• Thonga Beach Lodge is an eco-friendly gem on an unspoiled beach along the northern KwaZulu-Natal coastline, with sublime swimming bays and snorkelling reefs, and white sand as far as the eye can see

    By Rosanne Buchanan

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    WHERE: The Elephant Coast, Maputaland (about 25km north of Sodwana Bay)

    GETTING THERE: It is an eight-hour drive from Johannesburg or a flight to Durban followed by a three-hour drive.

    BEST-KEPT SECRET: The main wow factor is the lodge’s remote setting. You park at the local nut factory and then it’s an hour’s transfer drive. Signs that greet you as you drive through the lodge’s entrance read: “Clear the mind”, “Nourish the body” and “Feed the soul”. You arrive in the middle of nowhere (very close to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park) and yet you have all the creature comforts you would expect from a luxury hotel. The lodge features 12 thatched rooms, a fully equipped dive centre, a small spa and a hotel guest shop.

    THE ROOMS: The accommodation has been built without disturbing the sensitive surrounding milkwood forest and the decor is comfortable yet rustic, aptly described by the owners as “Robinson Crusoe chic”. No trees were removed when building the lodge, which means not all rooms have sea views, but you can enjoy great forest views and the sound of crashing waves.

    THE FOOD: The food is innovative, contemporary and refreshing. One might expect traditional buffet fare so common at beach resorts but young chef Karl Moller has put a very modern stamp on the menu, with some Thai influence and global flavours combined with what is locally fresh and available (seafood is a popular choice). Ingredients are only delivered once a week so he works smart. I can’t be sure but I think I spotted some F&HE inspiration, with the likes of the prawn and avo salad, rare beef fillet with honey mustard sauce and asparagus salad with goat’s cheese. Dining is alfresco during the summer months, ensuring you enjoy the sound of the waves as you dine under the stars.

    BONUS POINTS: There are plenty of activities you can take part in, from snorkelling to sundowners at the nearby lake. Between November and February, turtle tracking is a big draw card, and you can take nocturnal walks and drives to see loggerhead and leatherback turtles laying their eggs. Or you can book a stay at the Isibindi Group’s Kosi Forest Lodge, a private tented camp in the Kosi Bay Nature Reserve, loved by many for its tranquillity and abundant bird life. Experience a canoe cruise, sand forests and an array of indigenous plants and wildlife. Under the watchful eye of chef and lodge manager Chris Rabie, enthusiastic cooks whipped up pure magic in a small kitchen. Freshly baked breads, divine salads, hearty and home-cooked meals had guests from around the globe smacking their lips in appreciation. The chai chocolate crème brûlée was heaven.

    THE GUESTS: Thonga Beach Lodge is popular with both amateur and advanced divers while Kosi Forest Lodge is enjoyed by nature lovers. It’s also a low-risk malaria area.

    THE EXPERIENCE: It’s a relaxed sensory delight, from the dramatic views and kaleidoscope of luminous tropical fish, to the absolute hush of an afternoon sleep, as well as moonlit walks on the beach (which are safe as the local community has a stake in the lodge, and this comes through in the service and upliftment of the area).

    Call 035-474-1473 or visit www.isibindi.co.za.