When I visited the Eshowe Hills Eco Estate 10 years ago, the words from the opening to Alan Paton’s novel Cry the Beloved Country came to mind – green hills that were beautiful “beyond the singing of it.” Now, in 2015, that initial impression remains the same – although one has to concede that the lush grass is a combination of golf estate and sugar cane!

The homes clustered on the 109 hectare estate – probably best described as Victorian / Zululand colonial with large wrap around verandas occupying at least 50 percent of the perimeters – blend well with the surrounds.

Eshowe is the oldest town in Zululand and is steeped in both British and Zulu history. Eshowe’s signature three turreted white Fort Nongqayi, which is home to the Vukani Museum of Zulu Art and the Mission Museum, dates back to the Anglo Zulu War of 1879 when Colonel Charles Pearson lead the coastal column to Eshowe. After clashing with the Zulu army, he pushed on to the KwaMondi Mission which was fortified and called Fort Ekowe.

The town as a whole – and even the estate – is a curious blend of old and new.

Another quality of Eshowe that has stayed with me for more than a decade is the easy friendliness of the locals. The estate and its residents are both laid back and refreshingly unpretentious. From an investment point of view, the home owner gets the perks of gated estate living at a far more realistic price tag than many other estates along the East Coast. After spending time there, though, you can’t help feeling that you’re even getting a little more. But it’s just difficult to put your finger on exactly what that is. 

One thing is certain, the Eshowe Hills Eco & Golf Estate debunks two important myths – that golf estates are only for the well-heeled and that they are environmentally unfriendly green deserts.

Estate manager and a member of the development consortium, Dave Delport, is credited by many residents with managing to turn one of South Africa’s oldest golf courses a new shade of green. 

He explains that Eshowe Hills Eco & Golf Estate has the advantage of being built around an existing course at a time when new golf courses are out of vogue with town planners and conservationists. Both the estate and the golf course rely on water from boreholes.

The inevitable alien invaders were ushered from the course, pockets of indigenous vegetation cultivated and one of the estates most striking features – a 100 metre boardwalk that leads from tee to green at the eighth hole. At its highest point it is over 5 metres from the ground, making for the perfect stroll for nature lovers and bird watchers – and the perfect short cut for golfers navigating on foot. 

“The course is playing well,” he informs us during a drive around the estate.

That must be personal victory for a man who risked all along with two other local businessmen to save the beloved Eshowe Hills golf course which was in danger of closure when its membership dropped to the point where it could no longer sustain itself.

The Eshowe Hills Country Club received a facelift when the eco-estate was launched in 2004.

The country club, including the golf course, six tennis courts and two squash courts, has been incorporated into the Eshowe Hills Eco & Golf Estate. Residents are automatically members and enjoy the delicious country meals and country style bar that goes with it. 

It’s back to that fascinating mix of old and new. The Eshowe Country Club proudly sports golfing honour boards dating back more than a century and a picture gallery that includes the royal visit of 1947 when the then Princess Elizabeth,  Prince Philip and Princess Margaret signed the club register.

The original 18 hole Eshowe golf course was designed in 1907 by Bob Grimsdell who also designed the Durban Club and Royal Johannesburg golf courses. In addition to being one of the oldest in South Africa, it is definitely the oldest club in Zululand and one of the founder members of the then Natal Golf Union.

It was upgraded and modernized by former European Masters Champion, Jeff Hawkes, in 2007. Golfers inform me that it is not a long course but that it can be a real test. It’s also suited to golfers of all handicaps.

Not that the pedigree of the golf course is a major issue. Statistics indicate that 50 percent of golf estate residents don’t play golf anyway. Many residents are out and about cycling, strolling or simply enjoying a meal on the club house veranda.

Davenport explains that they are currently building the 37th house on the estate. There are currently just 44 unsold plots out of a total of 180. All services and roads are in place.

Admittedly, Eshowe Hills has taken a while to take shape primarily because the economic recession and property slump in 2008 hit hard. But it was also one of the golf estates that survived this massive downturn. Many others didn’t.

Since its launch, it has attracted a diverse range of buyers – from local residents to those who have retired there from the hectic city lifestyle in Gauteng. Then there are younger families with parents wishing to raise their children in a close knit small town environment – not to forget the blue and grey duiker and bush buck that are neighbours.

Most people can repeat all the plusses when it comes to living in Eshowe. It is just an hour’s drive from Ballito and the King Shaka International airport. Eshowe is 500 meters above sea level, so the winters are mild and summers cool. For a country town, the shopping is good.

On a busy Saturday morning, Eshowe does take on the hustle and bustle of a slightly shabby Zululand town. But, then again, just down the road there’s the Made at Home market with fresh veggies and glorious baked treats not to mention the quirky George Hotel with its locally produced Zulu blond ale.

Overall, one can’t help feeling that this could well be one of the best kept real estate secrets in KwaZulu-Natal right now – a true hole in one.