The eerie silence is broken by a fisheagle call in the distance, who knows how far away. Over the Sterkfontein Dam the noise and the quiet travel miles, uncluttered by man made sound.
Looking out over this amazing body of water is like being on a deserted coast line of some Mediterranean island, 20km inside the Sterkfontein Nature Reserve at the top of the Drakensberg, and the view over the Dam from our luxurious room was spectacular. Of course, the room itself was almost as spectacular, with a four-poster bed, gas fireplace, chandelier and stunning artwork drawing the eyes back into the warm pocket of civilization that was our home for the night.
We washed off the travel mud in an antique ball and claw bathtub and prepared for dinner – meeting in the lounge bar in front of the roaring log fire place for a drink with our hosts at 7pm.
Johnny and Trish are a lovely couple, and we had a brief chance to say hello before our chef arrived, rang the bell and announced a menu that sounded like the specials board of a Michelin star restaurant.
We were invited to dine in the wine cellar, an intimate setting for 2 surrounded by fine bottles of excellent vintages. Service was silver and elegant sophistication was evident in the decor, table and especially the food.
Chef Marelise creating delight out of her kitchen
A humble sweetcorn chowder turned out to be rich with coriander and delicate fish stock, while the duck in berry sauce had waited to meet with the short grain black rice it joined on the plate all day. An upside down cake, full of walnuts and delicately flowered completed the feast, and we sat back, replete in the flavours of the food and the scent of the wine to contemplate what it feels like to be really treated special!
None of the service is intrusive, and neither were our hosts, who after dinner was done, wished us well and said good night, leaving us to explore the setting before retiring to the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in.
The early morning mist swallowed up the Dam not far off the shore, adding to the mystique of what is already an incredible place, and after lounging about in luxury for a bit we made our way down to breakfast in the main dining area, also elegantly personalized and filled with mementos of adventure and exploration.
It was a great pleasure to meet John and Trish properly in the morning and get to know what lead them to opening a 5 Star luxury destination on Sterkfontein. After John mentioned his background in building and involvement with Qwantani Lodge (the only other private accommodation in the Park) I looked at the walls again with new appreciation. The rocks were not regular and serried but formed intricate mosaics, each obviously chosen and placed in its spot with care. To hear him talk about the process of creating this stone masterpiece is to understand passion.
Of course, he has other passions include sailing, and having done the Cape to Rio twice, he was keen to show me the Golden City – a 1971 yacht being lovingly restored to be the first floating 5 Star accommodation on Sterkfontein Dam. It is clear as the water that this is some of the best inland sailing in the world, and the fishing is its own brand of unique. Depths go to 80 meters and monsters lurk in the vast man made lake.
They also raise Appalloosa horses on their piece of the Amanzi Estate, and they came to say farewell to us on our way out, leaving a lasting memory of them nuzzling us and rubbing up against a backdrop of mountain water stretching into the distance. I asked if these beautiful animals were the reason for the name Wild Horses, and John laughed and said no…
We drove out with the Rolling Stones in my head, and understood:
Wild, wild horses we’ll ride them some day
Wild horses couldn’t drag me away…
Keith Richards / Mick Jagger