Karkloof Safari Spa

Pietermaritzburg, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa Book from R11,900

Reviewed by Robyn Hodson
Award-winning spa and boutique lodge set on a 3500-hectare private game reserve, teeming with wildlife and cinematic vistas and only 1 hour from Durban
On arrival at Karkloof, chances are high that you’ll spot a wild animal of some sort before you even get to reception. In our case it was an enormous white rhino, lazily grazing and completely unfazed when the car screeched to a halt and the wildlife paparazzi almost fell out of the windows to get a shot. Along with the wellness angle - and make no mistake, Karkloof is one of Africa's largest and best spas, with 17 treatment rooms, saunas, steam rooms, indoor and outdoor Jacuzzis and Roman baths - this magnificent property is also a wildlife retreat and a 5-star lodge.

The drive to the lodge showcases the wide open, wild magic of the place. Built high up on a bushy slope, it affords sweeping views over the valley below, glimpses of a galloping river and green hills rolling off to Neverland. It blends seamlessly into the landscape. Indeed, the spa is so cleverly hidden you may miss it entirely. Tucked into the hillside and utilising natural thatch and flat grassy rooftops, it even fools the animals who often wander on top of it, blissfully unaware of the human pampering taking place below. Dotted around the main lodge, colonial charm blends with contemporary comfort in the 16 spacious villas, each blessed with a vast bed, underfloor heating and a big viewing deck. Superb.

Highs

  • You set your own agenda, choosing when to eat, spa, walk, game-drive, relax - a real sense of sanctuary
  • Great for spa widowers too: alongside a raw food menu for those on detox there is a full-fat menu for those on holiday (both outstanding)
  • We loved watching the sunrise from the depths of our duvet through the retractable villa doors
  • Attentive, friendly staff who had a sixth sense about when to appear and disappear
  • Fantastic treatments, including perhaps the best massage (and comfiest bed) I have experienced anywhere on my spa travels

Lows

  • It's hugely pricey, but bear in mind that rates include all meals and beverages (excluding champagne), game drives, guided hikes and unlimited spa treatments
  • After an evening massage (or on cold days), the walk to your room might spoil your trance-like state (but you can have a golfcart on standby). You'll also need a torch after dark, as the walkways back to the villas are dimly lit
  • Species on the reserve are largely herbivorous - so don't expect to see lions, leopards or cheetahs.
  • The dirt road leading to Karkloof is not much fun with a small car
  • Those wary of animals should bear in mind that wildlife (albeit herbivorous) wanders on the premises

Best time to go

The climate in Kwazulu Natal is tourist-friendly throughout the year and there are no extremes in temperature. Autumn (April / May) is particularly beautiful in the Natal Midlands, as it's lush and green from the rains and full of trees turning brilliant shades of orange, red and gold. During the day the weather is sunny yet mild and perfect for strolling and wilderness safaris. Nights can be chilly but all the more reason to curl up on a couch by the fire in the cosy lounge and sip a good brandy.

Our top tips

Do try the raw food menu at least once because it’s so original, fresh on the palate and yet still filling and delicious. And spend a long pampering afternoon at the spa (the largest in Africa).

Great for...

Spa
Great Outdoors
Family
Foodie
Honeymoon
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Safari Lodge & Spa
  • 16
  • All meals included
  • All ages welcome; subject to availability
  • Open all year
  • Pools
  • Spa
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Fly fishing equipment
Room:

Rooms

There are 16 rooms, dubbed luxury boutique villas as they have a proper lounge (with office space) and a veranda, as well as the bedroom. Twelve are absolutely self-contained and are spread far enough apart from one another so that you don’t feel the presence of any other party encroaching on your privacy. If you're travelling in a group or with family, there are 4 villas that are interconnected so you can be closer together. Two can be made up as twin rooms. All of them have uninterrupted views of the valley and the surrounding bush.

Each has its own decorative style but accents lean toward understated European colonial touches combined with tasteful African flair. Rich carpets, 1000-thread count linens and underfloor heating make padding around your room barefoot an absolute pleasure. A kingsize bed which is large enough to sleep in like a wide, pointy starfish always gets my vote - you even get a pillow menu to choose from. Waking up to real coffee from a Nespresso machine is another genius touch.

Due to the high thatched roofs, the villas are beautifully airy in summer and have air-conditioning as well. Bedrooms are spacious, and all have comfortable lounges with generous office space. Each has a generous private veranda from which to watch the glorious sunsets, G&T (from the well-stocked minibar) in hand.

Huge bathrooms have over-sized bathtubs, fluffy slippers and robes, and a hairdryer. The inter-connecting villas have walk-in outdoor showers as well. The toiletries are specially manufactured by Esse: free of preservatives, they only use natural and organically grown ingredients.

