Don’t you love it when places turn out to be better than expected? That’s true of Ghost Mountain Inn at Mkuze in northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Discover how peaceful and relaxing this Zululand country inn is and how much there is to do in the surrounding area.
Picture it. The N2 highway to Mkuze wasn’t even a dream yet, the road still rough and dusty. Travelling to Zululand was still a big adventure. Back then, in the 1950s, there were few places to stop over for the night so if you knew the Rutherfoord family who had a house at Mkuze chances are you’d stay with them. By 1962, having overnight visitors had become such a common occurrence that they decided to go commercial and open a hotel. And that’s how Ghost Mountain Inn was born.
It wouldn’t be surprising if the mountain were indeed haunted, given that it used to be the custom to bury chiefs here. In 1884 it was also the scene of the bloody Battle of Tshaneni when thousands died, their bodies littering the veld. When Denys Reitz travelled to the area in the 1920s, some 40 years later, he noted that skeletons and bones still scattered the slopes.
But you can leave history behind and enjoy your time in the here and now.
There are so many lovely spaces you’ll want to enjoy them in rotation.
Have a gin and tonic at the bar or around the pool, sink into one of the squashy couches in the lounge and admire the wood carvings, beadwork and old photographs.
Things to do from Ghost Mountain Inn
With all these serene spaces at the inn it’s hard to tug yourself away, but don’t miss out on the many superb things to do. Here are some of them.
1. Go birding
2. Take a boat trip on Lake Jozini
The hills rising up on both sides of the dam are covered with thorn trees and sculptural euphorbias. During our boat trip we saw numerous birds like reed cormorants, kingfishers, osprey and African fish-eagle, as well as water monitors on the rocks along the edge of the dam.
3. Go tiger fishing at Lake Jozini
If you love the challenge of fishing and spending a day on the water, go tiger fishing at Lake Jozini. Remember that the winter months of May to August aren’t good for tiger fishing. You can also fish for other species like tilapia, carp and catfish.
4. Join a guided wildlife safari
5. Do a walking safari
A hike up Ghost Mountain (Tshaneni) is perfect to enjoy mountain vistas and learn more about the Zulu history of the area, in particular the Battle of Tshaneni in 1884. You’ll hear about the haunting legends too.
Keen birders will enjoy the Mkuze River walk around the dam in front of the inn and into the Mkuze riverbed. Apart from views of Ghost Mountain, expect to see both water birds and savannah species, including palm swifts, kingfishers, barbets and more.
For something truly special, take a game drive through uMkhuze Game Reserve to the start of the Fig Forest Walk. Then wander under the canopy of huge sycamore fig trees, listen to the calls of trumpeter hornbills and look for birds like Pel’s fishing-owl and blue-mantled flycatcher. Although it’s not a demanding walk, it’ll take about two hours and see you crossing two short swing bridges over the river.
6. Enjoy a scenic Lebombo mountain drive
To get a deeper understanding of the area, we took a guided drive into the Lebombo Mountains with Sakhile Mathenjwa. Lebombo means ‘long nose’ and this mountain range stretches 800km from Hluhluwe through to Mpumalanga and Limpopo, with parts of the range in Eswatini and Mozambique.
The drive took us up a steep pass to 650-700m above sea level, where people of the uBombo community have their houses, vegetable patches and orchards. ‘There’s little money,’ Sakhile said, ‘but they have all they need from crops like watermelon, oranges, pumpkin, avo, onion, banana, cassava. They also have cows, goats and chickens.’ It was a reminder of the beauty of authentic rural Africa.
Our drive finally crossed over the top of the mountain, descending on the other side to sweeping views over Lake Jozini as the sun set with a hot orange belt above the horizon, gradually softening to pink. Magical stuff.
7. Experience a cultural interaction
Before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, you could choose to join a cultural interaction with the local people. Visiting a local school, community centre or home to meet the locals and learn about rural Zulu customs is a great way to connect with the warm heart of Zululand. At present, for the safety of all concerned in these times of social distancing, these interactions aren’t available. Once the pandemic is under control, no doubt these special opportunities will return. In the meantime, if you’re keen to learn about the local communities and Zulu traditions, the scenic Lebombo mountain drive (see point 6 above) is a safe way to do that – and to enjoy some spectacular views at the same time.
If you care about the environment, conservation and communities, you’ll be pleased to know that Ghost Mountain Inn does too. For instance, it recycles, reduces energy consumption, conserves water and uses local suppliers wherever possible.
Through a charitable trust, there’s a number of community development programmes that focus mainly on education for children in the Mkuze and uBombo areas. Projects have supplied schools with fruit trees and solar-powered boreholes, while environmental education teaches young leaders of the future the importance of conservation. The trust also supports small enterprises and promotes awareness of sustainability and conservation.
For more about the specific projects Ghost Mountain Inn supports – and you can too – see their community page.
Getting to Ghost Mountain Inn
To help with your itinerary planning, here are the distances to/from the following:
- Manyoni Game Reserve (north gate) 5km
- Lake Jozini 12km
- uMkhuze Game Reserve 16km
- Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park 65km
- Pongola 65km
- Sodwana Bay 95km
- Tembe Elephant Park 100km
- Lake St Lucia 130km
- Richards Bay 160 km
- Kruger Park (Crocodile Bridge) 400km
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