Kichaka Private Game Lodge

It would take more than rain and hail to dampen our enthusiasm for this gem of a lodge, situated on a private reserve close to Grahamstown in Eastern Cape.

“I have to admit”, says our guide Jason, “that I’ve never been in a situation like this before”.  Just fifteen minutes ago we were admiring a beautiful white rhino and her calf, right out in the open, just a few metres away. OK so she was a bit skittish, charging up and down a bit. “Odd behavior”, remarked Jason, “But she’s probably sensing the storm”. The thunder, at this point, seemed far away.

Main pool at Kichaka, right next to Harry the Hippo's pool

Main pool at Kichaka, right next to Harry the Hippo’s pool

And only five minutes ago we were watching magnificent Duma, undisputed king of the reserve’s lion pride while his associate female showed more than a passing interest in a nearby Blesbok, stalking low against the ground as the sky darkened. Fast.

Just two minutes ago we were still debating whether to stop soon for sundowner drinks, or head back to the lodge. Then it came. The wind whipped up, lightening flashed overhead, squalls of hail stones scattered the bush and thunder crashed across the green hills. Jason put his foot down. “An open top vehicle is the last place you want to be in a storm”, he says as we dash for the nearest shelter. We arrive just as the full force of the storm hits, huddling in our ponchos with other guests and guides, everyone caught out by the fast-changing weather. Tonight our G&Ts will be chilled by hailstones. Now that’s something to remember!

Only four hours ago we arrived in the blazing hot sun, greeted by Molutu and Koleka with a cocktail, sipping chilled wine over a delicious smoked salmon lunch, and relaxing in our private plunge pool. Which brings us onto Kichaka itself. What makes this place so special?

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One of Kichaka’s great lounging areas

It’s hard to know where to begin, but when in doubt, start with the people. Charming Koleka is our ‘butler’ – the one who shows us our room, takes our orders and remembers what we like to drink. Matt, the chef, makes an appearance at the end of each meal to check everything is well with his guests, and receives unanimous applause each time. The food at Chitaka is very impressive – from the choice of six hot breakfasts (as well as the buffet) to three-course gourmet dinners each night and delicious lunches, just small enough to leave room for afternoon tea and freshly-baked cakes.

Our thatched chalet, one of ten, is huge, beautifully decorated and opens onto a large private wooden deck and private heated plunge pool. Best of all, our chalet (and the main lodge) look out onto a small dam inhabited by a hippo called Harry, who you’ll hear honking if you’re lucky.

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Not bad! (and it wasn’t even our honeymoon…)

The attention to detail is superb, from a personalised welcome note and free wi-fi to an IPod docking station attached to speakers, so you can listen to your own music if Harry is away from home. The main lodge is no less luxurious, with a main lounge, including a grand piano that guests are encouraged to play, and a diverse library. Huge log fires provide warmth and intimacy on cold winter days and the main swimming pool is stunningly situated right next to the dam, so you can pretend you’re swimming with Harry.

As well as regular game drives, guests are free to request night drives, with decent chances of spotting caracal and aardwolf (and, recently, even the ultra-elusive aardvark). Bush walks can also be arranged, there’s a great spa, and for something different, ‘cosmic safaris’ can acquaint you with the southern night skies. Even fishing can be arranged.

It’s still drizzling for our game drive next morning but it doesn’t matter – we find the lions again and more interestingly (for us) see two crows mobbing a long-crested eagle. Jason adapts well to his guests’ interests, is as passionate talking about termites as he is about the Big Five, and the quality of guiding is well above many similar lodges. As guides ourselves, this is important and makes a big difference to our enjoyment.

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Great rhino sighting with guide Jason, as the storm approaches

It’s our last night (sadly), we’re walking back to our suite after another sumptuous dinner from Matt and spot an animal flash across the board walk. It’s gone to fast to be sure, but could it have been the elusive caracal, that cat we’re so desperate to see? There’s one that’s often spotted close by. We soon forget our disappointment – we open the door and the light from 80 candles spelling ‘We Love U’ cast flickering shadows across the room, enticing us to a bath filled with hot water and bubbles, a complimentary bottle of chilled sparkling wine within easy reach. It’s been a year since our honeymoon but it feels like that all over again.

To us, a lodge ‘has it’ when enough of the small things come together to create a great experience, and it’s amazing how clear it is, and how quickly it becomes obvious. (When, that is, you’ve had the good fortune to visit as many safari lodges as we have). Whether you get sunshine or storms (or both), take it from us – Kichaka has it and if you’re looking for an Eastern Cape safari, you won’t go wrong here.

Good for: Honeymooners and families alike looking to combine a convenient safari with great hospitality

Not so good for: ‘True’ wilderness, although it’s up there with the best Eastern Cape has to offer

Our verdict: Elegant luxury and attention to detail make this one of our top picks of Eastern Cape lodges

Cathedral Peak Hotel

Jonathan and Sophie Ellaby check out this iconic retreat in KZN’s Drakensberg mountains

We’ve been incredibly fortunate to visit some of the most outstanding hotels in the world, but Cathedral Peak Hotel, nestled in the majestic Drakensberg Mountains is without a doubt the one that tops them all when it comes to location. With the soaring peaks of The Bell, Cathedral Peak itself, Inner and Outer Horn and the Chessmen towering above us, the views are nothing short of breathtaking. From every corner of the hotel, be it the lounge, restaurant, your room or the pool, you won’t miss out on the view, the mountains.

