BY BILLY SUTER
In 1924, an old wood and iron hotel stood near the entrance to Hluhuwe on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast. Almost destroyed by a cyclone 11 years later, it closed soon after.
Then, in 1967, three local farmers built The White Rhino Hotel, a popular watering hole, on the same site, which was followed by a Holiday Inn in the same spot in 1970. It was reportedly the first Holiday Inn in South Africa.
That hotel made the Guinness Book of Records for being the smallest Holiday Inn in the world. At that stage it had only 25 bedrooms.
Those original rooms now comprise the first block of rooms, next to reception, at the new Anew Hotel Hluhuwe & Safaris. It opened in July this year and, offering 81 rooms, has been attracting good business, most notably from large international tourist groups staying overnight while en route elsewhere.
My partner and I took the almost-three-hour drive from Durban to see the changes and experience some quiet away from the city, and were told that the Holiday Inn group added on the back block of 40 double bedrooms and made the size of the restaurant bigger.
It became a training hotel, and there are many top hoteliers in South Africa today who did their training there in the 1970s and 1980s, I discovered. Since then the hotel has been through several private hands.
In 1998, Patrick and Jill Eliot, together with partners Roy and Brian Armour, bought the hotel from French-Belgian Freddie van den Bergh. Interest rates then rose above 26% and in the following two years the hotel struggled for survival.
Patrick and Jill sold their shareholding in Ingeli Forest Lodge to Brian and Roy Armour, who lived in Harding, and took over the Armours’s shares in Hluhluwe Hotel & Safaris, as it was then named.
They moved into a hotel bedroom where they lived for the next five years, while undertaking major redevelopment and putting the hotel back on its feet financially.
This redevelopment included the gutting of and improvement to the two pubs, the lounge and diningroom, kitchen, staff rooms and canteen, the offices, reception, coldrooms, workshop, the conference room and all 65 bedrooms/en suite bathrooms.
It also included the addition of nine new bedrooms and bathrooms, two smaller conference rooms, a manager’s house, a safari office and a curio shop. A luxury thatched lodge was then built and Patrick and Jill moved into this, making it their home.
Eight years later the hotel was sold and became Protea Hotel Hluhluwe & Safaris. Then, in 2015, Patrick made an offer through an online auction and, to his utter surprise, the offer was accepted.
Clinton Armour was at the same time looking to buy an additional hotel as he and his partner, his father Brian, were making a great success of the Ingeli Forest Resort.
It made sense to Patrick and Jill to team up with Clinton and Brian Armour, as Clinton was proving to be a successful young businessman, farmer and hotelier. A deal was struck and the Armours and Eliots were back in business together with regards to the Hluhluwe Hotel & Safaris.
Clinton has very successfully taken on the role of CEO of the Group while Patrick remains financial director of the Hluhluwe operation.
Today the thatched roof lodge, in a private area of the hotel grounds, that was once home to Patrick and Jill, has been refurbished and is being hired out as a luxury lodge accommodating six to 10 people.
Two self-catering rondavels, both in their own private area of the grounds, are also available for hire. These buildings were originally used as storage, and have now been extensively refurbished.
Friendly Sadira Nayager, general manager of Anew Hotel Hluhluwe & Safaris, gave us an informal tour that took in the large swimming pool beside a great pub and, close by, a kiddy play area and boma, particularly popular with tourists when Zulu dancing is staged there as entertainment. Also close by, overlooking a pond, is the hotel’s popular private bird hide.
Also leading on to the pool is the hotel’s sprawling, elegant a la carte restaurant which features modern lounge suites between tables and chairs. In one section of the room is a baby grand piano.
The Inkonkoni buffet restaurant near reception offers a good evening selection of roasts, a curry, good salads, soup and puds, while the breakfast buffet is also varied and enjoyable.
We took a peak at the two rondavels and luxury lodge – all beautifully modernised and welcoming – and then visited the thatched-roof curio shop, above which is a spa offering various treatments. The hotel also offers four conference venues, and is popular for weddings.
The hotel has seven chauffered vehicles available for three-hour , day-time game drives in the Hlhuluwe-Imfolozi/Game Reserve, a 20-minute drive away, and this was a must-do for our visit.
Proclaimed in 1897, the game reserve is the oldest reserve in Africa and the second oldest in the world. Yellow Stone Park USA, is the oldest reserve in the world.
We took the 2pm drive and were very lucky, in spite of overcast weather, to spot many elephants and rhinos, as well as giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, impalas and baboons. The cost of the game drive is R500 a head and the receptionist will make all the arrangements for you.
Also worth a visit during your stay is a trip to the nearby Ilala Weavers, showcasing basket and bead work, wire work and artifacts, as well as a free and interesting museum highlighting Zulu culture. There is also an African art gallery there, a children’s play area and the rustic Fig Tree Café and Deli. Across the road is the Sibayeni Nursery.
Anew Hluhluwe & Safaris, offering a variety of guest rooms, also offers packages for corporate and government guests with a wide range of intimate conferencing venues in the Zululand area,
Some other interesting facts:
– The property adjoining the hotel ,where the two rondavels and the lodge are situated, was open grassland and all the Natal Game Auctions were held there by Ezemvelo Wildlife, which was then the Natal Parks Board. The game auctions were moved to Centenary Camp in Imfolosi. where they now take place annually.
– in about 2002 Patrick and Jill took the advice of Geoff Nichols and David Styles and removed the lawnmower which kept the large area of grassland mowed, thus creating a habitat of “nesting, resting, breeding and feeding” for all the birds,small insects and game. After planting about 1000 trees and shrubs we can now see the results today
– The name Hluhluwe is Zulu for an indigenous creeper called the Cockspur Creeper, also known as ‘the impenetrable bush’.
………………………….FACTS YOU NEED TO KNOW………………………….
Address: 102 Main Road, Hluhluwe
Phone: (+27) 035 562 4000