My second leg of my #GottaluvKZN trip involved a hectic 5 day adventure on the South Coast, KZN’s . It was so good to be back and rediscover the South Coast with my hosts Tourism Kwazulu-Natal. Being on the South Coast brings back so many memories for me – from childhood holidays with my family, to living there for 18 months when I worked at a beach backpackers.
Besides its chilled family holiday vibe, the KZN South Coast is an awesome adventure destination. I got to explore my adventurous side and challenge my fears ziplining, jumping off a gorge and horse-riding on the beach.
My travel buddies for the week were actor Ntokozo TK Dlamini from SABC1’s Uzalo and Ukhozi FM DJ Thembeka Zondo. We disovered that the South Coast is so much more than just a beach destination. Here are my highlights of the trip:
Leopard Rock Lookout at Oribi Gorge
I’ve been to Oribi Gorge many times, and it never ceases to amaze me. This scenic gorge has some of KZN’s most spectacular views, which can be experienced in a variety of ways. For the less adventurous you can drive to one of the lookout points – Leopard Rock Lookout is one of the most spectacular. For the adrenalin junkies, try hiking, ziplining or jumping from the gorge!
Oribi Gorge Big Swing
Wild 5 Adventures runs the world’s highest gorge swing from Oribi Gorge, where you basically jump off a rock face into the depths of the gorge below. It was terrifying to say the least!
I’d done the swing many years ago, and that time I was pretty freaked out by it, but managed to do it anyway. I remembered the fear of standing at the edge of the gorge and was quite hestitant to do it again, especially considering my intense fear of heights.
The last time I did the Wild Swing, I closed my eyes as I jumped and only opened them midway. First the guides harnessed me up and added a safety rope. I then had to to descend down a steel ladder to a ledge below.
The next step was approach the jump spot, where the guides attach the harness to the rope that will keep you alive. The guides then brief you on the jump. As soon as the rope is attached you feel like 100kgs of rope is pulling you forward into the depths of the gorge below, while 1000kgs of doubt is telling you to run away as fast as possible!!
I tried to psych myself to do it, but as soon as I got to the edge I started freaking out again and telling the guide that I didn’t think I could go through with it. The scariest part was that the jump was so close to the rock face. Every part of my body screamed ‘NO, DON’T DO IT!!!’
The guide had to count me down three times before I eventually forced myself to take the plunge! After the initial few seconds of mind-blowing freefall, I felt ok, and started to actually enjoy it – the silence, the forest surrounding me and the views of rockface and the water below. Before I knew it I was all alone at the bottom of the gorge, whoop-whooping at the sheer adrenalin of it.
At the bottom I took in the views, listened to the birds and monkeys calling and couldn’t stop grinning. That’s until they started hoisting me up again, and the fear returned like… how safe am I here? What if the rope breaks? Two minutes later and I was back on my feet. The sold ground never felt s0 good. The adrenalin was definitely pumping.
Ziplining Lake Eland Reserve
After doing the gorge swing, ziplining was a breeze. The Lake Eland Reserve has an choice of two zipline tours – the easy and long tour that takes in the scenic views and offers a series of 14 lines. It’s scenic option is longest zipline tour in Africa and with 4.5km of views over the magnificent gorge.
We chose the extreme ziplining option which involved one seriously long and fast zipline of 300 meters reaching a maximum speed up to 150km/hr depending on your weight, and 2 less extreme lines that follow. It was awesome! From the zipline, you can really take in the views of Oribi Gorge and the Lake Eland Reserve.
The team at Lake Eland Zip Lines were great! I felt totally safe and secure at all times. Ziplining is a really fun way to experience the gorge. Though we didn’t have time to visit on this trip, there is also a suspension bridge at Lake Eland that stetches 80m across the gorge – yet another thrilling way to experience this magnificent natural wonder.
Beach Horse Rides at Marina Beach
I just love-horseriding. Being high up on saddle you get a totally different perspective of a place. Of course, you have to concentrate being on a horse, but that’s part of the adventure. We headed to Selsdon Park Estate, in Marina Beach where I got to ride a lovely horse named Cirrus.
The ride starts at the working sugar cane farm and heads down through the village to the beach below. The rides are great for beginners too, as there is the option of riding the horse with a guide leading you on a lead. I’ve been horse-riding lots before, so I was a little disappointed we couldn’t go for a canter as the rest of my group were beginners. I’d love to go back for a gallop on the beach!
Mpenjati Reserve, a South Coast hidden gem
The Mpenjati Reserve is definitely one of the South Coast’s hidden gems. The 60 hectare coastal reserve, 20km south of Margate, comprises interlinking wetlands, grasslands and dune forests, perfect for birding, fishing, swimming, and hiking.
We took a little hike on the Ipithi trail on the south bank of the reserve, through coast forest and dunes, taking in the breathtaking views of the lagoon, wetland system and unspoilt beach. The forest is home to forest antelope, duiker and a host of bird species.
South Africa’s first official nudist beach
Mpenjati is also home to KZN’s first official nudist beach. I met John Skene of the KwaZulu-Natal Naturist Association, who told me about the process of getting Mpenjati Beach approved as a nudist beach by the muncipality.
The beach is secluded and not easy to access, which makes it ideal for naturists (people who goes naked in designated areas).
I learnt from John that naturism is a lifestlyle and that there is a code of conduct for use of the beach. Families were welcome, and non-nudists too, as long as you respect the rules – don’t take photos and be respectful! I think having a designated nudist beach is great for the South Coast’s tourism offering, as there is demand for naturist tourism both locally and internationally.
A foodie surprise!
THE highlight of my South Coast trip was my foodie experience at The Burlesque Café in Ramsgate. I honestly thought that the South Coast was lacking in high quality restaurants but a visit to Burlesque Café proved me wrong.
Visiting Burlesque has been described as “falling down a rabbit hole”, and I totally agree. This quirky, vintage glam themed restaurant is unassumingly located on the Main Road in Margate. Walking in we were greeted but bright benches, bubbles and a warm smiles from their fantastic staff.
They have a great selection of local craft beers and boutique wines. I got to taste some local South Coast craft beers from Basset Breweries in Pennington which I really enjoyed. The café also sells art works from local artists and host some fun events.
Owner Vicky Wentzel says the restaurant is inspired by her travels in France and Italy. The food served is organic where possible, Mediterrearn themed with a local flair. It focuses on local ingredients and everything tastes so fresh! The menu is seductive to say the least with items like The Moulon Rouge burger, French Flirts with all the Frills breakfast, Lile d’Lovely omlette, Fishnet Stockings salad, and Ruby Lamb! I was seriously impressed by our mezze platter starter and my Cape Salmon main, perfectly cooked!
Vicky works in the film industry, and patrons of Burlesque Café include stars such as Charlize Theron and Sean Penn. She also runs big events on the South Coast, including Africa Bike Week.
“Come Dine with Dee” pop-up oyster bar!
At Burlesque, we were introduced to Delene “Dee” Starr who runs a mobile catering business called Come Dine with Dee. Dee had set up a pop-up oyster bar outside the restaurant where we indulged in her divine Bloody Mary Oyster Shots, exquisite sushi oysters and her home-made pickled fish, all the while singing along. I was in oyster heaven!
The best part is that Dee dives for all her own oysters on the South Coast. I didn’t even know the South Coast had oysters – they were the biggest I’ve ever eaten! Dee is a shining star of the South Coast and I will definitely be visiting her again, I need to taste her famous crayfish curry!
Shark Cage Diving at “Shark Park”
I’d never been interested in shark cage diving, wild animal interactions are just not my thing. So when I was told that shark cage diving was on my itinerary I was a bit surprisied, as I didn’t even know that shark cage diving was an option in KZN. I decided to bite the bullet and see what the fuss was about.
Our operator was Shark Cage Diving KZN, based in Rocky Bay in Park Rynie. The owner, John Miller has been diving for 24 years and pioneered shark cage diving in KZN. He has worked with National Geographic and Animal Planet film crews. John was assisted by Musi Zikhali, a divemaster with over 15 years experience and Lindani Mathenjwa, a boat assistant with 5 years experience.
Upon arrival we were supplied with wetsuits and headed to the boat for a safety demonstration. The entire group assited in getting the boat launched, pushing it into the surf. We then headed out over the waves – what an incredible experience skipping over the waves at high speed! The 8km trip out to shark park was a little bumpy but super fun! It felt like we were in an action movie! I’d definitely recommend take some anti-nausea meds if you’re prone to seasickness.
When we approached the site, dubbed “Shark Park”, John gave us a briefing. We were given masks and were soon read to hit the water! Sardines were used as bait to attract the sharks. A few minutes later we spotted 4 sharks around the boat. It was so cool watching them from above, but also a bit initimidating knowing I was about to enter the water with them!
I was a little hesitant entering the cage, but was surprised by how warm the water was. We entered the cage by sliding off the boat into the cage, after which the cage started drifting from the boat, with a rope attached, of course!
The cage is a floating stainless steel cage. All you have to do is take a deep breath and lower yourself into the water while holding onto the rails. No diving experience required, and they also welcome non-swimmers. Open your eyes, and Voila, I was surrounded my sharks and other beautiful fish. The visibility was amazing! As soon as I got used to the feeling, I started noticing details – I saw one shark with a fishing hook in it’s mouth – so sad!
The sharks were pretty chilled and didn’t even approach the cage. Once you understand that they don’t see humans as food, you don’t really feel scared. The worse part for me was the nausea I felt after got into the cage. It was the first time I’d been properly seasick – I was soon leaning out the cage feeding the sharks my breakfast…Eek!!
We saw around 8 oceanic black tip sharks on our dive, however tiger sharks, ragged tooth sharks, hammerheads, bull sharks are often spotted. Whale sharks also come through the area during the summer season – I’d love to go back to see them. John mentioned that they’ve also had a rare sighting of a Great White shark once. Wow!
Sadly many shark species are being pushed towards extinction through uncontrolled, destructive fishing methods. Even shark nets, that are supposed to protect out beaches from sharks, are destructive to sharks, dolphins and other marine life. Though I was unsure about doing a shark cage dive at first, I was glad I did it. I learnt that sharks are not to be feared. They are beautiful, majestic creatures and as apex preadators, healthy shark populations are vital for a healthy marine ecosystem.
The whole excursion comprises of 2.5 hours which includes 30 minute in shark cage dive, as well as surface viewing of sharks from the boat. We also spotted heaps of whales in the distance, but were not lucky enough to have one approach us. I highly recommend Shark Cage Diving KZN, I was super impressed with their professionalism, equipment and knowledgable guides. Check out their website to learn more about shark conservation:
Where to stay on the KZN South Coast:
Though we stayed at hotels during our #GottaLuvKZN trip the South Coast has a variety of self-catering, and even backpackers hostels to suit every budget. Most of my family holidays were spent in self-catering resorts, which are more pocket-friendly. These are the hotels we stayed in during our trip:
Port Edward – The Estuary Hotel
The Estuary Hotel is a lovely Cape Dutch style hotel perched above an estuary and beach. It’s a tranquil and luscious spot, ensconced in the South Coast’s typical tropical greenery, and was perfect some chill time after our adrenalin-fuelled day. I enjoyed the food from their terrace restuarant with it’s panoramic views.
Margate – Deroches Hotel and Sky Bar
I spent two nights at Deroches Hotel, the only 4 star hotel in Margate. We met the owner Sizwe Zulu who openened the hotel a year ago. The hotel has 68 rooms, which are in a suite style, and conference facilities. Sizwe is already in the process of expanding to the property across the road.
The best part about Deroches is The Sky Bar, their trendy rooftop bar and lounge. With 180 degree views of the Margate beachfront, the Sky Bar is the place to be seen. Relax by the pool with one of their signature giant cocktails. The menu is a typical meat and grills fare. Be warned – they don’t skimp on the portion size!
In Margate we also visited the hip Senzis Butcher Shop and Grill, on the Margate strip for the opening of the Ugu Film Festival. It’s a lively place, with a sports bar, cheap cocktails and a great atmostphere.
Scottburgh – Blue Marlin Hotel
The Blue Marlin Hotel is right across the road from Scottburgh beach, with all rooms enjoying picturesque sea-views. The hotel is recently renovated with modern rooms and a resort style atmosphere. It’s centrally located, walking distance from restaurants and even has it’s own spa. I liked the light airy, beach feel of the rooms and the staff were super.
The hotel has a great family vibe with a games room and little playground for the kids. I know I wasn’t supposed to jump on the trampoline, but I couldn’t resist! Yes, I’m just a big kid 🙂
Mzansigirl on The Expresso Show
For the highlights of our #GottaLuvKZN South Coast trip, check out the video that aired on The Expresso Show on SABC1:
The Kwazulu Natal South Coast is so much more than just a sun and sand destination. It really was an epic adventure! For more on my #GottaLuvKZN adventures, check out my post on the Drakensberg and the Midlands!
Know any hidden gems on the South Coast that I may have missed? Share your suggestions in the comments below!