Lake Eland: Unique picnic site in the ‘belly of the earth’

You would have to drive down a steep and twisty mountainous road to reach this picnic/braai site – but you will surely be rewarded with the tranquil beauty of this place, writes Journalist Ismail Suder.

Ask anyone today what they would like most after the series of covid lockdowns and they’d answer ‘The freedom to be in nature again…’

With warmer summer climate on the horizon, what better way to treat yourself than to be in the embrace of Allah’s bounty – and to take in the smell of fresh earth after the rain, the woody scented air in our parks and gardens and the salty spray of the sea is a wondrous gift in itself.

With lockdowns thankfully eased and the covid infection rate slowed, I headed solo in my iconic Suzuki Jimny 4×4 to Lake Eland Game Reserve which forms part of the magnificent Oribi Gorge on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast.

The undulating hills of Lake Eland Game Reserve offers one of the most stunning picnic sites I have experienced. But to get to this lush paradise with a gurgling stream, you would first have to travel down a steep and twisty gravel track that descends hundreds of metres into the belly of the earth – and voila, this pristine piece of paradise will welcome you with the singing of birds.

But go early, because the slow descent down the red gravel tracks could take you at least an hour if you stop now and again to admire the rust-coloured craggy hills and the thick vegetation than clings to it like an endless green carpet. For me though, slowly making my way down the hill in my lil’ Jimny monster (I call it the ‘Black Stallion’) was half the fun. No, you don’t really need a 4×4 to reach this kaleidoscope of beauty – in my opinion, any 2 wheeled-drive SUV would do.

But wait, there’s more! Along the way, you would see a variety of buck, like Eland, which the reserve is famous for. And oh, there’s zebra everywhere. In fact, on one occasion, I spotted a zebra standing idly in the middle of the road, and I had to wait a full five minutes before it made up its mind to leave – and allowed me pass.

And there’s giraffe aplenty in the reserve. In fact, while enjoying a lovely breakfast of scrambled eggs (you know the one with onions and sliced green chillies) in the balcony of my log cabin, I spotted a giraffe on the hill feeding from the top of a tree. It would chomp on large leaves, and every now and again, stare right back at me. It is moments like this that makes one realize how much we missed the freedoms that we took for granted in the past when covid changed the world and our way of life.

As I relished my breakfast, washed down with good roasted coffee, I looked around in the stillness of the morning, to appreciate the magnanimous bounty that Allah Ta’Alla has provided us.

Now back to the picnic and braai site. I was the only person there (except for an armed guard) that came to check on me from a distance. The sun was setting as I started my solo braai over a crackling fire. After I had polished the few pieces of the masala chops, I realized it was time to leave when hundreds of birds on the surrounding treetops broke into song, announcing the end of another day in this piece of paradise.

*For more of my exciting adventures in my Suzuki Jimny, check out my Instagram posts – and follow the channel @jimny_go_afrika

*Lake Eland and the Oribi Gorge adventure sites are about 25minutes inland from Port Shepstone. Day trips are welcomed, although you would have to pay an admission fee.

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