BILLY SUTER spent two days with family chilling in a four-sleeper, luxury wooden chalet in one of the most beautiful valleys in the Drakensberg. He was at Sani Valley Lodge, Sani Pass Road, Himeville, where 11 modern units, all wooden chalets, edge a 106-hectare lake surrounded by rolling hills and the Drakensberg mountain range. It is a tranquil retreat where zebra and buck roam freely.
GOOD NEWS is that one lucky SoSuterBill.com subscriber will win a two-day stay for four people at the African-themed Bushman Lodge unit at the lake. See end of this article for competition details.
IT WAS truly magical. Gin and tonic in hand, immersed in the hush and the shifting, ochre-orange glows of early evening, I sat alone on a concrete bench amid a sprawl of amber-brown winter grass. Six lazy zebra were close by, quietly munching away. A hop from my bench, a weathered wooden jetty jutted into a glassy, 106-hectare lake.
I inhaled deeply as if to breathe into everlasting memory the serene scene of water gently rippling in slivers of black and silver. All the while, sundown’s shadows danced through surrounding hills and leafless trees. And, slowly, the magnificent Drakensberg mountain range in the distance slid into silhouette.
Yes, I am waxing lyrical, but it really was a poetic moment, my final evening of a two-night, weekday stay at the enchanting, four-star Sani Valley Lodge. This is a getaway must-do for the tonic that is the massive, boomerang-shaped lake that glistens between the undulating hills and jagged mountains.
Sani Valley Lodge, covering 760 hectares and bordering a Unesco World Heritage Site, is the closest luxury lodge to the famous Sani Pass. It offers catered or self-catered accommodation options in 11 modern, tastefully decorated units.
One can book anything from a single unit to the six-sleeper Rainbow lodge.
Eight of the Sani Valley Lodge units are freestanding, scattered around the water’s edge, while three single units, cleverly designed for individual privacy, comprise the perfectly located, two-level Sunset lodge.
The three lakeside Early Mist lodges are among the most recent and have a main bedroom as well as a second bedroom for children which has two single beds. These lodges have a big bay window framing the Ndlovini mountain, an open-plan kitchen, lounge and a private veranda with a jacuzzi overlooking the lake.
If a jacuzzi doesn’t ring your bell, taking a bath overlooking the lake will be sure to impress. This is a feature of the three Lakeside lodges, each offering one bedroom with en-suite bathroom and a nook accommodating two children.
The Rainbow lodge is the largest chalet at Sani Valley. It has three en-suite bedrooms that can comfortably accommodate up to six people.
My family enjoyed the Rainbow’s neighbouring, four-sleeper Bushman lodge, which has privacy and an elegant African theme. Like the Rainbow lodge, it boasts its own wraparound veranda offering elevated views of the lake, mountains and the mountain’s distinctive ‘balancing rocks’ which are well known in the Sani Pass area.
Spacious and airy, the Bushman lodge – which is where the SoSuterBill.com prize-winner will stay with three guests of his/her choice – has a built-in braai and outside table and chairs on the veranda. There is also a veranda jacuzzi at the door leading to the master bedroom, where pull-up bamboo blinds reveal floor-to-ceiling glass windows that bring in the splendour of the outdoors.
The Bushman lodge has an open-plan kitchen with all mod cons and the cosy lounge has DStv, a glass-fronted fireplace with as much free firewood as you want, and large, glass windows which further enhance views. Both bedrooms have an en-suite bathroom with overhead heating, tub, shower and toilet, and one gets complimentary soap, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion.
The chalet has a digitally coded safe, complimentary wifi and servicing twice daily.
Amiable and helpful lodge manager, Gareth Miller, has been running Sani Valley Lodge with wife Sam, since 2008. He has a small share in the property which was bought by his friends, the Hullet family, in 1980 as a holiday retreat. Before that it was a dairy farm owned by the Hogg family.