P1050188 (1)But this place is not just about looking at the mountains. A visit to Cathedral Peak Hotel is all about enjoying and experiencing what this place of great natural beauty has to offer. And the list is long. The hotel offers daily activity programs for adults and children alike; horse-back riding, swimming, climbing Cathedral Peak (not for the faint-hearted), guided walks to nearby waterfalls, quad biking or golfing on the spectacular 9-hole golf course. The list goes on and on. There are even two tennis courts, a volleyball and squash court…oh, and there’s a bowling green…and yes, a spa to relieve those sore hiker’s muscles. And with its guest-carrying capacity of over 200, it’s ideal for not only weddings (it has the most picturesque chapel on site) but also for larger conferences. Yet, despite its size, the hotel manages the personal and intimate feel for all guests and you never feel ‘lost’.

P1050175 (1) The hotel was a vision of Albert van der Riet whose original farmhouse from 1907 still stands on the property. The hotel itself opened in 1939 and was revamped most recently in 2008, now offering even more luxurious rooms, including honeymoon suites and a presidential suite. The hotel is still family-run and most of the staff come from the nearby village. From the moment we arrived, it’s obvious that they cherish this place and are proud to be working here. As we often conclude about the places we visit, it’s the people and smiling faces that make that last little difference to an overall experience; and at Cathedral Peak Hotel we were welcomed with big smiles from the security guard to Michelle at the reception, to our porter and to Siraaj, the banqueting manager who gave us an extensive tour of the grounds.

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We were lucky to visit during two days of wonderful sunshine in April, with the Berg lit up in endless shades of green from the summer’s rainfall. From our room we do some bird-watching from our deck and spot a Swee Waxbill before heading down for the sumptuous dinner buffet; we stuff ourselves with yummy starters and mains before realizing that there are more than 20 delectable desserts on offer as well… needless to say that we weren’t particularly hungry when it came to the following morning’s massive, delicious breakfast buffet!

A two-night stay here is the absolute minimum if you want to take full advantage of what the hotel has to offer. And if you’re a family with small children, this place might just be heaven: babysitting can easily be arranged at a nominal fee, children have their own dining room (with supervision) and there’s pony rides, mini-golf, painting competitions and tractor rides on offer for the littlies.

The Cathedral Peak Hotel defines the concept of a mountain retreat, it’s a South African icon, loved by many families who return here generation after generation. It may be 4-star, but nonetheless provides 5-star service, food and 10-star views! There’s nowhere else like it. We love it.

La Clè des Montagnes

Sophisticated style and breathtaking beauty is the essence of La Clé des Montagnes.

La Clé des Montagnes offers an idyllic accommodation setting a short stroll from the historic village of Franschhoek. A selection of four unique villas await you on a working wine estate, surrounded by picturesque vineyards, plum orchards with a magnificent mountain backdrop.We invite you to enjoy an unparalleled luxurious accommodation experience in the heart of the beautiful Franschhoek valley.

Francois talks about their trip to LA CLE’ DES MONTAGNES

KC:  How far is LA CLE’ DES MONTAGNES from Cape Town?

La Cle des Montagnes

Francois:  LA CLE’ DES MONTAGNES is conveniently located in the centre of Franschhoek about 60 kilometers from Cape Town.

KC:  What made you decide to stay at LA CLE’ DES MONTAGNES?

Francois:  With the launch of LISA (Luxury in Southern Africa) I had the opportunity to read about this exclusive getaway and the images and reviews made it a bucket-list item for me.

KC:  What was your first impression of LA CLE’ DES MONTAGNES on arrival?

Francois:  This place is suited for royalty!

KC:  What was the service like?

Francois:  Not only are the staff efficient and friendly, they also understand personal space and the need for privacy – always a difficult balance and they have perfected it. The personal butler service dedicated to a villa is also a unique touch.

La Cle des Montagnes

KC:  Is it child friendly?

Francois:  Yes. LA CLE’ DES MONTAGNES offers 4 separate standing villas with ample space for children to run around without disturbing the other guests.

We stayed in the original manor house which has two massive bedrooms, own library, two additional lounges, dining room, kitchen, scullery and more…. Privacy, space and open areas – just what our children love.

The private swimming pool, exclusive garden and grass area made this a wonderland for our two boys. Other than a quick walk to a nearby restaurant, we literally did not leave La Cle’ from the minute we arrived.

La Cle des Montagnes

KC:  What activities are offered at LA CLE’ DES MONTAGNES?

Francois:  LA CLE’ DES MONTAGNES is centrally located and is within short walking distance from Franschhoek’s main road and guests have access to the diverse offering of this special town. Stroll in the La Cle vineyards, swim in the private pool, cycle or just read a book in your private library or the villa’s hammock – there is enough to do for every age and interest.

KC:  What was the food like?

Francois:  The wine selection offered in the villas is fantastic and the inclusive breakfast, prepared in our villa, raised the bar yet again. LA CLE’ offers its own Cap Classique available to guests only. One can request a private chef – or cater for yourself … the choice is yours.

La Cle des Montagnes

KC:  What was the highlight of your stay at LA CLE’ DES MONTAGNES?

Francois:  I loved the exclusivity, quality, privacy, spacious manicured gardens and inspirational interior.

KC:  For whom is LA CLE’ DES MONTAGNES ideal (i.e. The type of client to whom you would sell this product)?

Francois:  Kings, Queens and other individuals wanting to be treated like royalty.

I would like to say a special thank you to Chantel for going out of her way to make us feel very welcome and right at home. It’s always a pleasure to meet someone who is so warm and friendly, whom you can see takes pride in the product he or she has to offer.

Also, thank you to our personal butlers, Siyanda and Labani for being so friendly and efficient at all times.

The staff at La Cle des Montagnes, definitely play a role in making the experience a memorable one.

Point out of 5
Service  5
Location  5
Food  5
Facilities  5
Décor  5
Attention to detail  5
Value for money  5

Should LA CLE’ DES MONTAGNES sound like music to your ears, contact Klein Collection at info@kleincollection.com to book your stay.