“Have you ever pretended to be in Neverland?”
Or at least wanted to when no one is looking? Strangely enough, people get really antsy when posed with this kind of question. Me personally; I don’t have a problem answering this with a resounding ‘Yes!’. Most of us wish we could sometimes live in the moment, experience something magical and not give it up.
I recently was whisked away to such a place. I leave the hustle and bustle of cars and people and Wintery city dust behind me and sigh in relief at the thought of the respite that lies ahead. Driving up the dirt road flanked by poker orange aloes reflecting the sunset like mirrors I arrive at the gates of Tala Private Game Reserve for the weekend.
The temperature seems to be dropping as we are greeted at the gate by the sun silhouetting the long grass. Driving off we head towards Paperbark Lodge which is to be where we are accommodated for the weekend. I, of course, have to stop a number of times along the way to capture the golden light pouring over the hills and bathing the Bontebok and Impala’s glossy coats in rose light. We round a bend as we approach the lodge to find three rhino grazing on the grass. The first instinct I have is to exclaim in glee and then look really sheepish. I love these hefty creatures! If I could dance around that quietly weighing 3 or 4 tonnes, I would probably become a ninja. After sitting and listening to the grazing and just enjoying the immense peace that these creatures seem to hold, I ease past in the car so that I can go check in before the stars are out.
I already feel like I have landed in someones fantasy (very easily one of my own) with smiling staff and the fire in the pit being lit outside the dining area at Paperbark with rhino grazing in the background. This just doesn’t happen normally I tell myself. But it seems that this kind of experience is something that Tala regularly provides for its guests coming to visit; either for the day, or for a longer stay.
The whole idea of Neverland is you never have to grow up. The fascination I feel at encountering wildlife this close is humbling, as well as having the opportunity to learn more about how they live fills me with the feeling of awe. The sheer size of a crash of rhino moving around while grazing, or seeing a tower of 17 giraffe grazing together (for the first time in my life) while they flick their ears and gaze in curiosity, makes me realise I am holding my breath with wide eyed wonder.
The benefit of visiting Tala is that it is a smaller private reserve, which ensures that you will see wildlife and quite likely, up close as well.
Tala has a number of stay options. The accommodation provides a range of lodging to suit most budgets. This comes in the form of Aloe Lodge at the center of the reserve, the grassland surrounded Paperbark Lodge where I stayed which has gorgeous views; as well as Mahogany House which lies adjacent to Paperbark and is constructed from a restored farmhouse of a bygone era. There is also Figtree House which can accommodate up to 10 people and the architecturally designed Leadwood Lodge which allows for groups of 6 – 12 to stay in luxurious comfort and tranquility; and last the stand alone house situated overlooking riverine bush and rolling plains is Fishermans Cottage.
Staying at Papebark Lodge meant I was near not only the plains and grazing wildlife but one of the two restaurants. However, the night of arrival and settling in I opted to try out a picnic basket.
Do yourself a favour and try the picnic basket!
What a treat. I was offered a menu of which I could choose up to 11 items and opted to give the choice to my best friend who made a sterling selection of sweet and savoury with a dessert to top it off. Sitting with plates and putting together different combinations of biscuits, cheeses, preserves and spreads over the sound of night settling in and a glass of wine was a fantastic way to kick off the weekend.
Waking to unfamiliar noises and chewing of grass had me lying staring into the timber trusses in the four poster bed wondering which manner of creature was outside, but since the sun had not risen, neither did I. But when it crept over the horizon, the drapes were pulled and coffee arranged and I did my favourite thing – climb back into bed to watch nature get on with the day.
Watching wildebeest chase one another and zebra run in a chain nodding their heads, while rhino lie on the horizon; Wildlife TV is the most riveting way of enjoying a cup of coffee before breakfast.
The food at Tala Game Reserve, whether at Tala Restaurant or one of the lodges (prearranged for over groups of 10) is so tasty. Whether you are interested in a light meal or a hearty supper or a full on breakfast, you can be sure that Tala has you sorted. If you are visiting for the day for game viewing, a picnic, a mountain bike ride or staying for a weekend, you can be sure to keep the hungry at bay at Tala Restaurant.
There are a few activities available at Tala. You can do the obvious, which would be a game drive. If you are lucky enough to enjoy this experience, you get to share in the wisdom of a local guide who can tell you about the flora and fauna and make your trip so memorable. Contact the main office to arrange your game drive and get up close with the residents here.
Catch and release Bass fishing has been introduced in the Park and will be memorable surrounded by the rolling hills. Purchase your fishing licence at reception and see if you can best the record.
Something I did not expect to hear was available is mountain biking. Yes, you did hear me right.
There are three mountain bike routes you can choose from. The shortest being a 5 km, a 13 km which has more single track and the longer route of 26 km with a combination of single and jeep track. It would be a great activity day to bring friends and family out. There is an entrance fee to be paid at R70 per person, but what a way to spend a day. Pre book by contacting the activities office on email@example.com. The facilities available to you are the parking area, braai areas, swimming pools, ablutions, swings and a lot of space to run around in.
Tala Game reserve is easily accessible from both centers of Pietermaritzburg and Durban, which makes it a super place to host an event. Whether it a conference or a wedding, Tala is able to meet your needs. There are three different conference facilities to make use of depending of what you need.
Acacia venue is used for weddings and has timeless vistas to make your big day even more memorable. Find out more on their website.
I thought I would summarise my experience with my three things for the weekend.
- Moment of the weekend – sitting next to the road while having a rhino graze not 3 metres away from me.
- My must do on a visit – take the afternoon game drive where everything is drowned in rose orange light (perfect for photos).
- Something unique about Tala – the red hot poker aloes in bloom are a beautiful thing to witness.
So if you want to experience a Neverland that is a real piece of South Africa, then you can contact the Tala office on 27 31 781 8000 or mail them on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until then…..see you on the road!