It is not often that a destination exceeds expectation. What a pleasure when it does, and Three Tree Hill Lodge is just such a place.
Started in 1999 by Andrew Ardington and David Rattray, it was sold in 2007 to Simon and Cheryl Blackburn, professional safari guides at Singita and Shamwari game reserves.
After a year travelling Botswana in their old Land Rover, they visited Simon’s brother, who owns a property on the Spioenkop Dam. He dropped temptation in their laps, but it wasn’t until Simon had listened to Rattray’s recounting of the battles of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift that he fell in love with the narrative and the humanity of history. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Nestled below famous Spioenkop with the spectacular Drakensberg to the west, Three Trees is a cluster of wood and iron chalets reminiscent of the houses of the 1900s. Painted dark green, they melt into the surrounding acacias and aloes, giving the sense of glorious isolation.
Inside, each chalet is wood panelled with polished cement floors, sash windows, ceiling fans and veranda completing the historical feeling. It follows its theme from the chalets to the main building with its huge lounge and dining room, and deep wrap-around veranda. The furnishing is an eclectic collection of solid, comfortable and tasteful pieces.
The pictures on the walls are taken from newspapers of the period, and advertisements extol the benefits of eating Bovril – “the food of men on the front”, Keane’s mustard, and adding Scrubbs cloudy ammonia to your bath. It’s quirky and fun. Even the placemats on the dinner table recall political cartoons of the time.
Meals are taken around the long, scrubbed wooden tables, encouraging conversation among visitors. Ours ranged enthusiastically from the UK “in/out” referendum to the influx of immigrants to Europe, and the political scene in South Africa. But nothing overshadowed the excellence of the meals accompanied by a quality wine list.
These are all prepared by three local ladies trained by a former Singita chef. Much of what ends up on the table is grown at the lodge or produced locally. It is all part of a philosophy that has earned Three Trees the significant recognition of being the first KwaZulu-Natal holiday destination to be awarded Fair Trade status.
The Blackburns carry Fair Trade practice through to every aspect of Three Trees, from the revolutionary solar stove in the kitchen to the handmade toiletries in the bathrooms; from staff employment to involvement in community projects.
Against this superb background the question will undoubtedly be asked: “What is there to do?”
Perhaps a little surprisingly, Three Trees is not all about bloody battles, regiments and statistics – though Simon’s intricate, well told tale and tour of the concomitant events and bloody battle that took place there between the British and Boers on January 23, 1900 draws simultaneous applause and tears and is highly recommended.
Three Tree Hill is centrally situated for a host of activities the non-history buff would hope for: access to Spioenkop reserve and daily guided game walks; hot air ballooning; birding (more than 200 species recorded); hiking; mountain biking; horse riding for novices and experienced riders; a swimming pool; helicopter flips; a canopy tour; raptor centre and the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir School.
Clarens and Golden Gate are just an hour-and-a-half’s drive away, and Champagne, Cathedral Peak and Royal Natal 45 minutes.
Three Trees is as much a family destination as an adult retreat.
One overseas couple had booked in for seven days and took day trips to special sites. “What a pleasure to see so much without having to pack and unpack every couple of days.”
It’s all there to do and enjoy, but with the overarching bonus of peace and tranquillity as constant companions, broken only by jackal calls and the laughter of children playing with sticks, their bikes and toys untouched.
The final word. Book in for at least three nights.