A SHORE THING - JSE MAGAZINE

A SHORE THING

Summer in SA brings with it an opportunity to combine  sand and sea with exclusive, innovative accommodation

A SHORE THING

Here’s some information that could prove incredibly useful in that upcoming pub quiz or even a highly select nature-themed version of Trivial Pursuit. Just how long is SA’s coastline? Answer: 2 798 km (thank you, World Factbook). In other words, that’s a lot  of beach.

Our westernmost boundary is the Orange river mouth in the Northern Cape, and the easternmost  is a point just below Monte Ouro, near Kosi Bay in KwaZulu-Natal. In between, lapped by the warm Indian Ocean (coming down from the Mozambique channel) and the cold Atlantic that flows along the west coast are a jolly large number of grains of sand, perfect for exploring – especially when combined with high-end accommodation nearby.

Rocktail Camp, Maputaland
While on the subject of Kosi Bay … only a few kilometres south is the Rocktail Camp, set in the Maputaland coastal forest. Run by JSE-listed Wilderness Safaris (which has extensive concession areas throughout Southern Africa), Rocktail is distinct for several reasons.

Firstly, it is Wilderness’ only SA-based operation. Secondly, just offshore lie the only coral reefs in the country, part of the Maputaland Marine Reserve, itself part of the renowned iSimangaliso Wetland Park, which was proclaimed a World Heritage Site in 1999.

This is the playground of humpback whales and dolphins, as well as loggerhead and leatherback turtles, which come ashore in these parts every summer to spawn. In fact, Rocktail runs beach safaris at night for a front-seat view of the action.

The camp is built into the forest on high ground, which ensures each of its 17 rooms (seven are family units) has a spectacular wraparound panorama. They are based on a classic yet upmarket safari model, so there is lots of canvas, wooden decks and showers, which are en-suite but can be unveiled – literally – to become open to nature.

This is the playground of humpback whales and dolphins

Meals, five-star in quality, are served in the main camp area, complete with an extensive wine list available from a very cleverly designed cellar, created to cope with KZN’s heat and humidity.

A bar, lounge and tacked-on raised viewing veranda with amazing sea views allow for a spot of whale watching without the chance of spilling a drop of one’s G&T. A playroom (or the pool) caters for the children. Yet it’s the stretches of perfect beach and warm ocean that are the main attractions.

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Amazing sea views allow for a spot of whale watching without the chance of spilling a drop of one’s G&T

Like any wilderness park, Rocktail also offers ‘game drives’ – they just happen to be in the ocean. Artfully hidden in the bush next to the camp is a fully equipped dive centre, with instructors on hand to offer training if desired for those without a dive ‘ticket’. While the diving might be for the specialists, Rocktail does run trips out to sea in its inflatable boats, allowing those with more temperate ocean desires to still enjoy a taste of the fauna.

Lake Sibaya, the country’s largest natural freshwater lake, and the small but rich Tembe Elephant Park are both also a relatively short drive away, providing for plenty of hippo, crocodile and elephant viewing, if a top-up of ‘traditional’ wildlife is necessary.

Grand Café & Rooms, Plettenberg Bay
Location, location, location is the mantra of the  real estate agent. In the instance of the Grand,  this couldn’t be truer.

Set in a rambling building in Plett’s Main Street, the views from the Grand right across Lookout beach and the bay towards the Tsitsikamma mountains are astounding. From some of the suites, it is possible to lie back in the Victorian bath, throw open the French doors and be exposed, as it were, to all  of nature’s glory.

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Yet don’t think of the Grand just in positional terms. Its eccentric design and resulting ambience are a touch other-worldly. Boho extravaganza is how the Grand puts it – red velvet, candelabras and other such touches of gypsy-inspired mystique. All seven suites are completely different in look  and feel: there’s the Boadicea, for example, with a secluded courtyard complete with water feature and outdoor shower; the Bath House, with twin baths and plunge pool; and the Farm, so called  for its vegetation-filled patio.

