Take a trip to Southbroom, a village tucked between two rivers on KZN’s South Coast that has conservation and recreation as its top priorities.
There she was: regal and imposing, her head tilted skywards with a quiet confidence that left no doubt as to who was the queen. Photographer Jacques Sellschop and I trained our lenses on her: a crowned eagle with her chick.
‘The father is probably off looking for breakfast,’ said Jacques. For the next few moments only the clicking of our shutters interrupted the early morning quiet. And then, the rumble of a passing catering truck. The eagles didn’t flinch. ‘It’s rare to have a breeding pair of crowned eagles living so close to humans,’ said Jacques. The birds have been here for 11 years, nesting in a copse of pine trees on the upmarket San Lameer Golf Estate. The estate, along with Trafalgar marine protected area to the south and Southbroom Village to the north make up the greater Southbroom region. Wedged between the Mpenjati and Mbizane rivers, this dense, green section of KZN is an oddity, for all the right reasons.
I’d been there three days and so far the crowned eagles (one of three breeding pairs in the area) weren’t the only thing that had an aura of rarity. In this pocket of rich flora, commonly referred to as the green lung of the South Coast, preservation is the town’s lingua franca in a coastal conversation otherwise dominated by development and expansion.
Unlike its northern neighbours of Ramsgate and Margate, ecology has always been at the heart of Southbroom’s evolution as a holiday destination. And while it may never match the unfettered wildness of staying in a classic park or reserve, a fecund enclave such as this one, on this particular stretch of coast, might as well be its own island. Its residents, at any rate, ensure that it operates like one – the kind of place with its own, home-made rules.
The first, a 40-kilometre-an-hour traffic sign, wagged its finger at me as soon as I’d peeled off the R61. And as I crept along the thin, winding strips of tar through the trees, I found it to be the perfect speed for some introductory rubbernecking. Southbroom’s main beach caught my eye. I parked, grabbed a towel and headed down to where the Mbizane River joins the sea. There, I found an ash-grey log (no doubt washed down by the river) and rested against it to watch the day’s beach action unfold. A young boy, perhaps 13, stood in front of me and waited for the next wave to ebb. Then he sprinted across the beach, tossed a skim board out in front of him and leapt onto it to surf the oncoming break. Behind him, the coastline stretched out to the horizon and curved off to the right.
Stretching south towards Trafalgar, the coastline is clean, peppered with rock pools, viewpoints, benches and an open preserve of coastal forest that’s home to blue duiker, bushbuck, dassies, thrushes, warblers and butterflies. Behind that, the 18 holes of Southbroom golf course curve between the town’s prime real estate and along the edge of the sea. About half of Southbroom’s properties belong to permanent residents, the others are a mix of holiday homes and leisure accommodation, and all are mindful of the size restrictions (no more than two storeys) that come with owning a slice of this natural paradise. Well, all but one. Some time ago an obnoxious millionaire built an even more obnoxious peach mansion on the golf course and decided that three storeys was more fitting to his out-of-town ego. Well, so went the gossip in the clubhouse anyway.
I was at the Southbroom Golf Club, taking in the day’s tournament with a meal of steak, egg and chips and making use of the steady stream of hungry, nine-holes-down golfers to get to know some of the locals. ‘In the end,’ said one, ‘he woke up to a bit of graffiti on his outside wall that read, “F*ck off back home!” ’ Of course, nobody knows who did it, but I imagine it happened in the dead of night – a daring feat involving a balaclava, a golf cart and probably some heart medication. You see, people here are serious about the rules.
They’ve been made for a reason and each person in the small community does their bit to ensure that paradise isn’t, well, lost. For example, residents have long since rejected frugal government funding for law enforcement and opted to pay the town’s police force from their own coffers. Crime, according to clubhouse consensus, was at an all-time low. Some things that were coming in a little higher that day were the players’ scorecards.
But it had no bearing on the mood. Despite being called a ‘tournament’, it was a day of leisure. And in a place of unrushed natural beauty, maintained by a community of its custodians, taking it easy is a way of life. On the course, birdies and pars are few and bogeys are par for the course. As for eagles? Well, like I said, they’re the rarest of the lot.
Getting to Southbroom
From Port Shepstone, take the R61 South Coast Road towards Port Edward. Southbroom is on the left about 12 kilometres after Ramsgate, 90 minutes from Durban.
Where to stay in Southbroom
1. Renting a house
Most people who holiday in Southbroom rent a house. Bear in mind that it’s sought-after real estate, so expect high prices during peak season. That said, there are often eight- to 10-sleeper houses available and getting friends and family together makes it reasonable. Southbroom Elite is a good real estate agency to start with.
Contact: Tel 039 316 6547, southbroomelite.co.za
2. Fig Tree Loft
Clean and friendly, Fig Tree Loft is perfect for families. It sleeps up to six and is a short walk from the main beach. Choose between self-catering and B&B and be sure to chat to the owner, Barbara Reynolds she has an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the area and its history. B&B from R550 a person sharing.
Contact: Tel 082 421 1172, figtreelodge.co.za.
Where to eat in Southbroom
1. The Earth Shed
Despite being newly built, The Earth Shed across the R61 from the village comes standard with country charm. Try an open sandwich upstairs in the restaurant or simply browse the farm-style foods and rustic art deco trinkets in the farm stall.
2. Trattoria La Terrazza
Near the entrance to Umkobi Beach is Trattoria La Terrazza, an Italian culinary experience that wowed me with its menu as much as it did with its setting. Spend an afternoon on the outdoor terrace overlooking the river. Call to confirm opening times, which are seasonal.
Contact: Tel 039 316 6162, www.trattoria.co.za
Things to do in Southbroom
Golf may be a ‘good walk spoiled’ but roaming the 18 holes at Southbroom Golf Club is bliss no matter how terrible you are at the sport. It’s a holiday course so non-members can play, but book well in advance during peak season. Take a camera, the view from the fourth hole is spectacular. A round of 18 holes costs R245.
Contact: Tel 039 316 6051, www.southbroomgolfclub.co.za.
2. Go for a wander
Take a walk – you’ll find the entrance to Frederika Nature Preserve at the end of Woodlands Road (which runs parallel to the shore if you head south from the main beach). The Bushbuck Trail starts at the Southbroom Tennis Club in Eyles Park, just off Captain Smith’s Drive.
This article first appeared in the September 2014 issue of Getaway Magazine. Please note that all prices were accurate when this post was first published, but are subject to change at the owners’ discretion.
Follow us on social media for more travel news, inspiration, and guides. You can also tag us to be featured.