North of Durban, past the high-rises, there are still classic beach houses to be found. Embrace the endless summer of this slice of the KwaZulu-Natal coast in the privacy of your own ‘home’.
How it works?
TripAdvisor lists accommodation rated by guests, but as much as we love peer reviews, they don’t offer a comparative voice so how do we know Number 1 is really the best? Pippa de Bruyn, who has reviewed accommodation for 18 years for the likes of Frommer’s and The Telegraph, scours TripAdvisor and other online sites when researching a destination. For the Dolphin Coast, she created a long list of 30 to inspect. The following made the cut.
What we found about accommodation in this area:
• Officially the Dolphin Coast lies between the Tongaat River and the Tugela River, but I focused on the 30-kilometre stretch between Umdloti and Salt Rock. I specifically went looking for a cottage or house with a garden, right on or walking distance to the beach. I found the best pickings at the southern end of Umdloti (south of the roundabout as you enter this still surprisingly small hamlet) and in Shaka’s Rock/Salt Rock.
• A number of houses ticked the ‘location’ box but were tatty and run down. Online photos are often out of date; it may be worth asking the owner what maintenance they undertook in the last year. A house next to the sea needs constant TLC.
• Trawling online for self-catering options is more challenging than looking for hotels and B&Bs, so beachhouseletting.com was a useful find. Otherwise, I sifted through the usual accommodation websites.
• Ballito, also on this stretch of coastline, is pretty built-up, with mostly townhouses and apartments to rent. Chas Everitt (lighthouse.co.za) has a large selection, of which I liked La Ballito 506, La Mer 8, Villa Med 2 and Villa Royale 2. Ballito is cheaper than Umhlanga, but if a holiday apartment appeals more than a house I’d still pay up for Umhlanga, where the infrastructure is more impressive.
Best value right on the beach
1. Netherley House
Unlisted on TripAdvisor, Salt Rock
The Steenbergs’ much-loved holiday home is by far the best rental option in Hotel Road, with an enviable position right on Salt Rock’s main swimming beach (the beacons demarcating the bathing area are sometimes right in front of the house). The long shaded verandah – comfortably furnished – overlooks a strip of lawn and timber stairs leading directly to the beach; the ocean is literally just a few strides away, and nostalgia- inducing Salt Rock Hotel a few minutes’ stroll. There are four en-suite bedrooms; two of them sleep three people each in a double and single bed. One bedroom is adjacent to the living area while the other three are in the L-shaped wing behind this; all have their own entrance. Time here is spent on the verandah or in the large open-plan living area centred on a great fireplace and huge circular mirror. Pets are considered on request. There is, incidentally, a beauty salon on the property right by the entrance, perfect for a little extra pampering.
Cost: From R5000 a night (sleeps 10), minimum two-night stay. Includes a housekeeper.
2. The Beach House
Unlisted on TripAdvisor, Salt Rock
There are at least three options in this area named, somewhat unimaginatively, ‘Beach House’ but this one is by far my favourite: an unpretentious, dinky cottage that has retained all the character and scale of its origins (it was one of the first built here, when there were only fishing cottages on this coast). It has been minimally renovated, with no alterations to the original structure, and furnished simply but tastefully. The former owner used it for the occasional photo shoot, and her decor flair has made this the best-dressed three-bedroom, two-bathroom option on the North Coast. The cottage is on a terraced plot on a steepish incline and is surrounded by a small, lush, well-tended garden – there’s a patch of flat lawn at the top and a small deck area affording great sea views. Willard Beach, one of Ballito’s best for swimming, is just 200 metres away. Walking back to my car, I stopped to watch a few surfers bobbing in a large swell and felt an enormous yearning to turn back and book it for a whole month.
Cost: The cottage has just been sold, so the rate is TBC – when I visited it was R1800 (sleeps six).
The absolute bargain
3. Tiffany’s Beach Cottage
Unlisted on TripAdvisor, Salt Rock
This little gem in sought-after Hewitt Drive offers an amazingly low rate given its proximity to the sea. Accommodation is basic but comfortable, combining the best aspects of outdoor living with the comforts of sleeping indoors: it’s a low-slung bungalow divided into three spaces – a kitchen (with a door to the back garden and extra loo) and two neat en-suite bedrooms; each room is entered off the long shaded verandah that is your communal living room and overlooks a large level garden with views of the ocean horizon. It’s just a block back (30 metres) from Tiffany’s, a great beach for swimming and surfing, and 500 metres from Salt Rock’s tidal pool. The house belongs to Cape-based Pierre Marais but is managed by his mother, Heleen, who lives nearby and is one of those wonderful natural-born hostesses who keeps the house ship-shape, the kitchen stocked with essentials (including fresh coffee beans, local curry powders, rusks) and generally ensures that every holiday here is a happy one.
Cost: R650 for two, R325 per person extra (sleeps four). Minimum two-night stay.
Contact: 0828701988, wheretostay.co.za
￼Best for a large group
Unlisted on TripAdvisor, Umdloti
This newly renovated house, located in the unspoilt residential part of Umdloti, is tucked away at the top of a panhandle off South Beach Road, the little lane that hugs the beach. It’s an elevated plot with a view from the covered verandah and smallish front garden of the sea horizon, but this choice is not so much about views as beach proximity (just across the road), easy-on-the-eye decor, a modern kitchen and bathrooms, and the fact that it has loads of space. The main house has five bedrooms and interleads to a duplex apartment with two bedrooms (both with sea views); this apartment can be rented separately or together with the main house. Aside from comfortably sleeping 14 in seven rooms, all en-suite so there’s no queueing to shower, most bedrooms are large enough to put in extra mattresses for kids, and the living spaces are generous enough to absorb a large party of friends or extended family. Very good value, too.
