food with garnishes from the onsite organic garden.
“We are the custodians. We are here to take care of them.”
Manager Derek Grose set the tone for our game drive when he explained the lodge’s approach to the animals on Gwahumbe’s private game reserve. These animals run the gamut with the likes of giraffes, zebras, Egyptian geese, wildebeest, kudu, impala, warthogs and one reclusive rhino.
Gwahumbe has no big predators or cats due to its proximity to local communities. Elephants are also missing from the mix due to space constraints. Luckily, we saw all of these animals and more during our future safari experiences.
Ed Balt, one of Gwahumbe’s professional Rangers, took us out on an afternoon Game Drive over the bumpy roads where BBC’s Top Gear previously filmed and into the Gwahumbe Valley in search of animals. Balt had us at the edge of our jeep seats with his tales about the animals who live on the property and the poachers who try to steal them.
He was a man with a mission as he drove us through fields of sugar cane. However, he wasn’t too busy to stop when he saw an ebony porcupine quill on the road.
Perhaps it was bad luck or the weather, but we didn’t see a ton of animals during our drive. Sure, we saw the blue wildebeest and giraffes like the ones pictured above as well as a zebra, Egyptian geese, a tortoise and a warthog. However, we didn’t see the resident rhino or any big five animals.
Balt kept us entertained throughout the drive with engaging stories and off-road detours. Even better, he provided our initial introduction to South African flora and fauna like pointy plants called Aloe Ferox and iconic wattle trees called Acacia.
The highlight of our drive was when we got out of the jeep to check out a glorious waterfall and share snacks with Balt and our two drive companions. What can we say? We love biltong!
Transportation and Logistics
Getting to Gwahumbe
When to Plan Your Visit
Book Your Gwahumbe Stay
About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.