Rocktail Beach Camp

Posted by Sarah Keevy on 21 February 2012

Barefoot luxury is easy to find in the far north of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park at Rocktail Beach Camp. Wilderness Safaris established the beach camp as an outpost of the Rocktail Bay Lodge, which is now closed for refurbishment, and it’s a haven for relaxation among the natural beauty of the Maputaland Coastal Forest.

From start to unwilling end, my visit to Rocktail Beach Camp was characterised by smiling guides, exotic bird calls and the colours of floating butterflies. On arrival, we were told about all the activities available to guests – snorkelling at Lala Nek, a game drive to Lake Sibaya, scuba diving, hiking, quad biking, cultural visits to the local community and, the most famous, turtle drives.

The 40-kilometre stretch of beach near Rocktail is the site of a very special natural phenomenon – loggerhead and leatherback turtles haul themselves up the beach every year between October and March to lay their eggs. It is one of the most exceptional experiences to watch a turtle mother, in her trance, lay 150 eggs of which only a few will survive to hatch, or so I’m told. We were too late in the season to have guaranteed sightings on our evening drive. While we did see massive tracks confirming the giantess turtles heaving themselves up the beach, we had missed the actual event. We even came across tiny tracks in the damp sand that our hawk-eyed guide, Gugulethu (Gugu) Mathenjwa, spotted in the headlights, evidence that at least a few baby turtles had made it to the ocean that night.

Wilderness Safaris has been involved in the conservation of the turtles of the area through a project with government and the local community. They sponsor turtle scouts, vehicles and the income from turtle drives is fed back into the project.

Despite my disappointment about not seeing any turtles, the rest of my stay at Rocktail Beach Camp was first class. My first snorkelling experience was very special. At Lala Nek, the early morning snorkelling right off the beach was wonderful. I must admit, I wasn’t confident that we’d see much in the knee-deep water, but I was ecstatic to see so many darts of colour, including my first real-life clown fish. Round off snorkelling with a beach picnic breakfast, complete with croissants, fresh fruit and hot coffee and you’ll realise that Rocktail’s sense of luxury is spot on.

The camp has 17 permanent tented double rooms – each one set in the trees and far enough away from the others to ensure privacy. The airy rooms have en suite bathrooms (with reminders to be conscious of your water usage) and big, soft beds beneath a gently whirring ceiling fan – a blessing in the heat and to keep the mosquitoes at bay. Everything about camp life is understated yet lavish in its own way, from the simple but tasty lunch menu and dinner buffets to the relaxed pool area.

Of course, you don’t really need the pool when the warm ocean is just a 10-minute walk away. The beach is virtually deserted and you’ll feel like you have it all to yourself to when you sit under the rustic wooden umbrellas or play in the waves. Of course, as a Capetonian, the warm water was a real treat and staying in the water for more than a millisecond without losing feeling in my toes pleased me no end.

Yet another thing that Wilderness Safaris has got right is their staffing. All the people I met on the trip, from the wait and cleaning staff to the camp managers, were friendly and willing to help with anything. Our guide to Lala Nek and, later, Lake Sibaya was Mbongeni Myeni, or MB as he tells the overseas guests. Having started working in the area for the then Natal Parks board in 1982, Mbongeni is somewhat an expert on the area. His knowledge of the birds, ecosystem and conservation projects really added to every activity we did. A definite highlight was when he stopped on the drive to Lake Sibaya to pick sand apples for us to taste. What a flavour sensation – they’re like little soft mangoes, but have big pips that are really difficult to separate from the flesh, making them the ultimate stuck-in-your-teeth snack.

On the last morning of our stay I insisted on one last swim in the ocean before a decadent buffet breakfast on the camp deck. On the bumpy drive back to our car I decided I would have to return – not only to see the turtles, but also because I could definitely get used to the Rocktail way of life.

 

For more information on Rocktail Beach Camp and other Wilderness Safari lodges in South Africa and beyond our borders, visit www.wilderness-safaris.com, or go ahead and book your stay at Rocktail Beach Camp with Getaway Accommodation.






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