The spectacular Ammazulu African Palace in Kloof is full of historical treasures and celebrates the cultural heritage of KZN, writes Katrine Anker-Nilssen
Around 50 years ago Peter Amm was on his first job as an architect in Kloof when he discovered a beautiful vacant plot next door – right on the edge of the gorge. Peter saw a golden opportunity and decided to buy the plot, planting the edges with trees and promising himself he would return to make the most of it one day.
Forty years later, after living in Cape Town for some time, Peter returned to Durban and reconnected with Kevin MacGarry – whom he had met at University of Natal’s School of Architecture in 1968. And that’s when the idea of Ammazulu African Palace started to form.
“Peter’s energy, passion and grasp of the wholeness of our three-dimensional world is the reason there is a palace to talk about,” says Kevin. “He defines a world in which less is definitely not better than more. His appreciation of the luxuriousness of the plant world spreads to be surrounded by the richness of hand-crafted beauty – the items of everyday use and adornment that are governed, in his case, by ‘new is not necessarily better than old’.” With a laugh, Kevin adds that Peter was born with compulsive collector’s syndrome.
In the garden, in Peter’s Kloof home Merrywinkle – previously a cattle farm – there was a cow shed with a collection of Zulu arts and crafts; fragile, damp and forgotten. And the garden itself was full of teak windows and doors, choked by tropical plants. “I realised I needed to incorporate these treasures into a building,” explains Peter. “The treasures had to be the building, not in boxes inside the building itself.”
Peter considered a cultural museum, but this idea was rejected by the council – deeming it inappropriate in a residential area. So he decided to turn his treasures into a boutique hotel – supporting beautiful artefacts, earning running costs and satisfying council regulations all at once.
“Among Peter’s scattered variety of possessions were the title deeds of that property he found and fell in love with all those years ago,” says Kevin. And now the ball started rolling. For three and a half years Peter and his partner, Leon Mostert, sat to lunch with Kevin to search for the heart of the scheme. Then time was spent weaving new windows, doors, timber shutters, marble paving and other things that Peter had found in his garden, into the building fabric. Ammazulu African Palace was complete and opened its doors to the public in 2011.
Walking into Ammazulu you find yourself catching your breath at the sheer scale and magnificence of the space and building. You may feel a little overwhelmed at first and unsure of where to look, as there is so much to take in. But once you have explored, one part at a time, you are certain to be left in awe.
Traditional artefacts, beadwork, sculptures and much more adorn walls, floors and ceilings.
Twenty columns, arrayed on a gentle curve – wrapped by Jane Durand in traditional beadwork panels fixed next to the sparkle of chipped china, topped with traditional spears, wooden spoons and milk pails – stand 5-6 metres tall, assembled in twos with a sense of twinning.
Ten guest rooms, kitted out in beautiful things from India and Bali and supported by kitchen and health amenities, are on the top floor – which can be reached by a spiralling down cast-iron stair rescued from Greenacres. There’s also a private dining room and a peaceful reading area upstairs, along with a veranda boasting breathtaking views of the gorge.
Downstairs you’ll find reception, a curio shop, the African Art Peeping Museum, a sauna and a steam room. There’s also a large dining space with eye-catching snake-shaped tables by wood-artist Russell Walford – which along with a kitchen close by is perfect for functions and conferences.
All this is protected by the dragon’s multi-coloured roof, whose spine is split to provide beautiful, natural light. There’s also an inviting splash pool outside, and direct access to trails in the Krantzkloof Gorge.
So what’s next for Peter, you may wonder? “We are working on a sculpture garden, hopefully to be opened soon, in my home garden at Merrywinkle,” he says with a twinkle in his eye. If Ammazulu is anything to go by, I expect this project will be just as magical. Watch this space!