Durban - The lower South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal has always fascinated me, and evokes some of my fondest memories.
No luck in rejigging my work so that I can live there permanently, but I was delighted to leave the city, passing ever smaller settlements set in thick, lush sub-tropical vegetation and banana plantations en route to the Estuary Country Hotel on the banks of the Umtamvuma River, which forms the border with the Eastern Cape.
The Estuary Country Hotel dates back to the 1940s. A well-known camp site was converted some time ago into self-catering rental pool houses and the hotel.
Managed by Gavin and Tracy Sole, the hotel exudes the kind of charm I look for and which I find peculiar to the South Coast.
The staff are really friendly, the atmosphere casual and there is a certain simplicity that is oh-so welcome. It’s hard to elucidate, but my pores exhaled relaxation as soon as we were settled.
The white buildings overlook the estuary, in close proximity to the bay. There is a wide range of accommodation: 44 airconditioned en-suite bedrooms spread over three blocks.
We were an assorted gaggle and found the accommodation more than well suited to families. We had two spacious family rooms with a common entrance.
Each room had two comfortable queen-size beds and private balcony looking out over the estuary with the sea in the background.
Moms and dads can unwind as the kids charge around barefoot – and safe.
There is a full children’s programme during holiday seasons, which kept the children entertained – and nicely tired out come bedtime – allowing us to sip a cocktail or three while watching whales wallow in the bay.
I think we also spotted most of the 900-odd bottlenose dolphins resident along the coast. In winter – and the annual sardine run – about 3 000 more pass along the coast in huge pods.
Common dolphins, which normally stay in deep waters, also come in vast numbers (from more than 15 to 30 000) to feed on the sardines.
For anglers, there are plenty of fish in the estuary and off the beach. I revisited some South Coast surf spots, and enjoyed a horse ride along the beach when the surf wasn’t great, while my better half was pampered at the spa before we chilled at the river’s edge, listening to a fish eagle.
The Estuary is a great base from which to explore what the coast and hinterland offer. Golfers are spoilt for choice, with courses in Southbroom, Margate, San Lameer and the Wild Coast Sun, which is five minutes away. I’m not a golfer or fan of casinos, but the Wild Waves Water Park had me racing kids from one adrenalin rush to another.
Oribi Gorge and Lake Eland game reserve provided more thrills, as well as lush beauty and gorgeous vistas. Eland has the longest, fastest zipline I know of.
Elsewhere, there’s abseiling, river rafting and the giant gorge swing which, in blindingly quick succession, enables you to experience a certain-death plunge and the most alive, elated sensation imaginable.
We toured Beaver Creek Coffee, sampled Mac Banana and many other delights before having to wrench ourselves away.
Rates are from just R552 each sharing (bed and breakfast). Call 039 311 3474/ 074 157 8823 or visit www.estuaryhotel.co.za to check for special offers. - Sunday Tribune