We made our way with anticipation down the sandy 4x4 track towards Rocktail Camp on the far northern beaches of Zululand in the Maputaland Coastal Forest Reserve, five hours-plus from Durban.
This diving mecca, one of the top 10 sites in the world, is in a bush setting.
Hosts Natalie and Willem Gouws immediately had us at ease, while other guests tanned at the pool, or talked at the tables on the long veranda, the view deck, or the large open plan bar, lounge and buffet area, all with an ethnic Pacific island-type décor.
No fancy clothes or jacket required here. In the trees overhead were a couple of monkeys on the lookout for scraps to pilfer.
Lodgings are canvas and timber units privately positioned overlooking a dune forest, the distant murmur of the sea beyond.
To our delight, we were rewarded with the sight of a whale breaching in the distance, even before we unpacked and flopped onto the comfy beds.
At sunset some went out on foot with torches for an educational scorpion hunt while we sipped sundowners before a giant buffet.
The mushroom veloute soup was an exceptional beginning. With bulging stomachs, we took to the comfy game vehicle for the 21km evening turtle drive along the clean white beaches, hundreds of ghost crabs scuttling about in the headlights.
A giant loggerhead had been seen the previous night laying eggs and although we only saw tracks, we still appreciated the serene beauty, almost lulled to sleep with lines of foam coming up alongside our wheels and the evening breeze in our faces.
It was good to note the manned access control to the reserve, night rangers patrolling the beaches, plus a few locals out fishing under the stars.
Happy to find our beds prepared and the blinds dropped for us by the excellent house staff, we slept oh so well with a distant ocean lullaby.
After a hearty breakfast, we chose fins, masks and snorkels and zipped through the green dappled light of forest corridors to our own private cove and into the clear waters, exploring the rocks and inshore reef with lots of small, brightly coloured fish.
The scuba divers were already out at sea, me lamenting an ear infection that prohibited me
A post-lunch game drive took us along sandy beach back roads, behind towering wooded dunes to Lake Sibaya, South Africa’s largest freshwater lake. Here we were delighted to stop and enjoy a beer while watching a couple of huge hippos fool about in the shallows. Amazing how long they hold their breath!
A late afternoon forest walk was made fascinating by my knowledgeable guide who knew the Latin names of everything.
In 90 minutes I saw a family of banded mongoose and duiker, countless beautiful birds, and learnt about the traditional medicinal use of all sorts of flora along the shaded path, which trees were best for building huts, and other trees that grew around each other.
I was shown a sacred, centuries old clay pot in a grove, which local families fill with beer in obeisance to their ancestors.
Later we lolled about on the large, comfy couches in the lounge with the relaxed and sunburnt divers before another healthy buffet. I still salivate at the thought of that delicious mussel cream sauce on savoury rice, a meal on its own, besides the tender lamb
Afterwards, as we made our way up the well-lit sand path to our room, it was lovely to see a big duiker look back at us before slipping away. Then it was time to just sit and relax quietly on our deck awhile, listening to the night before turning in.
Wishing we could stay an extra day, we watched new arrivals kitting up at the dive centre in the morning while their children settled into games at the poolside playroom. I gave the pool hammock a last swing and reluctantly bade farewell, consoling myself with delicious cashews from Coastal Cashews (where visitors with 2x4 vehicles are met and transferred).