When the invite arrived in my mailbox to experience Lake Jozini onboard the first Houseboats in South Africa – I knew this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. But after spending four days and three nights onboard the only ones of their kind – I left telling Brett that it can’t be a once in a lifetime trip because we HAVE TO do it again!
Onboard Shayamanzi Houseboats, you are truly able to soak up the stunning scenery of the Lebombo Mountains and superb wildlife of the Pongola Game Reserve on the shores of Lake Jozini (also known as Pongolapoort Dam). You get to enjoy the calm serenity of the open Lake Jozini waters, the thrill of Tiger Fishing and the sheer one-of-a-kind experience the houseboat has to offer! We were really able to take time out of our day-to-day life to appreciate Africa’s special wonder that is Lake Jozini!
A short and comfortable three and a half hour drive from Durban on a straight and scenic road up to Jozini Tiger Lodge, where the two Shayamanzi Houseboats dock at the foot of Lake Jozini. Shayamanzi I is a 25 meter by 8 meter, double pontoon houseboat with 6 en-suite cabins which each sleep two. There are four crew members onboard – including the captain, two deckhands and the chef. The boat has two tender boats which tag along the back of the boat. While Shayamanzi II a slightly bigger 30 meter by 8.6 meter, double pontoon houseboat with three levels with six en-suite cabins and four pontoon cabins. This boat has six crew members, three tender boats and a 12 seater jacuzzi.
We were fortunate enough to be invited to experience Shayamanzi I‘s social cruise which essentially meant we were cruising with other families / couples, and seeing as though it’s a very small space you’re in – we were about to make some new friends!
JOZINI TIGER LODGE
We arrived at Jozini Tiger Lodge just before midday, which is where we’d park our car for the duration of our trip onboard the houseboat. We enjoyed a light lunch on the pool deck at Jozini Tiger Lodge overlooking Lake Jozini… which just piqued our excitement! Both Shayamanzi I and II were docked and we were able to see the crew getting the boats ready ahead of our departure. Our luggage was fetched from the hotel while we enjoyed lunch and we were escorted from the hotel lobby via a mini van down to the boats. It was in the lobby that we met our fellow cruise mates! A family of four with teenage kids, a couple with a four-year-old son (yay a friend for Maddie) and an older couple celebrating their wedding anniversary…
We then jumped onto tender boats from the dock to the boat where our luggage awaited, our rooms (we were given two to ensure we were comfortable with both the girls with us) were clearly marked and captain Anthony greeted us dressed in his whites with a tray of champagne. After giving his run down of the route, rules, meals, how to’s etc, we were off! Music blurring through the speakers… our cruise had officially started!
We were on a three night cruise which follows a route from Tiger Lodge to Hippo Bay on day one. Day two goes from Hippo Bay to Nkwazi Bay and day three follows Nkwazi Bay back to Tiger Lodge.
Each spot showcasing all that the Lake Jozini experience has to offer. The Pangola Game Reserve surrounding Lake Jozini host many animal species which can be seen in herds from Shayamanzi’s decks. From white and black rhino, elephant, buffalo, hippo, crocodile, wildebeest, giraffe, zebra, kudu, nyala, bushbuck, mountain reedbuck, common reedbuck, red duiker, grey duiker, waterbuck, steenbuck, suni antelope, black backed jackal, hyena, cheetah, wild dog, cerval cat, warthog, bushpig, banded mongoose, legavaan, terrapin to the occasional sighting of leopard which roam the slopes of the Lebombo Mountain Range. While the muddy plains and reed banks provide excellent breeding grounds for the waterbirds which can be seen in thousands – whistling Duck, yellowbilled storks, spurwing and Egyptian geese, commorants, various herons, kingfishers, and several fish eagles.
Evening anchorages can include a night in the Gorge where the mountains rise on either side of the boat and is covered in indigenous cycads and ferns and the glo-flies make a spectacular show along the shoreline. Other overnight anchorages are in the river and at Mosquito Bay – both great fishing areas and very well positioned for game viewing.
Our boat, Shayamanzi I has six cabins, which each sleep two with an en-suite with shower, basin and toilet. The oak panelled cabins are small – 3,6m x 3,5m but they are airy with large sliding window doors as your boundary to the water. Our door was left open most of our cruise – even at night. To lie in bed and see the stars reflecting on the water and the moonlight shining through the fluttering, drifting curtains, the sound of the water hitting the boat and the sounds of nature, was just the most incredible experience!
