The early morning mist swirled around the legendary Ghost Mountain, its silhouette reflected in the still water. Over the years flickering fires and strange lights have been seen, and weird noises had been heard. From early times the bodies of Shangaan Chiefs had been buried there, and still were… ‘It is a great and strange mountain’ wrote Sir Ryder Haggard, ‘it is haunted also and named the Ghost Mountain, and on top of it is a grey peak rudely shaped like the head of an old woman’.

Whether this is fact or fiction, is besides the point. The fact is that at the foot of this mountain in northern KwaZulu-Natal is the enchanting Ghost Mountain Inn. A place where family, history and a love for Africa and its traditions are central to what they do. A place where guests get to experience Zulu culture and traditions first-hand, where the African bush comes to life and where the expanse of Lake Jozini is experienced in a variety of ways.

It was a quick visit, just a couple of nights. We were welcomed like family, shown to our well-appointed suites and then given a walk-about the property. ‘Watch out for the hippos at night’, we were told, they come out of the dam to graze’. There were crocs in the dam too we were told. Ryan, the less ‘wild’ experienced of the three of us considered this with some trepidation.

Any nervousness was soon set aside as the heady aromas of the Terres d’Afrique spa products seduced our senses. My choice was the Tropical Dusk uplifting massage oil with ylang ylang, bourbon geranium, and tropical basil, applied by the expert hands of Buyi, soon the stresses of the past week were worked away. Thoughts of wayward ghosts, rampant hippos and dreaded deadlines were soon a thing of the past. Even the possibility of capturing a stunning sunset couldn’t get me out of there in a hurry – the cool of the afternoon breeze through the indigenous trees and the relaxing sound of birdsong was a balm for the soul.

After a slightly subdued sunset, which perhaps chose not to rain on my euphoric ‘spa parade’, we headed to the outdoor dining area for a delicious traditional braai (barbecue) followed by traditional Zulu dancing.  The young dance troupe were from one of the local communities and Ghost Mountain is a great source of income for them. Plus, the pride they show in their Zulu culture is heart-warming.

Sunrise didn’t disappoint, nor did the buffet breakfast. Soon we were bundled into a game viewing vehicle for a drive to Lake Jozini and a cruise on Ghost Mountain’s own boat, the Shaluza. On route we passed field upon field of sugar cane, some lush and green others burnt to the ground ready for harvesting. Our guide Isaac explained that sugar farming is a vital industry in the area and an employer of many from the local community. We learnt that the men cutting the burnt cane were paid by productivity not by time spent. I felt sad for the guys still grueling away, whilst other relaxed awaiting their transport. – I guess the speed at which one works is a choice.

We watch Bell loaders picking up piles of can with the greatest of ease, and I marvel at the skill of the operators. Further on, alongside a field of green, Isaac cuts a stalk of mature cane for us with his panga (machete) and breaks it against his knee. He shows us how to peel it with our teeth, we chew the rough stalk inside and suck the sweetness from it. Then we spit out the remains… not exceptionally lady-like, but what the heck, when in Africa…

The wind comes up and our cruise is cancelled. But nevertheless, we marvel at the size of the lake, ‘it’s much smaller now’, Isaac tells us, ‘the drought’ he says. We can see the’ high-water’ mark, now well vegetated as the rainfall has been below par for many years. The wind picks up and we watch the waves crash against the side of the boat, ‘I’m glad I’m on terra-firma’, I think.

Back at the Inn we relax under the giant fig tree with cappuccinos. Later that afternoon it’s back in the vehicle with Isaac for a visit to the local community. Ghost Mountain has a good working relationship with their local communities and have committed, through their Ndumu Charitable Foundation to assist local communities to thrive, with a focus on well-educated children, the development of small enterprises and an enhanced awareness of conservation ands sustainable practices. Our visit to the Myeni family, a community located in the Lebombo Mountains gives us great insight into how this operates.

The drive there takes us through these mountains with their magnificent views and enthralling scenery. We drive past homesteads and schools, along dusty roads and past goats and cattle. Soon we’re at the homestead of the Myeni family. Mr Myeni invites us in, we walk past traditional homes, the kids clamour around hoping for sweets and treats – we have been instructed not to give hand-outs as this develops a culture of begging, instead we are to give any gifts to our guide who will see that they are shared at the appropriate moment. But kids been kids, and some foreign visitors seemingly knowing better this doesn’t happen.

I ponder the thoughtlessness and lack of understanding that some foreign visitors bring when they visit Africa… preconceived ideas of poor, struggling children, of desperate need and their ability to fill it. An altruistic need to do ‘something of importance’… great in principle, but far better when done through the right channels, like the Ndumu Charitable Trust in this case, or any number of NGO’s that work with communities in Africa.

Another option for guests is to check out the Pack for a Purpose initiative, of which Ghost Mountain is a member. Guests can check what supplies are needed for the various projects and by packing less make the space for a few kilos of items that will make a huge impact on the lives of local kids and their families.

Our visit to the Myeni family is one of the small enterprises that Ghost Mountain supports. Guests pay for the privilege of visiting their homestead, just as one would pay to visit a site of special interest elsewhere. This isn’t exploitation as the family are reimbursed for their efforts, just as one would be for any business venture. Commerce in Africa, working at its best.

Nguni cattle are silhouetted against the sun-drenched hillsides, hens sit on eggs and goats nibble on whatever they can find. There is a peacefulness in these hills, everyone goes about their business as they need. There is just much to love about Africa!

We drive further through the community and up through the hills. It’s getting chilly and the sun is heading towards the horizon. Isaac stops the vehicle and we follow him up an aloe clad ridge.

The view from the top is astounding! The sun is setting, and it’s casting a golden flow over Lake Jozini… the table comes out, along with a cooler box with the makings of a sundowner… what better way to end the day than with a G&T and a spectacular view.