KwaZulu-Natal: The coast with the most

Posted by Ashna Brijmohun on 3 December 2021

South Coast refers to so much more than simply a place. Of course, it encompasses the collection of towns that stretch south of Durban through Scottburgh and Pumula down to Port Edward – but “the South Coast” also embodies that nonchalant vibe of summer holidays

By Narina Exelby

Many of Bill’s Best holiday houses are right on the beach – like this, one, bottom left, at Ramsgate.

“South Coast” conjures the sun-kissed lethargy of sunny days and life in board shorts. It invokes memories of lagoons and pedalboats, melting ice-creams and striped beach umbrellas. It’s early mornings when the balmy air is heavy with that thick, syrupy smell of molasses; and it’s where roads are lined with frazzled palm trees and dense clusters of Natal wild bananas. It’s rolling hillsides of sugar cane and beachfronts of casual holiday homes. It’s tranquil tidal pools, tumbling bougainvillea, towering forest mahoganies and granules of sea sand crunching underfoot.

The South Coast is a place where life really is all about the beach… but if you dust the sand off your feet, slip on a pair of flip flops and venture away from the rock pools, you’ll find plenty of other ways to spend your days. Here are a few ideas for your next South Coast holiday.

For Families

Laughs and ice-creams to re-energise at Wild Waves Water Park.

Mac Banana, near Munster
On those days when it’s too windy to be at the beach or you simply need a change of scene, head to Mac Banana, aka heaven for kids. This adventure centre has more than 20 activities, from a zipline and an obstacle course, quad bikes and paint ball to adventure putt-putt, a small farmyard and butterfly dome. Don’t worry about planning anything for lunch or dinner – there are four restaurants here, and an extensive farm stall, too.
Open daily, 8am to 5pm
039 319 1033, macbanana.com

Wild Waves Water Park, near Port Edward
Strictly speaking, the Wild Coast Sun is not on KZN’s South Coast… but as it’s less than a kilometre from the KZN/Eastern Cape border we’ve bent the rules because the resort’s Wild Waves Water Park is so high on the fun-scale, it would be a shame to not tell you about it. There’s a kids’ zone for the littlies, ridiculously steep slides and chutes for the insane and “The Lazy River” for those who prefer to take life a little slower.
Open Wednesdays to Sundays, 10am to 4pm
Adults from R115, children from R60
039 305 2701, suninternational.com/wild-coast-sun

Leisure Bay Firefly Sanctuary
If you’re near Leisure Bay on a warm, dark and windless night, pop down to the main beach parking lot, turn your lights off and put your phone away, then wait for the magic to happen. Thousands of fireflies live in the marshy area between the beach and the road – you’ll see the information boards in daylight hours – and watching them twinkle through the night sky is mesmerising.

Characters Garden Park
Characters is a superb, pet-friendly campsite a short walk from the beach in Pennington. The property is tiered, with lots of vegetation between the levels creating a sense of privacy. There’s a pool and brilliant play area for kids, a volleyball court and sheltered games area (with table tennis and pool table). A short drive from here is Basset Breweries and Doghouse Café (bassetbreweries.co.za) which also has a fantastic play area for kids – and delicious craft beers for grown-ups.
From R190 per adult and R90 per child per night
073 297 5876; charactersgardenpark.co.za

As its name suggests, big trees and bushes are a feature of Characters Garden Park.

Granny’s Pool, Southbroom
Granny’s is a tidal pool that’s particularly convenient for families with young children. From the parking lot a wooden ramp – handy for parents juggling umbrella, snacks, inflatable unicorn, pram and laaitie – leads straight down to the pool. There’s a well-tended “Grannies” and “Grandpas” bathroom, too.

Kingfisher Lakeside Retreat, Trafalgar
One of the most exciting things about going on holiday, kids will tell you, is staying “somewhere different”. The glamping tents at Kingfisher Lakeside Retreat take that thrill to the next level by combining the allure of luxurious canvas-wall living with the novelty of a semi open-air kitchen and bathroom, an under-the-stars shower and a wide deck that overlooks dune forest and little Black Lake. Particularly fun for the kids are the vast lawns, jungle gym and the two small dams. Trafalgar Beach is just a short walk away, over a dune.
From R650 per person per night (children under 12, half price)
074 170 4242, kingfisherlakesideretreat.co.za

Rock Shandy luxury beachfront homes
For families with flare, Rock Shandy offers deluxe self-catering accommodation in Marina Beach, close to Southbroom.

From R2 750 pn for six people in Sea Chimes to R5 950 pn for 12 people in the Beach House.

