On her recent KwaZulu-Natal adventure, Portfolio Collection’s rock-star travel consultant Nicole Whitehorn was lucky enough to stay at some of our amazing Isibindi properties. Following visits to Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge (read about that here) and Kosi Forest Lodge (read about that here), it was then time for her to head to her third and final stop, the incredible Thonga Beach Lodge – and what a fantastic visit it was.
You just know that when a lodge is difficult to get to, it is going to be breathtakingly beautiful. Thonga Beach Lodge is set on the shores of the Maputaland Coast and is one of Africa’s last unspoilt wilderness beaches. It is only accessible by a 4×4 track which takes about an hour to drive and since I wasn’t in a 4×4, I opted for the 4×4 transfer offered by the lodge. The lodge’s remote location ensures maximum privacy coupled with peaceful relaxation.
I was greeted warmly by manager Thys who showed me around the lodge and detailed all the exciting activities available. There is an activities white board listing all activities on offer along with their scheduled times – all you have to do is fill in your room number as well as the number of guests who want to take part next to the ones you’d like to do. I immediately spotted a free slot for an afternoon massage and therapist Lorraine happily accepted my last-minute appointment. But first, lunch.
Thys had insisted I try the cocktails, so I ordered a “Thonga Long Island” and headed to the freshly prepared lunch buffet. Skewers of seared beef, bowls of creamy guacamole salsa and harissa-roasted carrots were just some of the dishes that made for a colorful and delicious spread, along with cheese platters, preserves and a deconstructed Greek salad. After indulging, I walked to the spa for my aromatherapy massage where Lorraine ushered me inside. The massage was absolutely heavenly, so much so, that I regretted only booking 30 minutes, but my next activity was calling.
Sundowners at Lake Sibaya were next on the agenda and we were all eager to catch a glimpse of the hippos or crocodiles in the lake. We all piled into the viewing vehicle and set off through Mabibi to get through the lake. It happened to be national voting day and the village of Mabibi was filled with locals hyped up and celebrating.
Our guide told us many interesting stories and anecdotes about Mabibi and I was very surprised to discover that many of the little children have to walk up to two and a half hours to get to school every morning. It humbled me so much, thinking about my warm and comfortable drive to work every morning with a travel mug of steaming coffee and KFM to keep me entertained. We all shrieked with delight (and a bit of fear!) at the way our guide speedily negotiated the marshy track down to the lake. A lot of the track is muddy or water-logged and we were sure he’d get us stuck but he knew that track like the back of his hand and proved us all wrong. We didn’t see any hippos unfortunately, but the view over the lake was spectacular. We all stood and took photo after photo of the sun setting over the water.
There was just enough time for a quick shower before pre-dinner drinks and I walked along the wooden walkway to my chalet to freshen up. Isibindi is all about protecting the environment and saving our planet for our children’s children. The luxury thatched chalets have been built with this purpose in mind. They are raised on wooden stilts to ensure minimal impact on the surroundings whilst still ensuring extreme comfort and the utmost privacy.
Pre-dinner drinks were served in the bar area, along with some delicious canapes of salmon mousse and melba toast. The outdoor dinner deck provides a romantic setting under the milkwood trees with dinner being a three-course affair with two or three choices per course.
I woke early the next morning and chose a spot on the deck to enjoy breakfast and catch up on some emails. The usual continental and hot breakfast choices are on offer, with the chef offering a different breakfast special each morning. I happily tucked into an omelette with all the trimmings. After breakfast I had booked the rock pool snorkelling activity and I was so excited about the thought of getting up close and personal with all the beautiful fish. I changed into my swimming costume and met the others at the Marine Centre where we chose a wet suit and got briefed on what we were likely to see while in the water.
The rock pools are just a short walk from the lodge and large enough for a group of us to swim around in very comfortably. The sea was quite rough, but under the water, everything was calm and clear. Hundreds of colourful fish swam around us and I even saw an octopus – it was a really special experience. As we headed back to the lodge one of the girls and I couldn’t resist having a quick swim in the sea. The water is so incredibly warm that the wetsuit was really not needed – maybe I’m just used to Cape Town’s freezing Atlantic Ocean.
Scuba diving is one of the lodge’s main activities with reefs located only a short distance away. Scuba training is available at the dive centre and everyone is welcome, from beginners to experts. Shoals of tropical fish, sharks and even bottlenose dolphins are often encountered while out on dives. Bird watching, fishing and open ocean safaris are also on offer, but the most exciting activity has to be the turtle tracking. Turtle season runs from November until February during which night drives are arranged to search for the nesting loggerhead and leatherback turtles. The females emerge from the surf and scan the beach for any potential danger before digging a body pit in which to lay their eggs. I will definitely need to go back for turtle season as this has to be one of the most phenomenal things in nature one can witness.
Canapes that evening were skewers of seared ostrich that literally melted in my mouth and the wine I had ordered was the perfect accompaniment. For dinner I chose the seafood risotto which was honestly the best risotto I’ve ever had – it was tomato-based and packed with plump prawns together with freshly steamed mussels. I wolfed it all down and then immediately regretted finishing it so quickly.
I was up at sunrise the next morning eagerly anticipating the kayaking activity I had booked on Lake Sibaya. It was just the guide, myself and another guest and we took the same track as we had taken the afternoon before. The kayaking was such a laugh and while the wind made navigating the kayak quite tricky, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It was quite a workout and we headed back to the lodge eager for a good breakfast. Before heading up to the dining area to enjoy my last meal at the lodge, I reluctantly packed my bags for departure. I ordered a truly South African breakfast of Amarula creamy oats (yes, that is a thing!) topped with preserved pineapple and coconut flakes, which was absolutely delicious.
Bags were then brought up, vehicles were loaded and the Thonga team all gathered to give me a cheery farewell. I left feeling relaxed and happy, but you wouldn’t expect anything less after a stay at Thonga Beach Lodge because it’s truly a haven where it’s impossible not to kick back and forget about everything.
All images by Nicole Whitehorn or from stock.