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Durban - “Clear The Mind” read the first of several carved signs as we descended the tree-lined track. A timely reminder after our long torturous drive, which included speed bumps galore after Hluhluwe to the Kosi Bay area to make our 3pm 4x4 transfer to Thonga Beach Lodge.
Cresting massive forested dunes, we had our first glimpse of the lodge roofs poking out of the foliage below, with the sea beyond. Then the steep descent to a friendly welcome from Maryke and David, then along the boardwalk to the lodge, built with great care in the indigenous forest.
This is Robinson Crusoe in Africa, but luxurious Africa. Thonga, on the Maputaland coast, is an exclusive hideaway; yet there are no airs and graces. Instead there is great service. The fact that the local community has a vested stake is no doubt a factor, and everyone is comfortable in their own skins.
We quickly found the place has that effect, as did Donna and Clive Shearer, who came to help out with the marine activities for a month and stayed. “We love it here” was a regular refrain. So did we.
No electronic clutter, no cellphone reception, TV or wi-fi (and no light pollution at night) brought nature to the fore and into focus.
I was happy just to be entertained by the rare, shy Samango monkeys foraging on the beach, seen from my lounger on the deck with wonderful views of towering dunes above the unspoilt beach, Mabibi Bay and the rocky point.
The point has marvellous pools where we snorkelled for ages, spotting electric rays, firefish and loads of less potentially harmful, pretty undersea species.
This stretch of coast has the best diving in SA with 1 250 fish species to be found and, being one of two private concessions within iSimangaliso Wetland Park, you don’t have to share reefs.
The shallow reefs are a gentle introduction for newbies. For the more advanced, reefs up to 120m provide an aquatic thrill. Our biggest thrill was the delight of fellow traveller Tadek, swimming with a massive whale shark on his 50th birthday.
Whales were blowing and breaching the whole weekend, while Manta rays and nesting Leatherback and Loggerhead turtles are annual visitors.
Away from the sea, the forest with prolific birdlife beckoned. A guided walk taught us about Umhlanganiso, Marula, Natal Silver Oak and much more. Nearby is Lake Sibaya, southern Africa’s largest natural freshwater lake, where we spent the next morning, kayaking among the crocs and hippos.
Thonga forms part of Flavours of KZN, a collective of fine dining lodges, and chef Carl Moller excels. The high teas and meals under the Milkwood trees were superb.
The rooms are tranquil havens in which to rest between exertions and overindulging. The stone baths are wonderful, the beds and pillows extremely comfortable. Thonga is so relaxing that it can take some effort to lever yourself from a balcony seat for yet another round of fine food or fun, though we didn’t pause long enough to sample the Sea Spa’s treatments – our time was up all too quickly.
Call 035 474 1473 for reservations or visit www.isibindi.co.za - Sunday Tribune