083 321 3628, rockshandy.co.za

How to see whales, dolphins and sharks

Schools of dolphins and porpoises are a common sight along most of the South Coast.

On land: Of course you could stand anywhere along the coast and look out to sea to spot the bottlenose dolphins and (during winter) humpback whales that frequent this stretch of South Africa’s coastline but there are also viewing decks in Pennington (directly in front of the lovely Beach Cafe @ Impithi – which serves outstanding chicken mayo toasties), Ramsgate, Umdoni Golf Club and Port Shepstone’s Umtentweni Conservancy.

In the water: Blue Wilderness (bluewilderness.co.za) offers the chance to snorkel among black-tip reef sharks at Landers Reef, off the coast of Scottburgh. Keen to go deeper? Aqua Planet (aquaplanet.co.za) does shark dives on Protea Banks off Shelley Beach, where you could encounter tiger, bull, ragged-tooth, hammerhead and oceanic blacktip sharks.

For Artsy folk

Quirky corners abound at Mantis & Moon Backpackers;

Mantis & Moon Backpackers, Umzumbe
Travellers to whom quality linen and attention to fine details matter won’t be comfortable at Mantis and Moon – but those looking for A Vibe will consider themselves in heaven, bru. The backpackers’ resort – tucked into coastal forest just back from Umzumbe Beach – is connected by wooden walkways that weave around coral and wild banana trees, and link the communal chill and kitchen areas with the pool, dining space and groovy bar. It’s all bright hand-painted signs, quirky installations, neon lights and glitter balls. Accommodation ranges from stilted wooden cabins to a glass treehouse, teepee and wooden huts.
Dorms from R275 per person; double rooms from R640 per night
039 684 6256, mantisandmoon.net

Tweni Pottery, Port Shepstone
If too many lazy beach days prompt a need to “achieve something” then book a session at Tweni Pottery, where you can paint ceramics or learn to work with clay. Resident potter Frazer Smith will guide you through the process of making a pinch pot, a mug or creating something on the pottery wheel.
R250 for a three-hour session
071 200 7327, twenipottery.weebly.com

Skhumba Crafts, Ramsgate
Tucked deep into the coastal forest, just off the R103 near Ramsgate, is the leatherware store where Brian and Karen Bernstein have been crafting high-quality shoes since the mid-1980s. The earthy gallery (accessed via an enchanting stream-side path) has a wonderful stock of boots, sandals, bags, belts and wallets made from vegetable-tanned cow hide.
Open Tuesdays to Saturdays, 9am to 4pm
039 316 8212, skhumbacrafts.co.za

Art and Crafts on the South Coast

Only vegetable-tanned leather is used at Skhumba Crafts.

Riverbend Art and Wine Gallery (between Ramsgate and Southbroom) showcases the work of some of South Africa’s emerging and established artists. Crocodilecrazy.co.za
At Craft and Gift Shop next to Ramsgate’s famous Waffle Hut you’ll find baskets, jewellery and shweshwe goodies – all made locally.
Baobab Galerie (in Ramsgate and Port Edward) sells colourful baskets and other raffia crafts, all made in Madagascar. Baobabgalerie.co.za

For Active Travellers

The views along the walk to KwaXolo Cave will give a whole new perspective of the South Coast.

Pumula Surf Camp
Pumula Surf Camp is a laid-back, comfy home-from-home that’s well-suited to sociable wave-seekers. A right-hand reef break is just 400m from the house, and there are many other surf spots within a 10-minute drive. The casual deck and bar area have a view over farmlands and the nutritious, healthy food served here is prepared by co-owner Hayley Maisch. Hayley’s husband Justin (who has SA colours for surfing and, along with his brother Gazo, makes Wedge surfboards and Maisch fins) is the head instructor at Pumula Surf School. On the property is an open-air yoga space; wellness retreats are held here, too.
Dorm room from R200 pp pn; double room from R500 pn. No en-suite bathrooms.
078 444 7130, pumulasurfcamp.co.za

KwaXolo Cave, near Margate
KwaXolo Cave is carved into the side of a steep valley and brooded over by the Mangwenya waterfall. It’s a place steeped in Zulu mythology, and is where San hunters used to take shelter – the 2 000-year-old paintings are evidence of this. To reach the cave you’ll need to climb into a harness, clip onto a cable and traverse the rocks, via ferrata style. It’s not as technical as you might initially think, and is a fun outing for an active family.
Adults R150, under 12s R120
074 887 3742 or 076 185 3447, facebook.com/kxcadventures

Hohm Yoga, Umzumbe
Hohm Yoga and Wellness Sanctuary is a magical studio: the octagonal space is surrounded by glass walls and enveloped by tropical vegetation that makes this South Coast sanctuary feel just like a Balinese yoga retreat. The studio is run by founder Simmi Fink, who teaches Hatha flow, Chakra yoga, Yin, pre- and post-natal as well as aerial yoga classes.
Drop-in classes from R120; see the website for class times, workshops and retreats.
082 820 7505, hohm.yoga

South Coast surf spots

Casual surfer vibe at Pumula Surf Camp.

