Continued from Part 2: On the road to Nambiti Plains Private Game Lodge and Part 1: Want to see wild animals and eat well in South Africa? On the road from Durban
We leave Nambiti for the Qambathi Mountain Lodge after breakfast. This means heading back indirectly back toward Durban, branching off at Mooi River (this Thelma and Louise trip involves no convertible, many secondary roads, mood music and slow speeds), and continuing toward the hamlet of Rosetta and the Southern Drakensberg.
The best way to see South Africa is by road. The diversity of both the physical and economic landscape is profound. We travel from dry bushveld vistas and hectic roads abuzz with people, trucks and taxies to the pristine farmlands of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.
Driving along a narrow winding road with sweeping views we pass a watering hole called the Knackered Bar and a sign that says Butt Farming (if you know what it is, please tell) then take the Kamberg Rock Art Center turn-off, travel about a mile along gravel, and punch ourselves in at the gate we’ve been looking for with a code we’ve been texted.
We maneuver the country driveway in misty rain down to the parking lot in front of an unassuming building, follow co-owner and general manager Stephan Erasmus in through the front door — and kept seeing things that have us both involuntarily mouthing “Wow, Wow, Wow.”
Qambathi Mountain Lodge has the Wow! factor.
What do I mean?
Only that the place is stunning.
The lodge is built on the foundations and walls of an old jail and post office. Originally constructed in 1918, the jail part back then was used as a temporary holding area for people arrested for stock thefts.
Co-owner (with Erasmus) and the architect responsible for the magical transformation is Gerhard le Roux who worked with Rosetta–based Francko Owen on the interiors — hand-crafted items made with meticulous and creative attention to details from indigenous timber and recycled materials.
Turns out Le Roux, among many bigger projects (he was lead architect on Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium built for the 2010 World Cup), was also the the architect who designed Nambiti Plains Private Game Lodge, the place we just came from.
The resident team at Qambathi are Erasmus, assistant manager Armand Viljoen and chef Jenna Develing, who turned out a lunch of goat cheese and herb-stuffed chicken breast on carrot and cumin smash with mixed greens from the garden and a delicately flavorful cranberry sauce that was also, “like Wow,” followed by a chocolate torte that remarkably had grapefruit as one of several ingredients that married so well, you couldn’t believe they are ever served apart.
My “cottage” room for the night — one of five luxe-suites with attitude available to guests — was a greenhouse in a former iteration of this gorgeous mountain reserve where you can go on game drives, walks and mountain hikes. Or use it as a home base while meandering the Midlands. Qambathi has only been open for two months and already it’s getting international guests.
In the cards are cooking classes, which will be taught by Develing. There will also be art getaways, aptly, given that every item from the unique hand-crafted African bead and glass contemporary chandeliers and wall drapes, to the art that continually draws you too look at what is hanging on the walls, to the nature-hewn rock-table, the hand-forged light fittings, and the hand-crafted wood tables, deck recliners and bed frames, are all eco-friendly works of art.
We’re served a five-course evening meal, and given that gourmet cuisine is one Qambathi’s myriad attractions on its dinner, bed and breakfast menu, each course is a delicious adventure starting with Develing’s “Amuse bouche” — African harissa spiced beef tartar and avocado tianne, mixed cresses and spring onion salsa (“an African twist on a French classic,” she says), through to her Masala chai crème brulee dessert served with lemon poppy seed ice cream and fresh berries. This has “the warm inviting flavors of Cape Malay/Indian spiced tea,” to quote Develing. It is one of many examples of what she describe as her “eclectic fusion” approach to food.
“I get immense joy from combining foods and flavors from all over the world,” she says. “My greatest reward is the reaction of the guests when they have been around the culinary world or even just to a few countries in one sitting.
“I love to brainstorm with flavors, colors, textures and cultures and bring them together like a symphony on the plate.”
A symphony it was. Followed by a delicious night. And a drive back to Durban after a delightful Develing breakfast.
We didn’t shoot anyone Thelma and Louise style. We didn’t soar off a cliff and into oblivion at the end of our journey. We did have a textured trip. We drove back planning to be on the road again soon.
Visit the Qambathi Mountain Lodge website for more on the lodge, the location, the interiors, the chef, the art and to book.
See more about Durban here.
Visit Durban’s official tourism site here.
Fly to South Africa with South African Airways, the national carrier. SAA flies to South Africa from Washington and New York. SAA recently formed an alliance with Jet Blue for flights from the West Coast. Read about the SAA-Jet Blue link here.
Visit Tourism KwaZulu-Natal here.