Cost: House from R3500 a night (sleeps 10 plus kids). Duplex from R1100 a night (sleeps four). The whole place from R4600.
Contact: 0827755228, wheretostay.co.za
￼Best value off the beach
5. Hilton House
Unlisted on TripAdvisor, Umdloti
Another great find in the undeveloped southern side of Umdloti, this cute cottage-style house is deceptively large, comprising five bedrooms and three bathrooms. Owner Roy Hilton has a great eye; the whole place reflects his cool, eclectic streak. He and partner Jo Perling live nearby and maintain it beautifully. They’ve also invested where it counts – according to online reviews, the quality of the mattresses is worth mentioning. Set a block back from Selection Beach (about three minutes’ walk down the hill), the front of the house has sea horizon views, especially from the big wooden deck, and there is a small kidney-shaped pool in the well-tended subtropical garden. There’s also a table-tennis room/bar, and a lime-green piano makes a great statement in the living room. It’s excellent value for money, and pets are welcome too.
Cost: From R2500 a night (sleeps 10). Minimum stay of two nights.
Contact: 0845681705, booking.com
Best garden apartments
6. Spindrift Guest House
TripAdvisor No. 1 Of 7 Speciality lodgings, Umdloti
On the edge of Umdloti, in a subtropical garden surrounded by indigenous forest filled with birds and monkeys, Judy Bean’s three compact self-catering units are not freestanding but peaceful enough to include. Sleeping between two and five, she charges according to the number of people staying, making it a good choice for solo travellers, couples or a small family. Of the three, Rainbird, located above her home, is the most charming, comprising two bedrooms, a dining- lounge-kitchen area and a small patio with wonderful sea views, and well furnished with pieces Judy has picked up in second-hand and antique shops. Kingfisher (a duplex in the garden with two bedrooms and an upstairs lounge with sea view) and Lourie (one bedroom with an open-plan lounge-kitchen) are adjacent to each other, making them a good combo if you need three bedrooms. Judy is one of those wonderful hostesses with an eye for detail and the sincerest of welcomes. She’ll provide breakfast for R70 per person.
Cost: Rainbird and Kingfisher from R960 for two (both sleep five). Loerie from R730 for two (sleeps three). Half price for children under 11. Daily housekeeping included.
Most luxurious stay
7. The Beach House Lodge
TripAdvisor listed but unrated, Salt Rock
This private-use house – a contemporary urban box virtually cantilevered over the beach – is hands down the most glamorous, luxurious option on this stretch of coast. Neighbouring Canelands Beach Club & Spa, it offers easy access to hotel facilities but you enjoy total privacy (and better decor). Designed by the same architect, it feels a lot like a luxury boutique hotel, with an airy, elegant living space that opens seamlessly onto a timber deck and pool, and enormous picture-perfect views of the beach and rolling breakers. Fittings and finishes are top notch; furniture choices cool minimalist. Every bedroom has a sea view and TV, so it’s easy to divvy between friends (there are four en-suite; a fifth is being added soon). The Salt Rock Hotel lies a few metres south and there are a few more restaurant choices up Shrimp Lane. You’re steps away from the beach; the main swimming area is 200 metres away. It’s not cheap but given the level of luxury and position, really rather good value.
Cost: From R6200 a night (sleeps eight). Minimum stay four nights, housekeeping included.
Worth a look
8. Greenfire Dolphin Coast Lodge
This is the best-value B&B on this stretch of coast. Clean, functional, funky decor, gorgeous sea views and a great management couple make Greenfire feel more like staying in someone’s home than a guesthouse. It’s on the ‘wrong’ side of Umdloti, but once you’ve driven north past all the concrete monstrosities, the road peters out into subtropical jungle – Greenfire is almost at the end of this lush cul-de-sac.
Room tip: Room 9 has the best view.
Contact: R1500 double B&B.
9. Salt Rock Hotel
This place pushes all the nostalgia buttons – it was one of the first resorts built on this coast, and much of it remains architecturally untouched. If you like old-fashioned family hotels, this is for you; it has a pool, spa, ladies bar and beach bar. Book one of the standard duplex family rooms (which sleep up to five) on the sixth floor of the original hotel, or rooms 614 to 617 if you are only two people. All rooms have sea views.
Cost: From R900 per person sharing B&B (R1030 with buffet dinner); children pay less.
10. Canelands Beach Club & Spa
The boutique hotel right next door to glam Beach House Lodge (see left) might not be quite as classy in terms of decor, but it still offers the most amazing location – and arguably the best lap pool on KZN’s North Coast. It’s as intimate as a house, with just 10 en-suite bedrooms but only four (the Superior and Deluxe category) have sea views.
Cost: From R3220 double B&B, sea-facing room from R4485 double B&B.
Don’t miss this:
• A snorkelling safari with Tidal Tao (from R280 per person). tidaltao.com
• Sundowners with millions of barn swallows (November to April) at Mount Moreland, just inland from Umdloti. barnswallow.co.za
• Spotting dolphins, rays and whales (best in September and October) from the air. R450 for 15 minutes in a microlight. comefly.co.za
• The only ‘parazip’ line in SA (R399 per person) – like parasailing, but not… clubventure.co.za
• There are enough restaurants here to eat Italian all week, including long-timers Casa Nostra, Bel Punto, Al Pescatore and Gianni’s.
• The new Sunday picnic concert series at Sugar Rush Park. ballitobeats.co.za
Find more breathtaking beach cottages in the September Getaway issue.
Our September issue features 11 amazing beach cottages, two ways to see the Klein Karoo, a windswept 4X4 drive in Namibia, our guide to swimming in Greece and much more!