‘Umzumbe, St Michaels, Southbroom, Margate and Port Edward beaches have lifeguards, and the waves here cater to all levels of surfers ,’ says Justin Maisch, head instructor at Pumula Surf School. ‘They’re all right-hand point breaks with a beach break, too. There are many surf spots along this coastline, so if the waves aren’t working at one beach, just take a drive and you’re bound to find something close by.’

Trails for mountain bikers and runners

The Clearwater (clearwatertrails.co.za) and Beaver Creek (beavercreek.co.za) trails near Port Edward will take you on jeep track, single track and farm roads through macadamia and banana plantations, and patches of forest and grasslands. All start at the Beaver Creek coffee shop (open daily 8am to 4pm), where R28 will get you a bottomless coffee so you can sample all seven of their blends. MTB permits from R40; R20 for runners.

The forest and farmland trails at Rock Bay Resort (rockybay.co.za) near Park Rynie form part of the Sani2C and Joburg2C routes. The trail network, which ranges from four to 40km, caters for all levels of mountain bikers and runners. R30 pp; see the website for trail details.

For nature lovers

TOP Look down onto soaring vultures at Oribi Gorge.

Oribi Gorge Vultures
On cliffs way up above the Mzukulwana River, there lives a colony of more than 200 Cape vultures. This species is endangered – the estimated global population is between 8 000 and 10 000 – and a vulture feeding station near these cliffs is thought to support about 1 000 of the magnificent birds. The Oribi Vulture Viewing Hide offers the opportunity to watch these birds from close range; it is a profound experience to look down at the birds swooping to their nests, and soaring up above the cliffs.
Minimum donation of R100 per person; bookings (at least 48 hours in advance) essential
072 893 3794, vulturehide.blogspot.com

Leopard Rock Coffee Shop, near Oribi Gorge
Many come to this restaurant for the view of the Umzimkulu River Gorge (adjacent to Oribi Gorge), and birders in particular will delight in watching the crowned hornbills that gather in the trees beside the long deck at Leopard Rock Coffee Shop.
Open Wednesdays to Sundays, 9am to 4pm
074 124 0902, leopardrockc.co.za

Trafalgar Beach
The drive to Trafalgar Beach will take you through tunnels of towering Natal wild bananas Strelitzia nicolai and past signs warning of ‘animals at play’. The beach itself feels wonderfully wild… and the high water mark is the inland boundary of the one nautical mile-wide Trafalgar Marine Reserve, which was established to protect 100-million-year-old intertidal fossils. Head to the beach at low tide and look out for fossilised trees and shark teeth.

The Farmers Lodge, Oribi Gorge
At The Farmers Lodge, well-equipped self-catering units and glamping tents offer nature lovers the chance to overnight comfortably in an area revered for its exceptional views, walking trails and birding. Within a 20km radius are Lake Eland Game Reserve, Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve, The Gorge Private Game Lodge and the Oribi Vulture Viewing Hide. The lodge’s closest neighbour is popular Wild 5 Adventures (wild5adventures.co.za) – known for its nerve-wracking gorge swing and other adrenaline activities.
From R425 per person per night
079 444 1074, thefarmerslodge.com

Birding spots on the South Coast

Birds abound at the Marine Ramble.

‘With its rugged cliffs guarding the river, Umtamvuna Nature Reserve near Port Edward is a fantastic birding spot,’ says Hazel van Rooyen, secretary of South Coast Trogons bird club. ‘Gurney’s sugarbird can usually be seen around the picnic area while mocking cliff chats frequent the rocky outcrops close by. Mpenjati Estuary offers coastal forest birding on the north side, with grassland birding on the south side – and a visit wouldn’t be complete without spotting the white-fronted plovers skittering about on the littoral on the beach like bits of wind-blown spume. On the south side a boardwalk leads across a marshy area where bronze mannikins flit among the tall grasses. Woolly-necked storks can usually be seen scavenging at the edge of the river. It is a popular picnic and fishing site where half-collared kingfishers can be spotted along with a resident family of water thick-knees, who like the boulders beneath the bridge. A pair of African fish eagles are often observed fishing in the estuary as well as an osprey.’

Pictures Supplied

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