UNWINDING: Soak in the serenity of Oceana in the Eastern Cape. Pictures: DANEEL KNOETZE
UNWINDING: Soak in the serenity of Oceana in the Eastern Cape. Pictures: DANEEL KNOETZE
ALERT: Nyala grazing in the veld.
ALERT: Nyala grazing in the veld.

Port Elizabeth - Only once the sun has risen on your first morning at this remote Eastern Cape reserve do you appreciate where you have landed. Even from your bed, the view is glorious.

Pause. Take your mind for a moment away from everyday life, bustle and the journey to get here. Look at where you are.

The ocean far, the veld near and in between milkwood thicket borders stark against the rolling dunes for which this part of the Eastern Cape’s coast is famed. You’re high on a hill, and the beach is visible for miles in each direction: there is not a soul in sight.

No matter where you go at the Oceana Beach & Wildlife reserve, you can’t escape that view. The lodge, its suites, lounges, bar, dining room and spa all have walls of glass facing the south and east. It is as though the architects had found their Mecca in the sunrise and the sea, and so paid homage.

This view of the ocean, lit up by the bright lights of chokka boats at night, forms the backdrop to fine food prepared by head chef Jacques van Rooyen.

Game ranger Trevor Wentzel notes my faraway look and says: “It is what we’re here for, isn’t it?” I’m having coffee on the balcony of the main lodge, watching the red balloon of the sun on the horizon. Something in his manner tells me that Nick has been up and at it for a few hours. “Apart from all else, it’s this view that sets us apart,” he says, developing a faraway look of his own.

This is an area of the Eastern Cape where, in the past decade, luxury game lodges have sprung up by the dozen. The ability to set oneself apart from the competition amounts to lifeblood in an industry that has taken a knock as a result of the global recession.

But Oceana is something. Where else could you watch a white rhino cow grazing with its calf, with the Indian Ocean (and possibly a pod a southern right whales if you’re lucky) as a backdrop?

There is also good walking, as well as a horseback trail. Even on foot the three rocky outcrops, known as the Three Sisters, a few kilometres east down the coast, make for relaxing afternoon hike.

The largest of the three is a virtual island. You may have to wade knee-deep through the surf to get to one or two of the access points. Once on one of the paths that crisscross the “koppie”, it’s surprisingly rich in flora and fauna. There are scuffles in the bushes as little birds and lizards flee the arrival of a stranger.

The main attraction of the biggest Sister is a blowhole, which you’ll see spraying a rainbow mist if your timing is right. It’s a perfect spot for a sundowner, and close to where Bartholomew Diaz set foot more than 500 years ago. For the more adventurous, the cave off the trail and a short scamper down a rocky crag could give you insight into the life and shelter of the coast’s original human inhabitants. Lying on your back in the shade of the cave, with the sea in your ears, you might as well have been transported millennia back in time.

For guests to disappear off the radar for a few hours like this, if they so choose, is something that Oceana’s approach actively encourages. Instead of trying to directly compete with their mammoth contemporaries some of Oceana’s service focuses on personal treatment and flexible routines. Your stay is not dictated by a regimented schedule of game drives, meals and programmed timeslots. It fits around you.

Adrienne de Clerk, the lodge’s co-manager, says: “It’s a place to relax. Most guests do their big-five tours and end off with a few nights here to unwind. They look forward to spending a bit of time on the beach as well.”

But there is quality game viewing. The game drive’s relatively small circuit – Oceana is just under a thousand hectares – means you’re virtually guaranteed to see antelope, birds and the lodge’s four rhinos. Most of the game were originally indigenous to the area, and have been reintroduced.

The exception is the small herd of sable antelope, which originate from further north. The adults adjusted well, but the two youngsters have needed to be isolated and hand-reared until they acclimatise.

They share their little pen with a dairy calf. The calf may act like a bit of a bully at dinner time, but she’s kept on to attract the ticks away from the baby sable siblings (whose immunity to the bloodsuckers is still being developed).

On a game drive Wentzel pulls off for a break at a viewing point. Oceana is on an outcrop with the beach on one side and the bush on the other. While we enjoy our nuts and biltong, Wentzel chats about the funny things he’s seen and heard on the job.

“A few months ago this American guy asked me what buffalo hunt for food. I thought he was joking, so I told him that the kudu are their favourite prey… but also that the kudu sometimes fight back and then end up eating the buffalo instead. He just nodded.

“I had to set the record straight and explain the difference between carnivores and herbivores… for the first time in my life.”

l Knoetze was a guest of Oceana Beach and Wildlife Reserve. Oceana’s entrance is located just off the Eastern Cape’s R72, 8km outside Port Alfred.

Standard rates for SA visitors are R1 800 or R2 000 a person a night (depending on the suite), compared to international rates of R4 000 or R4 500. For more information see www.oceanareserve.com

- Weekend Argus