Whether for the weekend or a longer stay, pristine beaches, azure lagoons, lush sub-tropical forests and easy access make KwaZulu-Natal’s South Coast an enticing getaway destination


Traditionally a seasonal homecoming of sorts for generations of South Africans, the South Coast’s appeal is warm water, seven blue flag beaches, 120 km of sand, an abundance of golf courses and a lifestyle mix best described as festive.

What’s more, ease of access has recently improved, thanks to the announcement that regional air service carrier CemAir has increased its OR Tambo-to-Margate frequency to twice daily in season. The South Coast is gearing up for an increase in high-end traffic, reflected in the mushrooming of four- and five-star accommodation in the region.

Its reputation for laid-back fun is justified, but while the kick-back attitude can lend itself to rowdiness, it’s still the country’s most diverse holiday destination, offering beach, forest, adventure and relaxation options aplenty.

Southbroom has emerged as the cosmopolitan centre in recent years, with Margate experiencing something of a revival too. The bottom line is choice – the South Coast is all things to all people. Good to go.

The Gorge Private Game Lodge and Spa
The Gorge, inland from Port Shepstone on the banks of the Mzimkhulwana river, is a good 45 minutes west of the beaches. Not that it matters – the essence of the place is unashamed luxury and pampering – and that can happen anywhere.

Indeed, the views are what sell the lodge, the Oribi gorge system cutting through the flats, offering up cliffs and wooded overhangs.

The lodge itself is a contemporary place, with picture windows, polished concrete floors and excellent-quality fixtures and fittings. The emphasis is on plenty of space, and each suite has a name and unique feature.

A favourite is the Quartz Villa, built on the edge of the sandstone cliffs, with double-volume windows affording uninterrupted views across the river. The free-standing bath, right next to the window in the master bedroom, is a treat too – think long hours spent soaking, watching the circling raptors.

Resident chef Christopher Whitham oversees cuisine, and meals are best taken on the deck of the main dining room, which quite literally hangs off the edge of the cliff. Menus change every day and the emphasis is on freshly grown produce.

Meanwhile, the adjacent spa, which helped the Gorge win a World Luxury Hotel Award for Best Lodge in 2014, specialises in outdoor treatments.

Days at Sea
Designer holidays don’t get much more imaginative than this. Guido Schoeldgen’s exquisite beachfront mansion, south of Southbroom, has won pretty much every award possible, among them inclusion in the famed Klocke Book as one of the 100 most beautiful hideaway hotels of the world.

Schoeldgen is a photographer as well as a designer, and his boutique hotel frames views at every opportunity – sea, beach, foliage, all five suites feature American shutters, balconies and expansive glass walls.

Our pick is the Artist’s Retreat, a fisherman’s cottage away from the main building, reinvented and given the Schoeldgen magic. That said, the upstairs suites offer astonishing views across Trafalgar beach.

The dining room serves fresh Mediterranean-style cuisine and the wine cellar is another award winner – platinum status by Diners International.

Ingeli Forest Resort
Further west than the Gorge, Ingeli is another inland South Coast destination perfect for cooler holidays. It’s increasingly becoming a trend – stay further inland to avoid the masses and instead day-trip to the beaches while also having the option of forest activities such as mountain biking and hiking.

Ingeli’s accommodation is varied, from sophisticated private suites in the main complex to raised, self-contained log houses – highly recommended as they are set away from the main dining and pool area and edge the forest. Gardens form part of the attraction and are well tended and carefully laid out.

Imbabala Forest Estate
Increasingly popular too are the exclusive gated communities of the South Coast, San Lameer being one as well as Imbabala Forest Estate (demonstrably the best of the options) near Pennington. Various houses are on offer for rent during season, the most popular including Loerie House, Umdoni and Palm Tree House.

Umdoni is our favourite, a four-bedroom, double-storey villa close to the golf course, beach and forest reserve. All the rental houses are fully serviced and guests can negotiate more or less attention depending on their needs – chefs, serving staff, cleaners and even butlers are available.

Coral Tree Colony
Part of the celebrated Portfolio Collection, Coral Tree near Southbroom offers six suites in a main house that looks as though it could have been plucked from the American Deep South at the height of the cotton boom.

Colonial American in style, it sits in the middle of dense tropic grounds, best viewed from the private balconies. It doesn’t have a dining room but the emphasis is on a superb breakfast, and owner Dave Page’s dinner recommendations are always spot on.

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The View
At the other end of the South Coast hub in bustling Amanzimtoti, the View certainly delivers on its name. Climbing the side of the coastal escarpment, it’s a triumph of determination over physics, with rooms and public areas hanging over the edge in a manner reminiscent of the Italian coast. Both Giorgio’s restaurant and the sizeable swimming pool feature panoramic views across the Indian Ocean, as do most of the suites, all of which are spacious and individually appointed.

Giorgio’s is hugely popular with the sundowner set – elegant and last century, with its expansive terrace and overhanging bougainvillea, cheeky monkeys and tropical breezes. The spa is equally popular and a draw for the well-to-do from Durban.

It’s a bit of a trek down to the beaches but the positive is a lack of noise, and the coolness of the heights helps negate the summer humidity.

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Selborne Golf Estate, Hotel and Spa
Built in 1954 in the grand tradition of the English country manor, today the Selborne sits in the middle of a golfing estate. Pennington is the trending playground of the South Coast, and the Selborne is a desirable address for the season. The style and ethos is very much English colonial, with gin and tonics at Barker’s Bar, high tea in Hunter’s Lounge and carefully plated oxtail in the Lord Selborne fine-dining restaurant.

The terrace is popular with locals and visitors alike and the accommodation ranges from the Presidential suite in the main building to the Manor room, with its herringbone hardwood floors and leaded glass windows framing the gardens below.

If the hotel is either booked or too formal, the estate itself offers accommodation, the best of which is arguably Sunbird, a five-star apartment on the upper level of a villa duplex overlooking the greens of the golf course.

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Pumula Beach Hotel
While not a five-star establishment per se, Pumula nevertheless deserves inclusion in any serious South Coast list by virtue of the fact that it is so well positioned and run. Standards are high and have been kept so for the better part of 40 years.

Besides its location along a blue-flag beach close to Hibberdene, what makes Pumula special are the multi-level gardens – spectacular creations and lovingly cared for.

The considerable pool links the hotel with the beach and is hugely popular, as is the broad terrace. The rooms offer simple beach-style accommodation, the pick of which is the larger family wing at the far end of the complex.

This is a children’s paradise, so take the family or avoid it, depending on your bent.

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By Peter Frost
Images: Gallo/Getty Images, Eden Rock, the Gorge