Miles and miles of pristine, untouched beaches, wild coastal forest bustling with bird life and the warm Indian Ocean full of colourful fish ready to be explored. This is paradise.
There’s a marvellous sense of excitement as you make your way along the rural, sandy roads towards Thonga Beach Lodge. The lodge is situated near the village of Mabibi on the remote Maputuland coast of KZN and, as you approach, glimpses of Lake Sibaya, South Africa’s largest freshwater lake, peep through the forest, adding to the anticipation.
It’s not an easy drive (a 4 x 4 transfer from Sodwana is available and recommended), but the reward at the end of the bumpy journey is more than worth it.
Situated in the Isimangaliso Wetland Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Thonga is a hidden treasure and one of Isibindi Africa’s most sought-after destinations. This 12-room luxury beach lodge has every lavish comfort you could want, while still maintaining a wonderful sense of contemporary, rustic ‘wildness’. It really is, as the sign at the entrance says, ‘a civilised distance from civilisation’.
From the moment you arrive at Thonga you are welcomed into a world of five-star service and wonderful spoils. The lodge manages to be indulgent without being pretentious and the staff are friendly and available without being intrusive, allowing you space to truly relax and enjoy your getaway at your own pace.
Tucked away in the indigenous coastal bush, just metres from the ocean, the thatched rooms are positioned for maximum privacy and minimum environmental impact, each one built on a raised platform and kitted out with everything you could want or need on a beach holiday. There are both ocean and forest view rooms and the deluxe ocean view rooms even have their own private plunge pools. The family rooms have two separate bedrooms, perfect for those travelling with younger children. It truly does feel like a forest hideaway and the wooden pathways that lead from the main lodge and restaurant area to the rooms, plunge pools, spa and marine centre offer a wonderful opportunity to spot the odd little turtle hiding away in the bush or magnificent golden orb spider weaving its massive web. As one would expect from a lodge of this calibre, the food is both plentiful and of an excellent quality.
Every meal feels like an occasion and every effort is made to ensure all dietary requirements are met. Beautiful platters of fresh fruit, cheeses, cold meats and pastries adorn your table each morning, serving only as a precursor to the hearty full breakfast with all the trimmings that is to come. Lunch on the deck is a wonderful mini buffet served on individual tiered stands at your table, comprising a variety of hot and cold dishes, and dinners are glorious three-course affairs, with a choice of two starters, mains and desserts. Children, too, are given a choice between two main courses and desserts and parents can choose to let them eat earlier or at the same time as them.
ADVENTURES AND EXPERIENCES
Whether you are looking for adventure or relaxation – or a little of both – there are activities and experiences aplenty. Wake up early, grab a coffee and saunter down to watch the sunrise on the beach (or lie-in if you prefer) and thereafter it’s up to you how much you would (or wouldn’t) like to do.
Regarded as one of the best snorkelling sites in South Africa, snorkelling in Mabibi is a must. The lodge’s rockpool is vast and filled with thousands of species of tropical fish, octopus, moray eels and electric rays and their PADI dive centre is stocked with all the equipment you need. The staff are knowledgeable and helpful and everyone is welcome, from beginner to veteran.
If you prefer to stay on land, a phenomenal evening turtle tracking experience is available (during turtle season) as well as bird watching and forest walks. Sundowners can be enjoyed alongside Lake Sibaya (6km from the lodge), where you can watch hippos frolic and pied kingfishers chase down their dinner with a G&T in hand. The more adventurous can enjoy an early morning kayak trip on the lake or an open ocean experience complete with exciting surf launch (there is an additional cost for this). Of course, no luxury holiday is complete without a little pampering … and the spa at Thonga offers a wide variety of treatments and seaside spa spoils to rejuvenate and relax.
A SENSE OF COMMUNITY
One of the most remarkable things about this particular Isibindi Africa lodge, though, must be its incredible, heart-warming connection to the village of Mabibi. It is a wonderful example of a development that has successfully married local community and private sector and it is clear, when you speak to them, that the staff who live in the village and work at Thonga (more than 80% of the lodge’s staff are from the community) are incredibly proud of their home and the work they do here. Isibindi does a significant amount of relief work in the area (including launching a massive feeding programme during Covid-19 lockdown), as well as assisting with teaching staff and upgrading and maintenance of the local primary school.
Whether you’re taking the short drive from Durban or are travelling from further up-country, a visit to Thonga Beach Lodge should be on everyone’s beach holiday bucket list. There is no doubt that during these uncertain times, trips to remote, untouched, hidden gems like this are invaluable and, with all the correct Covid protocols in place, you’ll feel safe and secure as you escape and relax in this piece of coastal paradise.
NEED TO KNOW
Thonga is currently running a wonderful special offer for SA residents (40% off selected room types until November 2021). Rates include accommodation, three meals and two safari drives a day (excluded: park fees, Isibindi Foundation levy, gratuities, spa treatments, bush walks and items of personal nature).
Text: Leah Shone