WATCH: Hippo spotting and sunset cruises on the Elephant Coast
I've travelled to Kwazulu-Natal in length and breadth in recent years. I've explored its vast hills and valleys, swam in its warm beaches, dabbled in adventure and tucked into its delicious cuisine.
But, the Elephant Coast is by far one of my favourite places in the province. Tourism Kwazulu-Natal invited media for a 4 day trip to the Elephant Coast, and this is what we got up to.
With my bags packed and safely tucked into the back of the bus, I occupy a seat in the vehicle, my ear plugs snugly set on my ears. Our group is headed for the Elephant Coast this weekend where we will experience a range of activities, from adventure, heritage and luxe treatments.
After a quick breakfast at King Shaka International Airport, we depart for the almost three hour trip to St Lucia.This tourist town is overflowing with activities for the whole family, and many talented craftsmen are waiting to sell you a beautifully crafted token to take home with. Lucas Radebe, one of the craftsmen who have a stall on the premises, sells the most creative items that he hand carves himself.
St Lucia is famous for its boat cruises where you see the hippos and Nile Crocodiles. When we arrive, hundreds (I am not exaggerating) of tourists from as far as Germany to the USA line up for their cruises.
After the scenic boat cruise, we head for a late lunch at Reef and Dune. The restaurant has vast options, from pasta, ribs, pizzas and steaks.
From St Lucia, it's another two hours to get to Pongola. We stay at three-star Pongola Country Lodge, a frequent spot for travellers visiting neighbouring countries like Mozambique and Swaziland. The resort offers a swimming pool, good wifi connectivity and spacious rooms, but more about that in another article.
Our morning at Border Caves experience is cancelled. There was no available tour guide and visiting the place would be pointless if there isn't someone to share its history and culture. We end up driving to Jozini, about an hour away from Pongola. Jozini Tiger Lodge is a luxury hotel famed for its unparalleled views of the Jozini Dam. The group is scheduled to enjoy a spa treatment and a sunset boat cruise.
The spa has seven treatment rooms, so we all take turns to get pampered. Others occupied the pool area where they tucked into snack baskets and cocktails. The rest of the afternoon is spent on board the Shonalanga boat. The grand views of the dam, coupled with a great music playlist, are the perfect way to end a Friday afternoon. That evening, after we freshen up and some hit the pool for a night swim, we head to a barbecue feast at Pongola Country Lodge. We tuck into a range of delightful options, from fresh salads, braai meat and desserts.
We are back on the road again, this time we are driving south to Hluhluwe. The two-hour-long journey is bumpy, but the views of Northern Kwazulu-Natal is stupendous. The road stretches and bends with views of the mountains, sugar cane plantations and cattle. Our stop is ANEW Hotel Hluhluwe & Safaris.
While the game reserve isn't located in the three-star hotel(it got a revamp in 2017), the hotel does host three game drives a day at Africa's oldest proclaimed nature reserve and the second largest in the world, Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park. Here the Big 5 and other interesting animals roam free. We spot three of the Big 5: the elephant, rhino and buffalo. Warthog and impala also roam about. The afternoon ends with sundowners at a picnic site with sweeping views of the mountain. At night, the hotel prepares a special boma dinner under the stars, which travellers can prearrange with the hotel. Zulu dancers entertained guests near the pool, while we indulged in some travel stories near the fire.
As there is a 5 am game drive the next morning, many of us retired early the night before. During the morning game drive, we enjoy sightings of the rhino and a rare view of a black rhino that was peering at us from the top of the mountain. By mid-morning, we pack our bags to head home. While we head straight for Durban, travellers can make pit stops in Richards Bay or Ballito.
* Clinton Moodley was hosted by Tourism Kwazulu-Natal