I wake myself with a snore, jumping back into the moment as the therapist’s oily hands reach my temples. She stifles a giggle and pulls me up into a seated position, kneading the knots in my shoulders and neck with expert, almost painful precision. I blink sleepily, taking in the valley’s green grassy dips through the huge glass doors. Just a few metres from the pane, an impala nibbles on a spurt of grass, blissfully unaware of my eyes fixed on it.
The spa here at Karkloof Safari Spa is the largest in Africa. It features 17 Thai therapists, a hydrotherapy area, flotation tank, a sauna and Moroccan rassoul facilities. Unlimited treatments are available upon demand from 8am until 8pm.
I reluctantly force myself up from the massage table. Unknotted and greasy-skinned, I bid farewell to the therapist and headed back to the lodge where our ranger Lymon is waiting for us. ‘You’d like to go to the waterfall, right?’
We certainly do – the waterfall in question is featured all over South Africa’s tourism marketing material and the tumbling cascade looks breathtaking to say the least. A forty minute drive from our lodge, then a kilometre walk along the banks of the river will get us there.
As we drive through the park, our path is crossed by four white rhino nibbling grass at the side of the road. We ooh as a dazzle of zebra zig-zag across the road in front of us. We ahh as a herd of delicately striped nyala beside the side of the road flick their ears towards us before continuing with their business. A family of warthogs scurriesd along the roadside, blonde mohawks and ashy mullets blowing in the breeze.
Although the animals have been reintroduced, it’s likely that they would have all roamed the area once upon a time, before they were wiped out through hunting.
As we twist down the winding valley roads, dark clouds gather overhead. A flock of rainbirds flaps frantically across the sky. We look nervously at each other – it’s not looking good. ‘Maybe it’s not such great weather for the waterfall…,” Lymon ventures. Disappointedly, we agree. Determined not to let the drive end sourly, Lymon switches off the engine and disappears behind the truck.
“Who would like a drink?” he calls out restoring our smiles instantly. We swig cool Castle beers and nibble on impala biltong, watching as glittering bolts of lightning shoot from the skies in the distance. As the thundery growls get louder, we nervously climb back into the truck, still clutching our drinks as the engine judders back up the hill through the first sprays of rain.
Soggy and slightly starry-eyed, we debate another drink at the bar, but instead made a beeline for the spa once again. My skin prickles with tiny goosebumps so I head straight for the sauna. Ten minutes of cooking and I feel like a new, if slightly sweaty person. I wrap myself in fluffy white robes and sip warming ginger tea, toes dipped in the bubbling spa pool. Through vast glass windows, the blue of the rainclouds deepens as night starts to darken the sky. Beneath the soft flannel, I feel my stomach gurgle.
Dinner beckons, but there’s still time for one more treatment. I opt for a hot oil head massage. Warm oils are poured along my hair and rubbed deep into my scalp, strong fingers twisting across the curves of my skull. The inevitable happens. I nod off once again.