When we got married in South Africa, a group of our friends and family clubbed together to buy us a honeymoon at the truly exceptional Ghost Mountain Inn in Northern Kwazulu-Natal. This was, without a doubt, one of the absolute best places at which we have ever stayed.
Ghost Mountain Inn rests at the foot of (unsurprisingly) Ghost Mountain, which is a peak of legend and mystery. Ghost Mountain was the traditional burial place of the Ndwandwe tribe. Our guide told us the story as we drove back from a truly marvellous river trip (of more later): how the Ndwandwe were driven out of the area by the Zulus, and how they wrapped the bodies of their dead and smuggled them to their traditional resting place, having to avoid the Zulus now in the area. Apparently on some nights lights can be seen flickering on the mountain. It was also the site of great battles, and those spirits allegedly hang around there still. The full legend can be found on the Inn's website here.
We had a bedroom suite with bathroom, with its very own patio area, looking out over the most exquisite scenery imaginable: mountains in the distance, beautiful greenery despite the fact that we were there in winter - usually the dry season!
We were taken on what was the best game-viewing trip of my life. And I grew up in SA. I have been on a few! We took a boat on Lake Jozini. A and I were the only people on said trip, except for our wonderful guide, who's name, shockingly, I have since forgotten. She was awesome. We chatted about the wildlife, the birds, the obnoxious tourists she frequently has to deal with. We rode slowly along, savouring the quiet. And then, as we were wandering along the bank, an entire herd of elephants came down to drink at the water. I make it sound like it was sudden. It wasn't. We watched them for over an hour as they meandered down, checking us out, playing with the water and each other. Our guide knew them and their stories, and told us all about each animal in a way that made it sound like they were old friends. It was beautiful.
Now, I have been closer to elephants. I have been on game drives where they came right up to the vehicle. Let me tell you, if that doesn't scare you a little, you're an idiot. They are big, powerful, gorgeous creatures, and if they get mad, they can squish you. I love game drives, but the anxiety often colours the enjoyment. In the boat, we were safe. (Well, there were hippos, which are a whole seperate anxiety, but they were pretty much leaving us alone.) And so, we were able to watch them, and listen to their deep throated rumbling communications without fear of squishing. I have never so badly wanted to stay in Africa as that moment. Their beauty and grace, the realness of the place and the experience was awe-inspiring.
Back at the Inn, we had enjoyed the most glorious meals. Their lunchtime menu, which you can eat sitting out in the garden, accompanied by truly excellent obscure local wines, is a real pleasure. I have a picture on my desktop of a bottle of wine with glasses, and the view of the garden. Not a building or a vehicle or a telephone pole in sight. It is an amazingly soothing and rejuvenating thing to eat like that. Their dinner menu was not quite so fab. Don't get me wrong, it was very tasty, but it did feel a bit like the chef was trying too hard, to me. I far preferred the simplicity of the lunch menu, which was really very very good.
If you ever find yourself in South Africa, and you are looking for that game/safari experience which is just a little more authentic, and somewhat less touristy than the infamous Kruger Park, I recommend Ghost Mountain. It is close enough for day trips to Mkuze game reserve, Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve (which has everything Kruger has, but with less tourists!), the St. Lucia Estuary, which is a UNESCO Heritage Site (and well worth a visit!), and a variety of other smaller places. It is quieter, more remote, and really very beautiful.