Honestly, I was a little apprehensive about the whole houseboat thing, not least of all because most of my experiences on boats and yachts have been uncomfortable and exhausting to say the least. (to my credit though – they were mostly ocean experiences in terrible weather) I’m not the easiest person to please, and I really didn’t expect much by way of luxury from a houseboat on a lake I hadn’t ever seen or heard of before – Pongola… Jozini… these places sound close to Swaziland and Mozambique – The kind of “African Experience” I’d grown up with in Mpumalanga, filled with bugs, scary noises and not much by way of comfort. I’m a shameless stiletto and Chanel No.5 kind of girl, and I had braced myself for a proper camping-like experience. Boy was I wrong!
The 3.5 hour trip from uMhlanga to Jozini passed quickly on the pleasant roads, scattered with indigenous Nguni Cattle and Goats – there was plenty to see – and I found myself enjoying the road trip itself, much to my surprise! We were in Zululand – The Zulu Kingdom. I focused on seeing all this through a tourists eyes, the crude mud-huts along the road, with views of the vast lake as far as the eye can see made me feel quite silly for our little piece of “prime real estate” with a sliver of a distant sea view. It was beginning to feel quite magical to be honest, the rains had left the landscape bright, lush green, and we were heading for an adventure… Shayamanzi Houseboats depart from their mooring on the jetty at Jozini Tiger Lodge – this was our destination. We arrived a little past noon, and were greeted by friendly staff at the hotel, ushered to the dining room where we were to meet up with the rest of our group, and treated to lunch. The rain came and went as we enjoyed conversations and our meals, it didn’t seem to put a damper on anyone’s spirits – we were all far too excited, myself included. (this surprised me – I wasn’t expecting to be excited at all!) After lunch we were taken by mini bus to the jetty, far below the lodge on the water’s edge. As we awaited the tender boats to transport us to the main boat the rain showered us, and still none of us seemed to mind – it was all so carefully planned, and organized. we felt taken care of every step of the way. There wasn’t a moment where I felt truly confused or lost. We boarded the big boat (I mean huge! it was a mini hotel almost!) and were shown our cabins by way of our names on the doors (a sweet touch) and we were then asked to regroup on the upper deck, where we would be introduced to our captain. As we arrived on the upper deck we were greeted with a crisp, cold glass of bubbly and our charismatic captain, Branson, introduced himself, told us all the in’s and outs, and cracked a few well received jokes. He is truly quite the character and, as we were to find soon enough – the most incredibly knowledgeable person when it comes to wildlife spotting and discerning. I was beginning to realize that perhaps this was going to be quite the experience, perhaps – even quite luxurious after all, in it’s own way. We set off from the Jozini Dam, heading toward the vast Lake Pongola and across it to a river which would be our stop for Sunday night. It was a long journey – well at least it took a lot of time. In this time we adventured, and truly inspected our cabin. It was small, just fitting the two single beds that had been pushed together to make a “king” sized bed in preparation for our arrival. A dressing table, one side table and a cleverly placed wardrobe were all neatly arranged, somehow making the cabin feel more like a hotel room than a cabin on a houseboat. The dead giveaway though was the view from the double sliding doors… It is like something out of a fantasy novel! No deck, no fancy, frilly nonsense that obstructs what it is – just water, and those endless views. It was uncomplicated, and breathtaking – regardless of the chill in the air. The facilities on board were surprising, each cabin with an en-suite bathroom, with shower,basin and flushing toilet – and really great, clean, high pressured hot water to boot! one could easily forget that it was a boat in the middle of a lake.
The gentle hum of the engines lulled many to sleep during the first leg of our journey, as we relaxed on the upper deck, drinking in the magical views, reaching as far as I could see. The setup on the upper deck is unique, with a large, social lounge area, and one long dining table, where we would all take meals together. This was a daunting sight at first, being the socially awkward weirdo that I am, but it very quickly made me realize just how wonderful it was. We had all started to interact with one another, with nowhere to “hide” and no WiFi, or mobile internet for most of the journey, we were forced to talk to each other. It truly made us all a lot more social, regardless of how different we all were. It was wonderful! Snacks were served at the bar, a selection of cheese and crackers, biltong & the most divine cocktail sausage rolls I’d ever eaten in my life, and I mean sausage rolls are usually the thing to avoid right? Not on this boat!
It was almost dark by the time we reached our mooring, gently aground in a protected bay in the river, the only lights to be seen were those of the Swaziland border flickering in the distance. The marsh around us filled with wildlife and the sounds of the African waterside. The Shayamanzi II was tied down and secured as the engines were shut off and a cable was connected to a power outlet set just above the water line. The silence was almost deafening, as a city slicker I was amazed at the absolute nothingness – and then, out of the silence merged the sounds of frogs, crickets, beetles, birds…(I was even sure I heard the jaws of a croc snap shut, but that may have been my imagination…) This was the sound of untouched nature, it was beautiful. Dinner was served, a gorgeous tomato & onion soup, a menagerie of lamb chops, herbed rice, roasted veg and simply fantastic corn bread, all prepared fresh, on board by the talented Malawian Chef; Mike. We were treated to a perfect Passion Fruit Cheesecake for dessert. This was the first of many succulent, indulgent meals that we would be treated to throughout the trip, including “Braai” and the best Lemon Meringue Pie that has ever passed my fussy little lips! The food was astonishingly divine, from breakfasts to snacks, to gorgeous dinners and desserts. The trip is a gastronomical treat, and will impress even the toughest critic. Having consumed our fair share of wine from the bar we decided to take a dip in the Jacuzzi, which were told had been heated by the engines throughout our journey – it was indeed quite the treat!
