If there’s a country more beautiful than South Africa, then I’m yet to find it… So when my mum, dad and brother came to visit, I wanted to show it off. I wasn’t ready for what Umfolozi had to offer.
My love affair with South Africa goes back a long time. I moved here on my own in 2011, but I’d already been twice at that point, and my first trip – at the age of 16 – was with my family on one of our most adventurous trips away.
Teenage Joe made a promise back then that I’d be back for the World Cup (I was!), but I never thought at that point that I’d end up spending the best part of a decade living and working in South Africa and building a life for myself here.
One of the things that I love most about this country is being in the bush. I was in awe of the place when we did our first game drive in 2006, and I’ve never stopped being in awe of what I see on those drives around the country, be it in Gauteng, the Eastern Cape, the North West or wherever I’ve been. It truly never ceases to amaze me.
With the whole Crann Clan coming over this time, I wanted to recreate some of those memories from our first trip to SA, but I wanted to make it even better. I wanted to give them a game experience that they would never, ever forget.
Steph and I spent some time looking around and found a relatively new lodge out in KwaZulu-Natal that was run by the Mantis Group – who we’ve had amazing experiences with in the past – that really caught the eye.
We’d never been to a game reserve in KZN, and neither had my family, so the idea of it being a first for all of us was something that really appealed
Firstly, we’d never been to a game reserve in KZN, and neither had my family, so the idea of it being a first for all of us was something that really appealed. And then, after looking through the pictures; the food, the scenery, the accommodation, we decided that that was where we wanted to be.
It was a good decision.
Everything about our stay at Mthembu Lodge in the Umfolozi Big Five Game Reserve by Mantis was phenomenal. From the welcome drinks after our long drive in from Jo’burg, to our wonderful guide, Artist, and the beautiful elephants. So many beautiful elephants.
I don’t actually know where to start when it comes to praising Mthembu Lodge. I could start with the people. With the pools. With the rooms and the aesthetic. With the food – oh so much food! Or with the rarest of rare wild dog spotting. There was just so much.
For me, a game lodge stay is often as good – or as bad – as the people who are there with you. And for that reason I have to take this time to thank every single person who was working during our time there, they all deserve a special shoutout.
Sthembile, Sebe, Doctor and Eva, thanks for all of your amazing service, you are wonderful. Josh and Jolise, you guys were so incredibly helpful and looked out for us so much, it was so massively appreciated.
Joel, Nthombi and Sithabilie, you absolutely knocked the food out of the park. Truly remarkable, honestly. Thank you, our bellies were always full, and always content.
My mum actually told me after they left that it was her favourite part of the entire trip
And speaking of the food. Look, all of the meals were great, but one of them really sticks out… It was our second night, and the guys told us we might be eating outdoors if the weather held out. I never envisaged what they had planned, but when we were driven out to the top of a hill and told to get out of the vehicle, my mouth hit the floor.
The team had put together the most incredible braai as the sun set behind the rolling hills of KwaZulu-Natal and I got to introduce my folks to all the best South Africa delicacies – pap, wors, chakalaka, the works. What an experience.
My mum actually told me after they left that it was her favourite part of the entire trip, that she’ll remember it forever and ever, and that she got quite emotional sat up there amongst the bush. So thanks for helping me tick that box, Umfolozi!
Another thing that I loved was that, for the first time, we got some real history about the place that we were staying. I didn’t know that King Shaka grew up in the area, and Artist gave us a really interesting lesson about the legendary Zulu leader and his time around Umfolozi over the course of his life.
Artist, by the way, was superb. Not only did we click straight away because of him being a fan of the Absa Premiership (Orlando Pirates specifically!), but he’s just so full of knowledge, and so eager to educate. We couldn’t have asked for more. Oh, and he makes the BEST Amarula coffee on your morning game drive – it’s worth waking up for those alone!
We got up close and personal with elephants (they even came to our pool at night!), saw rhinos, zebras, giraffes, buffalo, warthogs, and so many beautiful birds. We also had that incredible wild dog spotting that I mentioned earlier, and the river crossing in Artist’s 4×4 was a particular highlight of mine.
— Joe Crann (@YesWeCrann) February 20, 2020
Whether it was in the game vehicle, lounging by the pool, eating the sumptuous food, or returning to our room after a long day, we always felt so looked after, like we were part of the family, and that is truly a special feeling.
Honestly – I couldn’t have taken the Cranns anywhere better. It may be the last time I do a big holiday with all of my family, we’re all getting older now and family holidays aren’t much of a thing, but if what the guys at Umfolozi Big Five delivered for us is how we end things, then I’m more than happy with that.