DURBAN, South Africa - There can't be too many places on earth where you can put together a Zulu-monkey-golf package.
The Prince's Grant Golf and Country Estate happens to be one such place. If you like your Zulu history, monkeys, wild and strange birds and - oh yeah, if you like to play golf in exotic settings - you might want to try this small property far from the well-trod South Africa tourist path, where Zulu warriors once used spears to whip the British army.
Prince's Grant is a small, 15-room lodge in a gated golf community about an hour north of feisty, sin- and surf-loving Durban. It isn't easy to find, but well worth the trouble once you get there.
Located in the KwaZulu Natal region, the lodge resembles one of those old colonial outposts, with verandahs, gin-and-tonic sunsets over the Indian Ocean and large rooms with wide windows that overlook a golf course and the roiling ocean.
When they burn the sugar cane fields in season, it tends to get a little smoky, but otherwise there isn't much to complain about. With dark, hardwood floors, floor-to-ceiling bookcases and large, balconied rooms, it's an easy-going place to sit back and dream of Africa while you're studying your approach shot or eating waffles with ice cream.
"It's not a boutique hotel, just a nice, informal clubhouse geared to golf," said Derek Paxton, the lodge owner.
They're serious about their golf and their relaxing here. No cell phones are allowed on the golf course that dips and dives through the hills and valleys of the North Coast.
Nor are there the distractions of Durban - or the fear of crime for that matter. The golf community in which the lodge sits has an electrified fence surrounding the property and guards patrol 24 hours a day. The lodge itself is small enough to cater to its guests, offering squash, tennis, a swimming pool and spa.
The town of Stanger is the nearest city, and while there are no hotels and a lack of wild night life, there's plenty to keep you occupied while not playing golf, especially if you're looking for a more sedate experience.
For instance, there are a stunning variety of wild African birds. The area has 442 species, including the rare ground-thrush and other exotic species like the Paradise Flycatcher - identified by its black head, blue underbelly and long red tail - African darters, Egyptian geese, southern boubou, mynahs, canaries, cuckoos and parrots.
There are also fish eagles, which are similar to the American eagle, but with black bodies and a striking red stripe. There's also the strange-looking long-crested eagle - picture a cross between an American eagle and a barnyard chicken.
Monkeys roam the grounds like wayward teenagers and swipe food out of your room if the windows aren't kept closed. The lodge has canoes that can be paddled around its lagoon, with a beach fronting the ocean, and a nature walk. There are venomous snakes here, including the puff adder, so watch your step.
Perhaps the most interesting non-golf, side trips are excursions to the Zulu attractions. Zulus, of course, are the tall, proud warriors who gave the British and others fits during a series of wars.
They've since blended in somewhat with modern South Africa, though not without trouble. Nowadays, you can have your house designed by Zulu Zen Interiors. You can also dance with Zulus at a cultural village adjacent to a new casino or see shows that are "dramatic enactments subtly enhanced with themed sound and lighting effects."
There weren't any lighting effects or themed sound when 20,000 Zulu warriors stood before the British chanting "zee, zee, zee," like an ungodly swarm of angry hornets. The area has an official battlefield tour that takes in four wars, 15 towns and more than 50 battlefields, including the Battle of Blood River and the two battles in the Anglo-Zulu wars made famous in the movie Zulu with Michael Caine. There are also battlefields that commemorate Afrikaner campaigns against the British.
Stanger, with a population of more than 36,000, isn't your typical South Africa suburb. It's a rough-and-tumble city that honors South Africa's Zulu heritage, particularly its legendary leader, Shaka.
Shaka made the city his capital in 1825 and his royal residence stands in the center of town, as well as an old mkuhla (mahogany) tree where it's said that he held his councils, possibly putting together his famous flanking maneuver that confounded his enemies.
There is also a large fig tree that marks the spot where his two half-brothers, Dingaan and Umblanga, murdered him and took over the tribe.
May 12, 2005
Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
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