25 July 2013 by Kate Turkington

Houseboat on Jozini Dam

I’m sitting on the deck of Shayamanzi 2, one of only two houseboats that cruise on Jozini Dam in northern KwaZulu-Natal.

Shayamanzi 2

Swaziland is just around the corner beyond the dam wall, and if you go 100km or so south you’ll hit the Indian Ocean. I’m surrounded by mountains, bushveld and, of course, water.

Night is beginning to creep in. The evening star has risen, a huge red moon is rising, and there’s a backing chorus of frogs so loud that even a couple of hippo snorts are lost among the raucous noise.

Plenty of room to relax

This is the only place in South Africa where you catch one of the world’s most prized freshwater fighting fish – the sharp-fanged, wily tiger fish.

Shayamanzi 2 has just six cabins, with tiny en-suite bathrooms and floor-to-ceiling windows, where you can lie on your big king-sized bed and watch the vast expanse of water and its banks drift by – there are water lilies, hippos, water birds of every description (look, there’s a Goliath heron!), elephants drinking, crocodiles basking, impala, nyala and waterbuck grazing and nibbling, and even a rhino occasionally.

You can choose a sunset cruise, a day cruise, a two-night cruise, or book the whole boat out for that special function or intimate family affair.

You can choose a sunset cruise, a day cruise, a two-night cruise, or book the whole boat out for that special function or intimate family affair.

Jozini Dam is lined by part of the Pongola Game Reserve, first proclaimed by president Paul Kruger in 1894. The reserve is home to four of the Big Five (no lions, so we moor close to the bank at night), and 350 species of birds.

I’ve come to tiger fish – even though it’s off season – and hey, a weekend relaxing on a houseboat is more than enough incentive.

Late afternoon my son, Simon, and I push off in one of two small motor boats, aptly named Croc and Hippo, find a promising spot, attach our technicoloured lures, and cast a few times. No luck, so Thefiso, our young Zulu boatman, suggests we trawl, and starts the engine up. I get a bite! Alas, it’s a large clump of bright green weed. But Simon definitely gets a bite. He quickly reels in to find that those sharp tiger teeth have bitten the lure completely off the line.

Hoping for a bite. Photo by Larry Bentley

Back to Shayamanzi to commiserate over a G&T and a cold beer.

Mike, the old Malawian chef, who bakes fresh bread and muffins every morning, further consoles us with a slap-up dinner of roast lamb, roast chicken, roast potatoes, and lots of other tasty, comfort food.

High season for the fighting fish is September to April, so as the Milky Way streaks across the black velvet night sky and a solitary baboon barks, after a quick dip in the warm open-air jacuzzi, over another G&T or two, and the skipper’s tales of the ones that didn’t get away, we plan to return later in the year.

A huge stuffed tiger fish over the tiny bar eyes us somewhat malevolently …

End of a perfect day

Category: Adventure, Sport, Wildlife

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