Exploring Karkloof with the Boy from the Wild

2018-04-10 10:19 - Nadia Krige
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To be soaked through – clothes sticking to skin, droplets gathering on flyaway strands of hair and rolling down cheeks – is a special kind of delight for anyone who’s been craving rain. Or just a shower that lasts longer than 90 seconds.

And when the source of the soaking is a pristine waterfall hidden away in a valley the locals call heaven, it’s almost too beautiful to bear.

Standing at the edge of a wooden deck, overlooking the Karkloof Waterfall tumbling and crashing over a sheer 105km cliff face – rainbows dancing in the haze – I felt my heart burst through my ribs and beat outside my chest. I hadn’t even realised how badly my Cape drought-adjusted eyes had been craving something lush, my shoulders the caress of something that felt like rain. 

Here in the Karkloof Valley, in the heart of the KwaZulu-Natal midlands, there was clearly no end to the satisfaction my sensibilities would find.

The Boy from the Wild - Peter Meyer

Getting to the waterfall had been no mean feat – it took a bumpy drive on a game-viewing vehicle from Karkloof Safari Villas and then a good half-an-hour’s climb. The latter all on well-constructed and -maintained boardwalks. But a climb nonetheless.

As we walked, our host and guide for the day, Peter Meyer would stop ever so often, point something out and share a little story from his youth.

In what can only be described as a fairytale childhood, Peter had grown up in this very valley. A little boy running wild among the lush vegetation, and of course, the mammals, reptiles, birds and insects it hid.

Turning this valley into one of South Africa’s most magnificent conservation areas had been a dream of James Meyer – Peter’s father - from the tender age of 16.  Born in England to an entrepreneurial family, James fell in love with Africa as a boy attending Hilton College. Even when he had to return to England as a young man to take over and grow the family business, he vowed to return.

It took a good 30 years before James managed to fulfil his dream in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but in many ways, it was perfect timing for young Peter. With the enigmatic and energetic James as patron saint, the Karkloof Valley became a sanctuary for animals great and small. It was the first property in South Africa to breed disease-free buffalo and to this day a healthy herd roams peaceful and free. It also became the location for Safari World – a Jurassic Park-like theme park/safari-experience dreamed up by James to introduce more South Africans to the importance of conservation.

In the grand scheme of things, Peter’s time in Karkloof was relatively short-lived. He went off to boarding school in England at the age of nine and not too long after, his father sold the property. Yet, the place it had come to occupy in his heart and imagination has only expanded.

Breathtaking views of nature at Karkloof. (Photo: Chris Allan)

The Boy from the Wild book launch

After James passed away three years ago, Peter was crippled by grief for a father that had been both a larger than life figure and the best dad any boy could ask for. Telling his father’s story and capturing some of his own magical childhood experiences in words became a cathartic process.

As the words flowed and page numbers grew, Peter realised that there might be something more to the process. So, teaming up with Graham Spence – co-author of the Lawrence Anthony’s best-selling The Elephant Whisperer – Peter set to work on a book of his own.

At age 33, Peter is now the proudly published author of The Boy from The Wild, a heartfelt, humorous and wholesome tribute to both his father’s iridescent character and the enchanted valley they called home for a little while.

Snake phobias and close encounters

Among the many memorable tales with which Peter regales his readers – from frightening confrontations with rhinos to run-ins with buffaloes – his encounters with snakes are perhaps the most chilling and enthralling.

“I have a phobia of snakes,” he writes in the introduction to Chapter 5, continuing: “As I have mentioned, my first introduction to these slithery creatures was in my crib, so perhaps it’s subliminal. Or perhaps it’s voodoo — I actually am jinxed. They seem to like coming for me.”

While Peter writes about his two most terrifying close encounters with these slithery reptiles in the book, he also had us squirming with his in-person retelling.  

At age 7, within a mere three months of one another, Peter suffered two… yes, TWO… traumatising snake bites.

