East side story

The Sunshine Coast and original frontier territory have become popular as a beach and bush destination

By Andrea Pafitis-Hill

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THE SANDS @ ST FRANCIS
 

With its warm and intimate feel under cosy thatch, arriving at The Sands in St Francis Bay made me want to kick off my shoes and get comfy on the main terrace – until I discovered that my room had its own private deck overlooking the tranquil infinity pool.

Just beyond my beautiful ‘back yard’ led a stairway to heaven, otherwise known as the Main Beach, accessible during low tide. After a leisurely chug around St Francis Bay’s quaint canal system and a visit to the heart-warming Penguins Eastern Cape rescue and rehabilitation centre, I got back to The Sands just in time to enjoy sunset with a delicious pre-dinner cocktail
before losing myself in the luxury bathroom, which comes complete with heated towel rails, a jacuzzi bath and spacious shower. The honeymoon suite boasts a jacuzzi on its timber deck.

Breakfast at The Sands caters to every taste: get stuck into the array of cereals and freshly cut fruits, or go continental with cold meats, moreish cheeses and a variety of freshly baked bread, croissants and other tempting pastries. A choice of delicious sweet and savoury cooked breakfasts is also available. The lunch and dinner menus are classic, simple and satisfying, with options such as melon wrapped in Parma ham, panfried kingklip and prawns with lemon and garlic butter, vanilla crème brûlée and warm chocolate pudding.

HACKLEWOOD HILL COUNTRY HOUSE
 

Built in 1898, Hacklewood Hill is one of the few remaining Victorian manors in Port Elizabeth. Adding old-world charm to the suburb of Walmer, this grande dame is the perfect hideaway for couples seeking rest, relaxation and romance. Executive chef Bernice Warner and sous chef Gina Mulder make a formidable team – had I known how divine their warm, oozing Lindt chocolate fondant was going to be, I would have eaten nothing but dessert!

But then I would have missed out on other superb dishes like the beef fillet with red wine and rosemary or the delicate prawn risotto. If you do feel like getting out and about, the trendy Ginger restaurant at the four-star Beach Hotel offers equally yummy fare and is just a 10-minute drive from Hacklewood. Located opposite Hobie Beach and Shark Rock Pier, The Beach Hotel is a PE institution built in 1928 and is also part of hotelier Trevor Lombard’s Port Elizabeth Hotel Group. With names like

The Madiba, Lady Elizabeth and Sunbird, each of Hacklewood’s eight rooms are as different from each other as they are regal, with large and equally luxurious bathrooms.

PUMBA MSENGE BUSH LODGE
 

So open yet amazingly private were the words that came to mind as I first walked around Pumba’s Msenge Bush Lodge. Its clever design offers cosy nooks dotted around the dining room and main deck. As I made my way from the reception area with a welcoming cocktail in hand, I was struck by how easy it was to spot wildlife in the vast valley below – as if on cue, a family of white lions strolled leisurely through the plains and we were treated to an up-close-and-personal sighting of the pride later that afternoon on a game drive.

The Big 5 were all out for us to spot too, as well as an impressive array of birdlife – part of 300 species to be found on Pumba Private Game Reserve’s 6 500 hectares of malaria-free land. My thatched chalet offered blissful peace and quiet with almost 280-degree views of the lush surroundings, as well as a private deck with splash pool and a bathroom bigger than most small apartments.

The meals and service at Msenge Bush Lodge are of an equally high standard – you’ll be spoilt for choice with the selection available on the breakfast menu and at the large and varied buffet, and the shared platters at lunch include delicious fresh quiches, salads and pastas. Dinner is a candlelit affair with the wonderful sounds of a softly crackling fire nearby – I feasted on a caramelised pear salad, chargrilled impala fillet and peppermint panna cotta, which were beautifully prepared and presented.

PUMBA WATER LODGE
 

Stretched across Lake Kariega, Pumba Water Lodge and its pretty stone-walled thatched chalets are pure soul-food. A large lounge and breakfast buffet area spill onto an outside dining area and timber deck, where you can gaze out at the water and emerald green hills beyond. If spending the day bass fishing and picnicking at the lake appeals to you, Pumba Water Lodge will lay on everything you need – including fishing rods, lures and tackle.

Sundowners on the floating pier are a blissful way to enjoy the last of the daylight before moseying back up to the main lodge for a decadent three course dinner. I could have used a spoon to cut my beautifully tender lamb shank, which I washed down with a glass of the delicious Lombard Directors’ Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, part of the Port Elizabeth Hotel Group’s exclusive range of Lombard wines. Happily wined and dined, I decided to spend the last night of my breakaway soaking in the bathtub with a good read. After ordering freshly brewed coffee and delicious French toast for breakfast the next morning, I lingered a little longer on my private timber deck to soak up the views of the lake one last time.

Andrea was a guest of the Port Elizabeth Hotel Group, which is part of African Pride Hotels. Call 0861 50 50 50 or visit www.pehotels.co.za or www.africanpridehotels.com.

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