February 2009: Fordoun in KwaZulu Natal, S Africa


Fordoun spa

Spafari. It was inevitable that somebody would come up with a word for it, the so-called combined Spa and Safari holiday experience.

It sounds incongruous. The backside of a buffalo through a long lens and a massage at the end of the day. But hey, this is the 21st century.

South Africa, predictably, is leading the way with the spafari market, with luxury lodges offering treatments in the country’s numerous national parks and private game reserves.

But away from the frontline of Kruger and Hluhluwe Imfolozi something deeper is rumbling away, in the background, like those drums in the Brian Friel play. African healing, a spiritual experience as old as you will find, was somehow missed by the first wave of tourism as it rushed to snatch its photographs of elephants and zebra.

When Jon Bates decided to turn the family farm at Fordoun in the Kwazulu Natal midlands into a tourist resort, he looked into the spiritual soul of the community around him.

“Lots of other cultures have managed to promote their therapy culture. Africa did not. The healing tradition in Africa is at least as old, if not older than the others but it has been neglected. The problem is that Africa never had someone like a Deepak Chopra to put it in the heart of popular culture.”

At Fordoun he offers a Nduku Nduku Massage using the traditional Zulu Knobkierie sticks, as well as fusion treatments such as Umhlonyane Massage, Swedish massage technique utilising infused oil from the magical Artemesia Afra or Umhlonyane plant, used for centuries for decongestion, colds, bronchial and respiratory ailments and for ramping up the immune system against the invaders of the bushlands.

Africa’s rich healing tradition with an ancient history. More importantly it is as alive today as it was before the colonisers came.

The medicinal healer, the Inyanga, and the Sangoma, spiritual healer, remain central to community life and far outnumber western-style doctors.

They are consulted first, often exclusively, by approximately 80pc of the population. Even in urban Africa the connection is maintained.

The west is beginning to adopt Shamona practices in conventional medicine while continuing to sneer at its inadequacies. Yet it remained unnoticed by the burgeoning spa industry.

Jon Bates and his team at Fordoun changed that. He teamed up with the local Sangoma Elliot Ndlovu to give guests a taste of the healing powers of Africa.

Fifty metres outside the traditional west-style five star spa with its pools and treatment rooms, Elliot has his consulting room in the Place of Ndlovu (KwaNdlovu), alongside two therapy rooms, all built and designed in Zulu style.

One look at the décor and you know this is not going to be an ordinary consultation.


There is much to learn. The real world of African medicine is deeper and richer than our stereotypes would ever allow.

To outsiders, the muti medicine of the Zulus is often thought to be about trees and tossing hyena bones, endless enemas, rain dances and trying to ward off the curse of a rival witch doctor.

You can’t help feeling that this is closer to our common healing culture than we realise. Elliot Ndlovu would feel at home in Sean Boylan’s garden in Fordoun.

Nature heals. His consultation rooms are surrounded by a garden of over 120 varieties of traditional healing plants.

We will bring you through them with pride, a briar here, a green leaf there, that the wise Zulu people understand better than the colonials ever did.

The African Potato, known in Zulu as Inkomfe is more than a decoration. It is a miracle plant which has anti cancer properties as well as building immunity. Artemesia Afra and Leonotis Leonorus and other wonders of African nature abound.


Eliot learned he was a chosen Sangoma when he was a teenager. Being a Sangoma is regarded as a calling, a lot like the Catholic tradition of vocation.

If you take the time, Elliot will tell you the story of his calling in a dream, from his ancestors, how he tried to resist it, the sojourn to a remote area to learn more about himself, an underwater encounter in the river with his ancestors, a premonition of a massacre in the midst of the Inkatha-ANC violence of the 1990s, his training as a twaza before his return to his village to finally answer the calling.

It is like the plot of a Disney movie, maybe because the story of a Sangoma calling is the oldest story ever told and some say the only story that ever needs telling.

His conversation tells of how he can communicate with ancestors, how he can sense the bad aura from some of his visitors (one of them exuded an aura of near-fatality simply because she was a terrible driver) and how he struggles to interpret the vast store of information that Sangoma status grants him.

It is far removed from the hubbub of modern industrial life that characterizes pre World Cup South Africa.

Out here, under a big Wilbur Smith sky and with the tantalizing contours of the Drakensberg Mountains climbing the heights of your imagination, it makes sense.



Zulu culture teaches that ancestors in the afterlife guide and protect the living.

The ancestors, the healer and the guests must all get involved in you therapy, a confluence of a holistic and symbolic form of healing the locals have been using for the million years or so that hominids have roamed these parts.

As Eliot tells it, the simplest aches and pains can be caused by contact with impure objects or occurrences.

That much learned, it is time for the silo. And they weren’t joking. The relaxation dome served as a corn silo in the family farm for decades.

There you can lay back flat on the water and float. Above you the speckles of the stars will shine and the sounds of the celebration of life that spread forth across the planet from these very African planes rings in your ears.

It is quiet and gentle and deliberately entrancing. And away from the noise, Elliot’s stories still warming you ears, you may even hear some ancestors calling.

The great game reserves are a short drive away.

Spa is spa and safari is safari, no matter what they try to do with the words. It helps to have them in close proximity. But the cultural confluence, ancient Africa and the aching west, is a more interesting concept again.


Think it will ever catch on? Me neither.


n Fordoun Spa boasts a team of expert personal trainers, masseurs, nutritionists and beauticians, and features internationally proven healthcare and beauty treatments, including the rasul (a Turkish steam and clay treatment room), a saline floatation pool, heated swimming pool, a gymnasium, sauna, steam room, vichy shower, hydrotherapy room, and a couples’ treatment suite with hydrotherapy bath.

n Fordoun signature range of products, created in conjunction with Dr Elliot Ndlovu, herbalist and ethno botanist, who is also a Sangoma and Inyanga, and a director of Fordoun Spa.

n The Natal Midlands is one of South Africa’s premier fly fishing destinations. At Fordoun there are two dams where guests fish with the advice of fishing guru, John Vynne.


n Ask4Africa offers self drive holidays in KwaZulu Natal which focus on spa and activity stops.  Ask4Africa.ie, 5 Bridgecourt Office Park, Walkinstown Avenue, Dublin 12, Ireland. Phone :+35314081940 Fax :+35314652111 www.ask4africa.ie

n Fordoun Hotel & Spa www.fordoun.com +27 33 266-6217 info@fordoun.com

n South Africa is served by BA, SAA and Bmi through London, Iberia through Madrid, Air France through Paris, KLM through Amsterdam and Lufthansa through Frankfurt and Turkish airlines through Istanbul.

n www.southafrica.net is the official South African Tourism Website

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