Gooderson Leisure – A South African company for South African people. That’s what their marketing material says. And on a recent visit to the lovely Natal Spa resort by Tattler Editor Marjorie Dean there was an opportunity to see just how the company lives up to its promise.
Natal Spa Hot Springs and Leisure Resort is set in 550 hectares of bushveld scenery alongside the Bivane River. It is about four and a half hours’ easy drive from Gauteng, and is signposted from the R33, about 15 km out of Paulpietersburg. For most of the way it’s a good road, and passes through some lovely Highveld scenery before the land drops down through hills and wooded valleys to the coastal plain. The property is covered in huge granite boulders, and this has contributed in no small measure to some of its rather interesting architectural quirks.
The Spa came into existence in the late 1880s after the discovery on the property of hot springs, which well up from the ground at temperatures between 36 and 45 degrees Celsius. These hot waters are rich in minerals, and have healing properties, so over the years the resort developed from a tiny tearoom on a campsite, where you brought your own tent, to the gracious resort that we can visit today. The hotel is a three-star property, and of a high standard for three-stars, and has 60 rooms. These include double, twin, and interleading family rooms as well as nine luxury king suites.
True to Goodersons’ policy this is a resort that is particularly suitable for the local market – and especially for families. It was taken over by the company in 2006, and since then huge effort has gone into refurbishing and modernising the whole resort, while not losing sight of its original appeal as a place to relax and enjoy in true South African style. For overseas visitors it’s a chance to see South Africa and its people in a new and friendly way enjoying a holiday in their own country.
As well as hotel accommodation, there are 23 self-catering apartments, that sleep four or six, and 12 timeshare units. And for those who like a secure camping experience 32 individual campsites for caravans and tents are now available – and very popular, if the weekend we visited was anything to go by.
The first thing that struck me, while on the terrace enjoying a very late lunch from the Bistro restaurant, open from 10a.m to 10p.m daily, was that this really is a family resort – the place was full of children, and their happy laughter was the background to most of our visit. The staff genuinely enjoy having the youngsters around, and are never too busy to chat to them, and keep an eye on them. Mealtimes were fun, and the good food on offer was plentiful, healthy and child friendly, while dishes for more discerning adults were also available.
The dining room rather took me back to the kind of holidays our family enjoyed in South Africa, especially in KwaZulu-Natal, many years ago. Food is served buffet-style, so you can eat as much (most of us) or as little as you want. It would satisfy even the hungriest teenager! Behind the buffet on a curving wall is a superb huge mural, painted many years ago, and thankfully kept. It shows the scenery around the hotel, together with the trees, plants, birds and animals you are likely to see, if you turn around and look out of the window. For this resort has a truly natural setting – with indigenous plants and trees everywhere among the Big Rocks that give the dining room its name.
Much to our delight, the resident dassies feature prominently, and we spent a lot of time on walks enjoying their antics in and around the boulders where they live.
There are plenty of activities for children of all ages. Newly resurfaced tennis courts, and a bowling green that has been most carefully resown are formal sports; there are trampolines and snooker tables, horse and pony riding and quad bikes. A mountain bike track to challenge riders of all ages is almost complete. And there is a Wellness Centre, with all kinds of gym equipment, as well as a wave pool, plunge pool and two jacuzzis. An animal-petting farm is due to open shortly, and an obstacle course is being constructed to challenge conference delegates looking for a bit of team building.
If you feel a little pampering is in order, the italian-style Cellu Beauty spa offers to-to toe treatments for both singles and couples, as well as a range of exclusive imported beauty products.
And of course there are the thermal pools, reached by a steeply sloping path down to the riverbank. If you’d rather take the adventurous route, there is the longest waterslide in KZN, that whisks you down at high speed into a deep pool where mom or dad is waiting to catch you. (I did notice that some of the younger Moms and Dads had a go at the waterslide themselves, with huge enjoyment! And the dassies playing below were not in the least fazed!)
There’s the shallow Dome Pool, perfect for toddlers, shaded from the heat of the sun by an exotic blue roof, with skylights, and a couple of larger and deeper pools, all with places to swim or seats around the side if you’re not so energetic. The pools are immaculately maintained, sparkling clean and with water that is changed weekly, but coming from the hot springs. Around the pools are well kept braai places under shady trees, very popular with the campers and day visitors. There are also good braai facilties at both self-catering apartments and timeshare apartments.
Natal Spa is on the KwaZulu-Natal Birding Route, and Simon, who is a cleaner at the hotel, is also a qualified, and most knowledgeable bird guide who takes guided bird walks on the property. His knowledge is truly amazing. We joined him on Sunday morning before breakfast (our visit coincided with some very hot weather). Just strolling around the property for an hour we found so many different habitats, home to a huge variety of species, from crowned eagles (who have a nest) to the tiny whiteyes. We later counted 34 species.
Decor throughout the hotel is contemporary, but comfortable. One senses the experienced and tasteful hand of Judith Gooderson at work here. Rooms have been newly repainted and refurbished to a high standard, with some interesting photographs and drawings on the walls. Colours are subdued and warmly earthy tones. Some rooms have elegant verandahs, well shaded and supplied with daybeds and comfortable chairs. Bathrooms are well equipped with new baths and showers, and it is kind of taken for granted that everything works!
Perhaps the greatest asset of Natal Spa is its staff. General Manager Ryan Smith, is passionately committed to creating and offering the best family resort in South Africa, and that passion rubs off on his staff, from F&B manager Jason Smuts through to Shay Peters, Rooms Division Manager, and Themba our attentive waiter, and the lovely young lady who cleaned our room. The people who work here, most of them locals from the surrounding area, are happy, and it shows. They are keen to give the best service, and to show a friendliness not always seen in such a large establishment. They are also extremely well trained, and a credit to Goodersons’ methods. Every staff member we met, passed in the corridors or came across outside in the grounds, greeted us with a smile and a pleasant remark.
Room Banquet U-Shape Classroom Cinema Buffet
Dumbe – 50 70 120 60
Pivaan – 30 45 100 50
Boardroom 10 Boardroom Tables
Indaba Room – 10 15 20 –
Boulders Bar 30 Casual Seating
Lapa Area 30-50 Semi Formal
Natal Spa also has a charming wedding venue, under shady trees, and offers wonderful opportunities for photographs. You are also assured that on any day, yours will be the only wedding at this venue.
To sum up, Natal Spa is a work in progress. A rather tired old lady has been upgraded and uplifted. Huge amounts of work have been done on the resort, in its rooms and on the Gardens and Grounds. There is still more to be completed and the staff are welcoming the forthcoming challenges with enthusiasm. Most of the outstanding work will be completed before the end of 2013.
Natal Spa offers excellent value for money, a warm traditional South African welcome, and excellent service. The varied accommodation meets the needs of all its visitors.
“Good value, good fun”? Most certainly! And a place to create happy memories.
For more information visit: www,goodersonleisure.co.za/natal-spa-resort