A word of advice: slide open all of your villa doors, even in winter (if it’s not raining), as the gentle night noises - including snuffling warthogs - and the clean air both enhance a blissful night’s sleep. You’re also then perfectly placed for a spectacular morning sunrise from your bed.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Central heating
  • Coffee maker
  • Coffee tea making
  • Cots Available
  • Emergency Lamp
  • Extra beds
  • Hairdryer
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Phone
  • Pillow menu
  • Safe box
  • Satellite tv
  • Terrace
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • Tv
  • Underfloor heating
  • WiFi
  • Wifi internet

Eating

As rates for Karkloof include 3 meals a day, you’d do well to stay put and enjoy the original, fresh and frankly quite extraordinary meals on offer. The menus change regularly and most of the organic ingredients are sourced from farms in the area.

Choose from 2 delicious menus - one comprising the very best in gourmet raw foods for those wanting a healthy, nutritious diet to complement their spa break, the other an unashamedly full-fat, locally-flavoured menu which combines exotic tastes from Asia and traditional touches from Europe. Do try the raw food menu at least once - but if your partner is tucking into impala kebabs or fresh seared tuna for starters, followed by grilled game fillets and homemade ice creams with rich chocolatey puds for dessert, the temptation may become too much to bear.

Nothing is rushed at Karkloof and you can dine when and where it suits you - in your villa or on your private deck, or up in the main lodge with the other guests in the dining room. There’s a lively, congenial feel to the place and doors are flung open in summer (or there’s a large fire in colder weather). All specialist diets and food intolerances are catered for if the kitchen is alerted in advance, and the expert chefs are happy to help with anything you would like arranged.

The breakfast spread is vast - you can opt for a full health, continental, English, American or whatever else takes your fancy, all at the same time; but do squeeze in a smoothie - they're particularly good.

Picnic baskets can be put together if you're heading out into the reserve during the day, and there are wine tastings too. The well-stocked cellar has a hand-picked collection of estate wines and fine champagnes, so ask one of the staff to recommend something suitable.

Features include:

  • All meals included
  • Bar
  • Children meals
  • Coffee maker
  • Coffee tea making
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Organic produce
  • Room service
  • Vegetarian menu
  • Wine cellar
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Guided game viewing is a must. Because of the abundance of wildlife on the reserve, animals abound at all times of the year - and, more importantly, at all times of the day (no need to get up at the crack of dawn here). Aim your camera at contented giraffe, elephant, white and black rhino, hippo, buffalo, endangered Samango monkeys and Blue Duiker, plus herds of zebra, wildebeest and antelope... but do note that the species on the farm are largely herbivorous (except for the odd serval cat or black-backed jackal) - no lions, leopards or cheetah, for example

  • And it would be crazy to come all this way and not try the fab spa- Thai massages at the hands of talented therapists, a Moroccan-flavoured Rassoul chamber or German-inspired Kniepp pool, steam and sauna rooms, a heated indoor pool, a flotation pool, indoor and outdoor Jacuzzis, and hand and foot treatment rooms with a view of the bush. The fragrance of heated oils, fresh flowers, fruit-infused waters, honey teas, warm towels, softer-than-soft gowns, and hip Havaiana flip-flops all go hand-in-hand in sending you off to pampered Nirvanaland

  • Go birding with a guide - keen twitchers should know that over 300 species have been counted on the reserve so far - look out for the rare Narina Trogon and the Martial Eagle. The forest is also home to rare flowers

  • Take a guided trip to Karkloof Falls (included in the rates) where you can enjoy a leisurely 1km stroll on a wooded broadwalk before standing at the base of this magnificent natural wonder (100m high) and feeling the cool spray on your face

  • There are plentiful tracks and trails for walking, hiking and mountain biking in the reserve

  • Enjoy summer fly-fishing for yellowtail in the Karkloof and Umgeni rivers

  • There’s a library full of books and magazines, with the choice of the pool deck, spa lounge, main lounge, bar or villa in which to enjoy them

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Fishing
  • Golf
  • Hiking
  • Mountain biking
  • Mountain climbing/abseiling
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Private guided tours
  • Rafting
  • Safaris
  • Shopping / markets
  • Swimming
  • Well being
  • Wildlife
  • Wine tasting
  • Zip-lining tours

Kids

Children are welcome at Karkloof subject to availability - this is a place which is primarily set up for couples. Children over 12 are charged the same as an adult and get their own room; children six and under stay for free.

Best for:

Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

Four of the boutique villas interconnect and so these are best for families. Cots and extra beds are available on request.

Babysitting:

Babysitting is available on request, see Rates

Children's meals:

Kids menus are available, note there are no high chairs

Kids Activities on site:

  • DVD player
  • Family friendly game drives
  • Fishing
  • Mountain biking
  • Nature walks

Families Should Know:

No children under 12 are allowed in the spa, those between 12-16 are only allowed in under parental supervision.

Distances:

  • Airport: 30 minutes
  • Shops: 20 minutes
  • Doctor/Hospital: 25 minutes
Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

This hotel has not yet been reviewed by guests

Rates for Karkloof Safari Spa