We are fortunate in South Africa to have both bush and beach in our
backyard. So it seems surprising that one of the first lodges to combine
the two has only been open for just over a year. LISA VAN DER KNAAP
spent some time at Oceana Beach and Wildlife Reserve, poised to
become one of the Eastern Cape’s top luxury destinations
LISA VAN DER KNAAP
It took American property developer Rip Miller just under half an hour to buy a 1 000 hectare piece of land on the Eastern Cape coastline and nearly half a year to tell his wife about the purchase. When he was building part of his holiday house there, he decided to expand and build a guest lodge as well. So when you arrive at Oceana Beach and Wildlife Resort you feel as if you’ve been welcomed into someone’s home.
The decor, courtesy of Port Elizabeth-based interior designer Di Morris, is casually elegant. In the main building, the open-plan structure leads you down a long passage to various possible destinations. The lounge is kept simple with splashes of lime green and a smorgasbord of textures. There are a few signature pieces like the quirky turtle design on one of the chairs and a bowl filled with tiny wooden turtles and ostrich eggs – a testament to the unique location. Every time you walk into a room, irrespective of how many times you’ve been there before, your eyes drift to a new detail, like the magnificent artwork (mostly by local artists) or elaborate African masks on the wall.
Also, no matter which room you’re in, you’re spoilt with a panoramic view of the Indian Ocean and enticed by the various smells making their way down from the kitchen. The combination of the ocean coupled with the vast expanse of land that makes up the private game reserve is probably the main reason why people come to Oceana.
Game drives are usually in the early evening, with drinks at sunset as the final reward. In place of predators you’ll spot zebra, sable, blue wildebeest and buffalo, plus some that you may not have seen before like black impala (a striking jet black colour instead of the usual tan, because of a recessive gene). Ronnie and Connie, two white rhinos who can’t bear to be more than 50 metres away from each other, can invariably be found lazing together in a heap in a soft sandy patch somewhere. There’s also a baby giraffe, Petal and her mom Maple (so called because the spots on her body look like maple leaves).
Guests are taken on game drives in a Landie, but if you’d prefer a more up-close and personal look, try the four-wheel drive golf cart. It can handle just about any nook and cranny, which means that the animals are invariably just a few metres away. By the time your game drive comes to an end, the sun has set and it’s nearly time to eat.
Dinner is always an elaborate affair at Oceana. Executive chef Chris Greeff is a member of the Slow Food Movement, which promotes the concept of sitting down at the table to eat a home-made meal, using fresh, local ingredients. This he definitely achieves, sourcing his produce from surrounding farms, local fisheries and the organic market in Bathurst. His dishes are based on the classics and inspired by French cuisine, but there’s also a definite home cooking style that comes through, with many of his recipes inspired by America’s South West and Texas. Deciding on your dinner menu may prove the biggest challenge for the evening. The flash-fried Asian tiger prawns served with avocado and mango salsa are excellent, while the trio of cauliflower, spinach and tomato soups are cleverly placed together in the same bowl, with numbers on each so that you know which order to eat them in. One of Chris’ signature dishes is the poached lamb loin with basil mousse and a pomegranate reduction, and for dessert the rooibos cheesecake with fruit in witblits-infused syrup is light and moreish.
For those who enjoy a bit of decadence, the chocolate delice with candied hazelnuts, toffee ice cream and butterscotch sauce is a must. Don’t be surprised if some unexpected guests join you: your view is the clearly lit watering hole, which is often frequented by a herd of zebra. With the lighthouse in the background it’s spectacular.
After-dinner activities include a mandatory, usually very competitive game of shuffleboard, in which players push weighted discs down a long, narrow piece of wood, trying to position them within a marked scoring area. But be warned: some games have been known to go on for hours. So if you’d prefer a quiet night in, perhaps to delve into one of the many beautiful photographic books on Africa, with a glass of wine and a Cuban cigar in hand, well that’s fine too.
The sounds of Johnny Clegg welcome you into your room, one of 10 chalets which are more like small apartments, with his and hers bathrooms, a jacuzzi bath, double shower and classic four-poster bed. There’s also the Private Ocean House which is perfect for families or a group of friends to stay in together. The day stretches out with numerous possibilities. You could get up at 5am for the game drives, or you could watch the sunrise and go for an early morning walk on the beach. But no one would blame you if you opted for a lazy lie-in with your own spectacular view of the sea and surroundings, before enjoying an utterly delicious breakfast.
On a hot summer’s day you can take advantage of the scuba diving and snorkelling. You may spot some dolphins, and, from September to November, whales. If the wind is blustery, as it sometimes is in this part of the world, you might enjoy a historical tour of the surrounding area. Mid-morning tea or a picnic on the beach is always an option, as is time in the gym (ironically with one of the best views in the lodge). But there’s nothing like a few hours by the pool and a relaxing spa treatment to get you into the holiday mood.
Unfortunately you eventually have to head back home. As you walk up the long windy walkway, take one last look back. You’ll see the thatched roofs, surrounded by thick green bush, with ivory white sand and the endless blue sea behind it, and you’ll be reminded what a special spot this is. There are few places you can stay where you’re spoilt with both the bush and the sea in the same place. And with a chef who used to cook for the Queen and Dolce and Gabbana, and an owner who counts Lance Armstrong as a neighbour and Sandra Bullock and Matthew McConaughey as friends, you know you’re in for a five-star treat. As you catch your last glimpses of zebra and wildebeest, you’ll think back on all the other intricacies of the place, and it will dawn on you… heaven really is in the details.
Oceana Beach and Wildlife Reserve is located approximately an hour and a half’s drive from both Port Elizabeth and East London. A suite costs R4 250 per person per night and the Private Ocean House is R28 000 per night (maximum of six people). To book, call Karen on 083 616 0605 or visit www.oceanareserve.com