One was almost certainly a puff adder which nabbed him while swimming in the river. He was lucky to suffer no serious consequences. The other was a grass snake that attached itself to his foot and simply wouldn’t let go.

“It was the same foot that had been bitten in the river. I fled in absolute horror. But I sprinted off so quickly that the snake didn’t have time to withdraw its fangs and was still hooked to my foot,” he writes.

Even though it was completely harmless, the nature of the attack was so traumatic, Peter has never managed to shake his fear. 

This, of course, makes the fact that a boomslang slithered into Karkloof Villa’s reception area during a lunch time when only Peter and a few of his guests were around almost impossibly ironic. In an amazing act of bravery, he took his nemesis on with a pair of snake-catching tongs and an umbrella serving as a capturing bag. After a good deal of bustling, shrieking (mostly from the rest of us, not Peter) and a few near-escapes on the snakes part, Peter managed to capture it and deliver it safely out of harm’s way in the bush. 

View from Karkloof Villas. (Photo: Chris Allan)

The Karkloof Villas

While the slithery visitor had us all stepping a little more lightly, it was also testament to just how wild life at Karkloof Safari Villas really is.

During a short stroll along the boardwalk from your villa to the reception area and restaurant, you are sure to encounter a warthog or five, some dainty Njala and a chorus of bird song up above. 

The villas themselves offer ample space and luxury, not to mention magnificent views. We’d arrived at night, but I decided to leave my curtains slightly ajar before falling asleep in the white linen, king-size bed. The next morning, I woke to a view of almost endless rolling green hills and rose with a song in my heart to enjoy a cup of coffee on the wooden deck.

Karkloof Lodge. (Photo: Chris Allan)

Mealtimes at Karkloof Safari Villas are sumptuous affairs, nothing short of sensory feasts. The menu changes daily and the well-trained chefs are able to accommodate all dietary requirements with flair. My favourite dishes included refreshing green smoothies at breakfast, freshly baked quiche at lunch and a variety of fresh fish dishes for dinner. The highlight of any meal, however, was the scrumptious selection of home-made ice creams and sorbets.

Since October 2017, the villas have been under the ownership of Colleen Glaeser, a charismatic businesswoman with a love for the bush and a passion for motivating other women. Her sanguine influence is clear in the hospitality and bright smiles of all the staff, and if you’re lucky enough to catch her there at sundowners, she might just share a little shot of Beluga pure Russian vodka with you!

Activities

There are a range of excellent activities available at Karkloof Safari Villas such as - game drives, romantic picnics, bush braais, bike riding, bird watching, guided walks, hikes to the Karkloof Waterfall, fishing at Albert Falls Dam as well as exceptional day spa packages at the Karkloof Safari Spa located within the property’s grounds.

They also offer a range of day packages for visitors who are unable to stay overnight.

Glaeser is also working on establishing Karkloof Safari Villas as a chosen spot for destination weddings.

Ultimate relaxation at Karkloof Spa. (Photo: Chris Allan)

Good to know

Karkloof Safari Villas is wheelchair friendly. The following facilities are wheelchair accessible:

• One Villa (villa # 4)

• Reception

• Toilets (Reception, Lodge & Spa)

• Restaurant

• Bar

• Spa and some treatment rooms

How to get there:

If you live in Durban, Karkloof Safari Villas is a mere hour-and-a-half’s drive away. If you’re further afield – Cape Town or Johannesburg, for instance – you can fly directly into Pietermaritzburg Airport with Airlink.

The Airport is delightfully old-fashioned and even has a resident cockerel marching around the entrance to welcome you! For more information or to make a booking, visit www.karkloofsafarivillas.com or contact the reservation team on +27 33 569 1321 or email reservations@karkloofsafarivillas.com.

The Boy from the Wild is now available on Amazon.com.  You can also visit Peter's website and follow his journey on FacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube