It was my second day at Rocktail Beach camp, a luxury low impact beach lodge in South Africa’s Maputaland, Kwazulu Natal. Engrossed in a crime thriller, I hardly heard a faint plop next to my head. When I looked up to identify the culprit, I saw a little flesh coloured leg, followed by a tail disappear behind the wooden beams. Lying next to me was a round, perfect ball of gecko dung.
Rocktail is situated in a beautiful coastal forest in the iSimangaliso-wetland area, in the northern part of KwaZulu-Natal. The luxury tents are either nestled in the forest or perched on wooden stilts looking over treetops and the indigo blue of the Indian Ocean.
Be warned, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be sharing your tent with only your partner. As I discovered, tropical geckos are also quite fond of Rocktail’s luxury tents. Wilderness Safaris, who owns Rocktail Beach Camp believes in low impact tourism, or as I like to call it, bush karma. Live and let live.
If you let the creatures be, chances are good that they won’t harass you either. Passing a giant golden orb spider on the way to the tent, I prayed that this fellow won’t rock up for a meet and greet. Although these spiders are completely harmless to humans, they strike quite a frightening sight with their vivid coloured bodies and spindly legs. Some of them are as big as saucers.
The beach camp is a sanctuary for people that hate conventional beach resorts and the forced fun that usually accompanies such properties. Rocktail is quite isolated, so you won’t be trampled by hordes of travellers. The nearest shopping mall is probably in Richards Bay and except for the TV at the kiddies club, there are no other televisions at the lodge.
The best things about a beach holiday, like sipping lurid coloured cocktails next to the swimming pool, sleeping late and gorging yourself on fine food is still there. At Rocktail there is plenty of that.
Every night you have a choice of three main courses, one which is vegetarian. Expect simple, but hearty fare, presented in a beautiful way.
My favourite part of Rocktail was the unspoiled wilderness and wide open spaces. Golden beaches sprawl for miles, without a soul in sight. The camp also resembled a safari lodge, but instead of bush activities, you keep yourself busy with marine activities.
One of the most exciting and must-do activities at the camp is a turtle safari. The beaches of the iSimangaliso-wetland area are a nesting ground for leatherback and loggerhead turtles. November to March is nesting season and researchers conduct tours of the beaches, with an opportunity to spot a turtle laying eggs or a bale of baby turtles hatching.
As with a game drive there is no guarantee if you’ll see any action and after an hour on the open Land Rover it also seemed like Lady Luck was letting us down.
All of a sudden Gugu Mathenjwa, one of the researchers hits the brakes on the 4×4. And then we see them, the slowpokes of a nest of leatherback turtles. Their siblings have already been massacred by an assortment of crabs and seagulls. A hatching nest of turtles is an all-you-can-eat-buffet for predators, and the chances of survival are slim for these baby turtles. However, it seems like these slowpokes have a bit of an advantage as they drag their tiny bodies towards the ocean. The predators have gorged themselves and the massacre is over.
In the spotlight, they gleam like polished opals. I ask Gugu if we can give them an extra helping hand to reach the waves, but he shakes his head.
The journey they make from the nest to the waves help them set in their internal compass. Should they survive, they will return to this very beach to nest.
Another thing that I liked about Rocktail, was sleeping late. Most activities here are set by the tide, and you don’t have to get up by the break of dawn to look for lions. The camp also has a fully accredited dive centre and diving operation on the premises, and the reefs here are world class. We, however, settle for snorkeling at the nearby tidal pools at Lala Nek. Having a guide with you when snorkeling is a whole other experience. Usually I just stare at the schools of colourful fish, with the clownfish being the only ones I can identify. Our guide helps us identify the various other species, like triggerfish, zebrafish and lionfish. We even spot an octopus or two. I keep my eyes peeled for the blue spotted stingray, (probably the aquatic equivalent of spotting a leopard on the game drive), but the ray eludes us. However, I get a face full of ink when an octopus decides I’m getting too close for comfort.
Few things put you in a Zen state of mind than to float in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Schools of fish in psychedelic colours dart underneath you, while the tentacles of anemones and strings of kelp lazily wave to and fro. The only sound is your rhythmic breathing through your snorkel.
One that comes close though is a guided tour through the dune and coastal forest with Gibson Mkhize. Gibson is the Bush Google of Northern KwaZulu Natal. We hike through the twilight of the forest, with milkwoods and waterberry tree branches forming a thick canopy above our heads. Gesturing to various plants he tells us about the medicinal and practical properties of each tree. We crush soap-nettle between our fingers, the “Omo of the bush” and Gibson shows us curry bush, an alternative for toilet paper. “When I’m in the bush, it’s my three-ply,” he tells us with a grin.
Rocktail lies near Lake Sibaya, the biggest freshwater lake in South Africa. On our way to the lake we drive through a tiny Zulu-village, Mabibi. It smells like the end of the day in rural Africa. The air is thick with the aroma of burning wood fires and cow dung, as the women prepare the fires for the evening and the umalusi direct their cattle back to the kraal. All that’s missing is a marimba-soundtrack.
The lake is home to crocodiles and hippos, but we only spot a few terns, an egret and a malachite kingfisher. When you close your eyes, all that you hear is the soft trill of the kingfishers and the shoosh of the small waves breaking on the beach. Motorised watersport or boats are not permitted on the lake, which adds to the tranquility of the setting.
A word of warning though: After visiting Rocktail you are spoiled for life. Conventional beach holidays will be ruined. Your most rowdy neighbours will probably be a breeding pair of purple crested turacos getting a bit frisky in the morning or a troop of curious vervet monkeys. Your view, better than anything on a giant flat screen TV.
Words and Pictures: Carla Lewis-Balden
Know before you go:
Rocktail Beach Camp is a family friendly property, with 17 units. Seven are family suites that sleep four people.
The beach is about 20 minute’s leisurely stroll from the camp. If you’re feeling lazy, they will organise a shuttle service for you.
Wilderness Safaris is trying to phase out the use of PET bottles. Every guest receives a refillable water bottle during their visit, which they can fill up with filtered borehole water, free of charge.
Rocktail can only be reached with a 4×4. However, if you don’t have a 4×4 they will pick you up at Coastal Cashews, a cashew farm about 40 km from Rocktail Beach Camp.
For more information or to book, visit www.wilderness-safaris.com or call +27 11 807 1800. You can also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wilderness Safaris runs a special loyalty program for African residents, called The Wilderness Safaris Residents Programme. Members of this program enjoy preferential rates and special offers. For more information send an email to email@example.com or visit www.wilderness-residents.co.za.