Four hours north of Durban, as the timber plantations and pineapple fields give way to lush wilderness, you enter the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. iSimangaliso – meaning miracle and wonder – aptly describes this World Heritage Site. It is here, sitting quietly in its tropically weathered fashion on a stretch of unspoiled Maputuland coastline, that you’ll find Thonga Beach Lodge.
One wild discovery featured in our Summer issue The Great Escape, Thonga Beach Lodge is found on the Elephant Coast, Kwa-Zulu Natal. To be at Thonga is to offer up the senses to the elements. Thatched chalets blend into the coastal dune forest filled with samango monkeys and butterflies, with a voyeuristic feeling that you’ve been invited in by the forest itself. The remote surrounds hark back to a simpler time, lost in a simpler paradise. It would be all too easy to lie down on a shaded deckchair on arrival and remain so for the entire visit – watching humpback whales breaching off the reef – but the catered adventures demand attention.
In one day it is possible to snorkel at Hully Point with parrotfish and marbled stingrays, drink sundowners with hippos and take a spider and scorpion identification course through the forest that night. And that’s a quiet day. For the adventurous there’s scuba diving off Mabibi on reefs teeming with fish, bottlenose dolphins and sharks. In summer, nocturnal walks along the beach take you in search of giant Leatherback and Loggerhead turtles coming ashore to lay eggs, and hatchlings making their mad dash for the ocean.
A short 4×4 drive away is the shimmering Lake Sibaya, South Africa’s largest freshwater lake. Largely untouched, it is home to hippos, crocodiles, water mongooses, reedbuck and endangered blue duikers, and is a birder’s paradise with over 250 species.
‘iSimangaliso must be the only place on the globe where the oldest land mammal (the rhinoceros) and the world’s biggest terrestrial mammal (the elephant)
share an ecosystem with the world’s oldest fish (the coelacanth) and the world’s biggest marine mammal (the whale)’
– Nelson Mandela
Come nightfall, a culinary journey awaits, with a daily menu blurring the lines between exotic and comfort food. The atmosphere, too, is sublime, with the forest and ocean providing the perfect soundtrack. For the traveller looking to unplug in paradise and enjoy the spoils of nature, Thonga is the place.
Location: Set in the remote region of the Maputuland coast in KwaZulu Natal, Mabibi lies in the heart of iSimangaliso Wetland Park between Lake Sibaya and Sodwana Bay
5 hours north of Durban up the Elephant Coast (333km) | 8 hours from Johannesburg (205km)
Thonga is accessible only by 4×4 transport. Secure parking and collections from the nearby Coastal Cashews Factory as arranged.
Weather: May to September: Temp from 10*C to 25*C. October to April: 20*C to 38*C. Summer rainfall area. Afternoon thunderstorms.
Mabibi is the only tropical dive site in the country. The reefs off Mabibi are home to more than 1200 species of fish, bottlenose dolphin, sharks, whale sharks and leatherback and loggerhead turtles
Acitivities available: snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking on Lake Sibaya, cultural tours, Turtle tours (Nov-Feb only)
Lake Sibaya, Southern Africa’s largest fresh water lake, is 6kms from the lodge
Thonga Beach Lodge is part of the SappiWWF TreeRoutes Partnership – the local Mabibi community directly benefit through employment and a trust
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park was listed as South Africa’s first World Heritage Site in December 1999 in recognition of its superlative natural beauty and unique global value
The 332 000 hectare Park contains three major lake systems, eight interlinking ecosystems, most of South Africa’s remaining swamp forests, Africa’s largest estuarine system, 526 bird species and 25 000 year-old vegetated coastal dunes
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Thonga Beach Lodge
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