As featured in The Great Escape issue, Thonga Beach Lodge in Kwa-zulu Natal is the perfect discovery for a wild wanderer

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.

Carefully constructed into the coastal dune forest, Thonga Beach Lodge takes full advantage of its incredible position while being in complete harmony with the environment. The soft beams of sunrise filter through banana leaves with the only sounds that of the ocean and samango monkeys. Photographs Marushka Stipinovich

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.

An endless stretch of unspoiled coast lies down the wooden pathways at Thonga Beach Lodge. The reefs off Mabibi are home to more than 1200 species of fish, bottlenose dolphin, sharks, whale sharks and leatherback and loggerhead turtles. Photographs supplied.

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.

Visitors to Thonga Beach Lodge can chose to take it easy with a cold beer just soaking up the wild surroundings. Or for the adventurous, discover stretches of tawny colored sand as far as the eye can see, swim snorkel or scuba the reefs off Mabibi and partake in guided Noctural Forest walks. Photographs Marushka Stipinovich

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

Lake Sibaya, Southern Africa’s largest fresh water lake, is 6kms from the lodge. Guests can have sundowners with hippos or partake in guided kayaking, weather permitting.

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

Thonga Beach Lodge


You may want to read The Robertson Small Hotel and Old World Charm At Oude Werf Hotel

The Summer Issue is all about new beginnings, rejuvenation and adventure. Consider it a celebration of both indulging in wanderlust and the sweetness of coming home. We discover the most spectacular design hotels around the world, show you a beautiful collection of outdoor furniture and décor, and tempt your tastebuds with a new indian tapas restaurant. Pick up your copy today and tell us what you think on Twitter @Elle_Deco using #SummerIssue.