There’s not too far to wander for excellent food either – a big chunk of the establishment is dedicated to the Grand Café, well-known for its two restaurants in Cape Town, and a winner of a Condé Nast Traveller award for ‘best café-style dining’  on the Garden Route.

Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, Gansbaai
Lachenalia lutzeyeri and Capnophyllum lutzeyeri are not terms that tend to crop up in everyday conversation – at least among non-botanists. Yet they are a reflection of Grootbos’ amazing fynbos biodiversity. Named after Heiner Lutzeyer, father of the current owner Michael Lutzeyer, the two plants occur only on the five-star Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, originally a farm the family bought in the early 1990s as a holiday getaway.

Lutzeyer senior was instrumental in helping catalogue the incredible flora on Grootbos – more than 765 species of fynbos, six of which are new to science. Careful accumulation over the years has seen Grootbos grow from 123 ha in size, to about 2 500 ha of pristine reserve, including milkwoods.

While fynbos is the main stage, the ocean is no bit player in the Grootbos storyline. The property almost borders the sea and the magnificence of Walker Bay provides an incredible backdrop.

‘An expansive, breathtaking vista of mountain, fynbos, and sea’ is how National Geographic describes Grootbos, nominating it as one of the most ‘unique lodges of the world’ – just one of the many accolades it has earned.

All accommodation is carefully oriented toward a balance with nature. Garden Lodge provides 11 free-standing suites, and Forest Lodge has 16. While the decor differs between the two, both are a subtly designed blend of wood, stone and steel.

Set aside from the lodges is the 1 000 m2 Villa, decorated with works by SA artists such as Pierneef and William Kentridge. The six luxury suites accommodate up to 12 and come with a personal guide, chef and butler, as well as a private wine cellar.

Both lodges have their own restaurants – Red Indigo at Forest Lodge and the Garden Restaurant at Garden Lodge – with menus based on local, mostly organic ingredients and seafood.

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The property almost borders the sea and the magnificence of Walker Bay provides an incredible backdrop

Much of the produce used in the kitchens comes from a small farm on the property, part of Grootbos’ extensive CSI programme for the local community under the umbrella of the Grootbos Foundation.

For instance, Green Futures (which focuses on conservation) trains horticulturists and runs an indigenous nursery, while there’s a sport development component as well as Siyakhula, a wide-ranging initiative that (among other schemes) provides the Green Box concept, a container  garden to grow vegetables in poor, urban areas.

Abalone House, Paternoster
The West Coast is a region of turquoise sea and little whitewashed cottages with blue shutters. It could be Greece – until you experience the icy water temperature. Still, those white beaches and rocky bays have their own distinct beauty.

Top of the postcard perfection stakes is Paternoster. No one quite knows how it got its name (it means ‘our Father’ in Latin, the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer), but here ‘Langstrand’ is exactly that – more than 8 km of immaculate white beach – where a bakkie is not a pick-up truck but rather a little wooden fishing skiff, which the locals still use for the daily catch.

Lots of people love Paternoster – among which is celebrity chef Reuben Riffel. So much so that when he opened one of his themed restaurants – the eponymous Reuben’s – he chose not only this hamlet but more specifically Abalone House. Anyone for the fisherman’s platter (herb butter-infused crayfish, garlic-butter steamed mussels, salt-and-pepper fried squid, hake tempura…)?

Top-notch food aside, luxury permeates Abalone House. There are 10 suites, designed by Cape Town interior designer David Strauss. Tretchikoff prints set the scene – complemented by antiques, crystal chandeliers and old silverware.

Salve for the body is close at hand, too. The Healing Earth spa at the Abalone has received a nomination in the 2016 World Luxury Spa Awards. That said, if even luxuriating at the spa seems like hard work, simply unwind in the Jacuzzi on the roof-top deck – an excellent spot to contemplate the principles of summer and beach. 

By Patrick Farrell
Images: Grootbos Media & Rocktail Media, Abalonehouse Media