We had two cabins and Brett and I chose to split up and each sleep with a child to ensure they were safe and happy. We bought along our Angelcare baby monitor which was a saving grace during the trip as we were able to leave Charlie and Maddie asleep in the room during the day (for Charlie’s day naps) and at night so we could continue to enjoy after dinner drinks and board games well into the night with the other guests. The monitor was in close range enough for us to hear them and keep an eye on them.
The biggest challenge in the rooms was the bathroom – it is tiny but the rest of the room, despite the size is super comfortable. The water system allowed for hot pressurised showers so that was great. The beds and pillows were super soft and comfortable. The room has all the necessities needed like a dressing table to sit and do your hair and make up at, a cupboard to unpack your bag into and the best part – aircon! It is controlled by the captain to conserve power as the boat does run off a generator, the aircon only run for a few hours a day which was plenty to cool down the room. And the room also has big industrial strength fans too if needed.
FACILITIES & EXPERIENCES
A trip onboard Shayamanzi is all about relaxation, fishing and wining and dinning! Eat, fish, sleep, eat, fish, sleep is pretty much how we spent our four days onboard the boat. We hopped off the boat feeling recharged!
The Jacuzzi was probably one of the best facilities for me – I mean who can say they’ve sat in a jacuzzi on a moving houseboat on the water of Lake Jozini… it was also Maddie’s absolute highlight!
Fishing is obviously a massive attraction – Lake Jozini is the only water in South Africa where you find the ferocious, fighting Tiger Fish – an African game fish that jumps out the water, throwing its head from side to side trying to get off your line. It’s a proper thrill! The Deckhands are incredible as they assist with baiting the rods, you literally just had to throw the line and wait for the bite. Once you reel it up – they take the catch off the line and attach it to a fish lip grip and you pose for a quick pic before releasing it back into the water. We managed to catch a good five or six fish between the three of us – but it was SUCH a highlight! I will forever have fond memories of us on the back of the houseboat at sunset with the most beautiful orange sky while Brett and I fished while Maddie splashed in the Jacuzzi!
Game viewing was anther massive highlight! Lake Jozini is surrounded by the Pongola Game Reserve and Pongolo Nature Reserve, which provide spectacular game viewing from the water’s edge with a large variety of wildlife which can be viewed from the Shayamanzi Houseboat’s decks or tender boats. During our cruise we spotted a herd of elephants – a sighting like no other! We also saw giraffes, various buck and rhino.
One of the very big factors that made our trip simply incredible was Shayamanzi’s charming and experienced staff! The team of skippers honestly made our journey and experience of Lake Jozini an unforgettable one. They were attentive and incredibly accommodating of every request. From the cleanliness of our rooms and the common areas of the boat – they were on it. Behind the bar, setting the tables at each meal (which was a different set up at each meal) to the Deckhands taking us out on the tender boats to go fishing and helping us with our rods, bait and catch off the back of the houseboat – they were incredible!
Chef Mike blew us away! We saw the tiny kitchen he has to work in at the beginning of trip but boy, he utilises his space well! We were presented the most sumptuous meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner! From wholesome breakfasts, light lunches and delicious three-course dinners, he even did a proudly South African braai on the deck, not to mention the bottomless tea and coffee accompanied with freshly baked biscuits. And the man can BAKE!!!
We honestly had the most incredible time on board Shayamanzi I and experienced a beautiful part of our country like no other! We didn’t ever feel confined by the ‘small space’, we didn’t get board, we were well looked after, well fed, made some new friends and enjoyed good old-fashioned board games with them within the common areas.
A question I know I will be asked a lot is how I felt cruising on a moving houseboat with a five-year-old and if I’d recommend it – Maddie absolutely loved the experience and I think she was old enough to understand the ‘danger’ of falling off the boat and she knew not to go to the back of the boat (the only place where she could fall off) without an adult and honestly the group of people we were with were incredible – we always knew there were eyes on her looking out for her. We didn’t worry at all. I however wouldn’t recommend it for under fours – your kiddies need to understand reasoning before you can relax onboard Shayamanzi!
It will be a holiday we never, ever forget!
Take a look at a few highlights from our time onboard Shayamanzi I:
Thank you for hosting us Shayamanzi!
For more information on Shayamazi I and II visit www.shayamanzi.co.za/