Lake Jozini – the stunning expanse of water that lies between the between the lovely Ubombo and Lebombo mountains is even more beautiful than one would expect. Without waxing too lyrical, it’s a gem in a Zululand that most of us think of as bushveld bordered by a somewhat rugged but intriguing Elephant Coast.
Slightly inland from Sodwana Bay, Lake Jozini is fast becoming an eco-tourism destination of note. Apparently the lake itself – previously labeled the Pongolapoort Dam – is no stranger to controversy. Built during the sixties to irrigate over 80 000 hectares of farm land, it would have apparently failed all modern day environmental assessments dismally.
But the Nationalist Party government of the day persisted. The irrigation scheme of which the then Pongolapoort Dam was supposed to be the cornerstone was never fully developed and, from a water supply point of view, it is apparently still under utilised.
But, as a fellow guest aboard the Shayamanzi explained, the good thing is that the sugar and fruit farmers that this was supposed to benefit are fast transforming their farms into private game farms. Now known as Lake Jozini, this magnificent expanse of water is now a tourist attraction in its own right.
Lodges are springing up, suggesting that this will not remain an all but unknown tourism destination for long.
Our trip was to enjoy the lovely Lake Jozini from a whole new perspective – aboard the Shayamanzi, one of what its owners say are the only two houseboats in South Africa.
The Shayamanzi I is a 25 metre by eight metre double pontoon houseboat that comes complete with six en suite cabins, an eight seater Jacuzzi and a lounge and bar on the upper deck.
We lunched at the Jozini Tiger Lodge before heading to the houseboats which are moored just below it. Here we met captain Bramson and his delightful crew. After a quick safety briefing, a touch of local information and a chance to put down our bags in our quaint and comfortable cabins, it was off to the upper deck as the Shayamanzi headed out.
After mooring, it was time to head off for some tiger fishing. Even for those of us who couldn’t tell a tiger fish from a guppy (although I’ve since learnt there are significant differences) and who hadn’t held a rod before, it was a fun adventure. Simply bobbing about whilst others hooked some fish was one of the most peaceful experiences one could wish for.
A scrumptious dinner ended the evening. The Valentine’s dinner the next evening attested to the fact that our on board chef was not only a delightful character but a dab hand in the galley.
We headed off to our cabins for what was a typical hot Zululand night. The good part was that you could open your cabin doors and lean out over the water before drifting off to the water lapping at the edge of the boat.
The cabins themselves are delightful. Having tried everything from houseboats in the UK to Mediterranean cruise liners, I wasn’t holding my breath. But all have very roomy beds, mosquito netting, plug points and fans. There is an en-suite with shower, basin and toilet. The water system is top class with a hot pressurized shower – and there’s even a plug point for a hair dryer.
The next morning, I certainly wasn’t going to jump up early enough for the dawn fishing expedition and enjoyed waking up more peacefully to gaze out over the peaceful lake and enjoy the early sunrise over the water. Then it was up on deck for coffee and a great breakfast after the fisher folk returned with stories of the ones that got away as well as cell phone pictures of the ones that didn’t. Most were eventually released to thrill another tourist.
One of the young ladies on board sent the picture of her prize off to her boyfriend – proof that tiger fishing isn’t just for the boys.
The rest of the day was fairly laid back with highlights being time to chill on deck with a book or languish in the jacuzzi as well as some wonderful sightings of large herds of elephant and buffalo as well as other game such as giraffes, buck, warthogs, hippos and crocs.
Unfortunately, because the rest of the guests were manic fisher folk, both tender boats were spoken for and I was disappointed to miss out on the game viewing and birding that was promised. According to the brochures, it is a whole new experience to view game from the Pongola game reserve which frequent the banks of Lake Jozini from a boat that creeps up close to shore.
The area is also reported to be a birder’s paradise hosting over 350 species of bush birds, raptors and water birds. Again, even the fish eagles were far away.
We moored a little earlier that afternoon as we were about to be treated to a fairly spectacular end to the day – a storm complete with lightning flashes that lit up the surface of the water all the way to the surrounding Lebombo mountains.
My trip aboard the Shayamanzi was certainly one of the more unusual and more relaxing getaways that I have experienced – and something that I’d readily recommend to those looking for something a little different.