The next morning started early, with a quick cup of tea; then we were all off to do some Game viewing from the calm water we had moored in. Branson, our skipper on our vessel has the keenest eye, and pointed out all manner of wildlife and game, even turning off the engines and rowing us closer to take photos of the creatures. This was the closest I had ever been to most of these animals. You can go an as many game drives as you like, but I doubt that much can compare to the experience of a water safari. We saw Rhinoceros, Elephants, Crocodiles, Hippopotamus, Warthog, Zebra, many different antelope and birds that would make even a birding idiot like me go “waaaaow!…” – It was by far the most lovely experience I have ever had looking at wildlife. Once we’d returned and had our breakfast we set off yet again for the second leg of our journey, we were to moor on the other end of the lake, back close to Jozini dam, where we would set off on a fishing excursion that afternoon as the sun was setting through the clouds – again, an experience I had never thought I would enjoy quite so much, and no, we didn’t quite manage to hook a tiger fish, but we did all enjoy a drink, and talk about how the weather was causing such poor fishing…
We had all begun to settle in on our little floating oasis, and our last evening aboard the Shayamanzi II was relaxed, as we all chattered away with the sound of nothingness in the background. We set off back to the Jetty the following morning, and we all said our farewells and goodbyes to the staff and new friends we had now made. It was informal and casual, but not gritty and yucky and muddy and gross, it was sophisticated but not pretentious, it was unassuming, Shayamanzi is what it says on the tin – and you owe it to yourself to experience it once in your life at the very least. I honestly didn’t want to go home; I wanted to go again, and a small part of me was so sad to give up this new found piece of absolute serenity… We shall have to return soon!
The fresh air must have gone to my head as I became increasingly “artsy” with my photography:
Malaria: The area is listed as a low risk malaria area and unless you are travelling to high risk areas such as Kruger park or the coastal areas such as Kosi Bay, it is not imperative that you take prophylactics. Remember that tap water on any vessel is not considered potable, so you should always avoid drinking from the tap on a boat – clean potable water is available in your cabin and from the bar. What to pack: You won’t need your fancy clothes ladies, it’s not a fashion show, and you’ll want to be comfortable and warm when the wind picks up… In your suitcase:
- Comfortable pants, both long and short (remember that you need to be able to move around freely, so try Yoga Pants or the like)
- T-shirts and Tank tops
- Sneakers or “Takkies” with some good grip in case it gets wet (and socks of course)
- At least two warm jackets, in case you get wet 🙂
- A pair of comfortable sandals that wont leave you slipping around on deck.
- Your most comfy underwear (coz why spoil the relaxation with a tight wonderbra?)
- Pajamas and slippers, in-case you need a cuppa at 3am and need to go upstairs
- Adapters and chargers for your phone and other electrical goodies.
- A cap or hat or two
- Sun glasses
In your toiletry bag:
- Sun Screen
- After Sun Lotion (In case you do something silly like fall asleep on the sun deck)
- Mosquito repellent (Mylol Spray, Peaceful Sleep Spray & Peaceful Sleep Junior Spray are truly the best products to avoid itchy bites)
- Citronella oil burner or candle to repel those bugs (Tabard Candle in a tin works exceptionally well – just be careful and responsible at all times!)
- Sting-Go or other insect bite ointment
- Plasters and antiseptic ointment in case of any nicks or scratches.
- Headache Tablets (hangovers are awful people)
- Medizine or Valoid for possible travel sickness (take one tablet up to an hour before departure if you think you may suffer from motion sickness)
- Body wash, Shampoo,conditioner and soap are provided but you can bring your own if you’re fussy like me 🙂
- Any medication that you take regularly or may need during the trip
- If you are allergic to bee stings etc, or suffer from asthma, ensure that you pack your Epipen and Inhaler!
Other things you’ll want:
- A good book
- Your camera, charger and accessories (Try to bring along a “super-zoom” lens if you’re into birding and wildlife photography)
- Bird and Wildlife reference books, if that’s your thing
- Board and card games, to keep you occupied
- Your personal choice of candies and treats, especially if you are inclined to snack at night
What’s in the cabin:
- All linens & towels – even swimming towels
- Extra Blankets
- Toilet Paper, Body Wash, Shampoo, Soap, Air freshener, Shower Caps & Facecloths are at your disposal
- A fan
- Air conditioner (for use at captains discretion)
- Reading lights
- Life Jackets
- Shower, loo & basin
- Wardrobe with hangers
- Dressing table with mirror
- Power outlets
- Filtered water & glasses
Whats On the boat:
- All meals and snacks included
- Free Tea/coffee Facilities on upper deck
- Fishing rods
- Game viewing on tender boats
- fishing on tender boats
- cash bar (run a tab and pay on departure)
- Magazines and lounging area available on upper deck
The boat runs on batteries, direct power or a generator at all times, ensuring that you can always have light, charge your phone and have a nice hot shower – my tip though – for any boat trip; always shower soon after mooring, making sure you get to have a hot shower, as in the morning the geyser will often have cooled and you will be a little less than impressed with a cold shower 😉
For more information on Shayamanzi Houseboats, visit their website: http://www.shayamanzi.co.za