“John Hullet built the dam and the property was used as a holiday retreat until about 1999, when the chalets started getting built,” he explains, adding that it was originally known as the Sani Valley Fly-Fishing and Game Lodge.
Part of the land is still used for farming, points out Gareth, who says he waved goodbye to a longtime career in banking, in Durban, to heed the call of nature and offer his management services to the Hullet family.
He simply smiles and waves his arm towards the lake and mountains when I ask him what made him give up banking, and adds that his wife and children love being outdoors and away from the noise, problems and security concerns of city living.
He adds that the lodge has a growing wildlife population, the animals freely roaming the grounds.
“We have 38 or so hartebeest, 24 blesbok and 35 zebra. Eland come and go and are always trashing the fence.”
It is quite common, and safe, to find animals grazing just a few metres away from the lodges. They also get very close to the quaint, two-level clubhouse where those not keen to fully cater for themselves can enjoy a buffet breakfast.
The clubhouse provides boats and kayaks and also has an elegant upstairs bar which, with its veranda offering stunning views, is perfect for a sundowner or three. As the sun sinks, one could also join the circle of chairs around the raised fire pit on the clubhouse lawn alongside the lake.
Along with other similar establishments, Sani Valley Lodge was hard hit by the horrors of Covid-19, explains Gareth, shaking his head. The lodge was averaging 25% to 30% international guests when the going was good, but that figure is now as low as 1%, he adds.
“Covid ripped us apart. It’s been very tough and still is, although we are now full most weekends and overseas guests are starting to come back. However, it will be at least another year until we are back to normal levels, I think.
“When Covid-19 first hit we revamped all lodges, stained decks, recovered all furniture, repainted all interiors, varnished all exteriors, built a new clubhouse area, put new carpets in almost all the rooms. Generally, we took the time to get ready for new guests at the end of 2020… but Covid proved more resilient and ongoing than we thought.”
If you are keen to swim, fish, take horse rides, walk (a number of hillside and forest hikes are available), plan a wedding in the nearby forest church setting, or simply wish to do little more than soak up the ambiance or chill with a good book, Sani Valley Lodge ticks all the boxes. And while my family stuck to self-catering during our short stay, I hear the restaurant meals – brought to your chalet – are pretty impressive too.
Far from city strife and noise, this getaway is a leisurely three-hour drive from Durban and truly is a must for anyone wanting to chill out.
WIN A 2-NIGHT STAY FOR 4 AT SANI VALLEY LODGE (WORTH MORE THAN R7 000)
Care to put yourself in line to WIN A 2-NIGHT STAY FOR 4 PEOPLE at the exquisite Sani Valley Lodge in Sani Pass Road, Himeville? The prize is a two-night stay in the luxurious, self-catering, four-sleeper Bushman unit at the lodge, valid for any weekday stay, subject to availability and valid until the end of November 2022.
You simply have to be a follower of the SoSuterBill site to win. At no cost.
If you are not already a follower, simply leave your email address in the space provided towards the end of the cover page of this site, sosuterbill.com (access the cover page by clicking ‘Latest Posts’ on the menu bar).
You will then be a follower, and receive email notification whenever I file a new story.
Once you have subscribed (there is no cost), send your NAME and PHONE NUMBER via email (NOT THIS SITE’S CONTACT FORM) to firstname.lastname@example.org and place the words ‘SANI VALLEY LODGE GIVEAWAY’ in the subject field.
Note that the competition closes at 6pm on Monday, August 8, and the winner will be contacted soon after. His/her name will be posted in this spot thereafter. (The winner of this wonderful prize, chosen randomly from hundreds of entries, is an overjoyed Caroline Palmer).
Please note that the prize is for accommodation only (not travel or other expenses).
NOTE: PLEASE READ ENTRY DETAILS CAREFULLY AS SOME PEOPLE ARE ENTERING COMPETITIONS INCORRECTLY.
ALSO NOTE THAT ONLY ONE ENTRY PER SUBSCRIBER WILL BE CONSIDERED.