Lake Jozini spreads its vast watery fingers across the bushveld of Maputoland in northern kwaZulu-Natal. Winding down from the Lebombo Mountains above, the view reminded me of the network of snaking backwaters in southern India, dotted with houseboats drifting lazily across its murky waters and fringed by an unruly matt of undergrowth.
I spent a night at Jozini Tiger Lodge, where thatched rooms are strung out along the foot of the Lebombo range. The view from each room is one that will have you on your knees. Hillocks covered in thickets of acacia trees and surrounded by a muggy haze, look like floating islands above a maze of shimmering waterways. It’s like a vision from avatar, but here the nature is so awe inspiring you need to pinch yourself to be reminded it’s real.
The big draw card for Lake Jozini is in its resident tiger fish, making it a haven for anglers and a mini Kariba for South Africa. If like me you’re not so big on fishing, then the best way to soak up the surroundings is by boat. I went for a sunset cruise downstream to where the river splinters off into Swaziland, a distant fleck of land on the horizon. If you’re lucky you might spot some game along the banks of the bordering Pongola nature reserve. We met with some shy Nyala who pricked their way down through the bush to delicately drink at the waters edge. According to the ranger from our lodge, the lake is also a watering hole for hippo, buffalo, elephant and crocodile.
As we wafted back towards the lodge, the sun streaked its last languid rays across the gorge. Everything was so calm until a flock of hungry birds began swooping and diving at some unassuming fish below. Apparently fish aren’t the only things lurking beneath, locals talk of the Nyoka Yamanzi (big water snake) and they say it kills people by sucking out their sculls. No one I met had witnessed this elusive reptile and despite my insistent questioning I was met with only smiles and heresy.