It’s a slow road to Sodwana Bay, but most travellers would agree that this beautiful spot on the east coast is well worth the journey.
Nestled in the wilderness of iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Coral Divers is a welcome sight after a four-hour drive from Ballito. Rustic, but comfortable wooden cabins are set in an area of unspoilt coastal forest. After settling into our chalet, we enjoyed a sundowner on the deck while red duiker, mongoose and crested guinea fowl roamed the gardens and mischievous Samango monkeys played in the trees above us. In the evening, dinner – a wholesome spread of roast chicken, salads and veggies – was served in a communal dining area. Every evening a buffet dinner is available, but for those who prefer a self-catering option, there’s a modern, fully-equipped kitchen available with everything you need to rustle up a meal, as well as a braai area and restaurant. With full tummies, we enjoyed a drink under the full moon, acutely aware that we were far from the bright lights of the city. There is something truly magical about staying in the park, away from the hustle and bustle of town and with the relaxed atmosphere of a remote bush camp.
Stepping outside in the morning, we were greeted with the sound of birdsong in every direction. In fact, the area is well-loved for its birdlife and being in the protected Sodwana Bay National Park, Coral Divers is home to a wide range of flora and fauna, including turacos, green coucal and collared sunbirds. After a delicious breakfast buffet, we set off to explore the resort – there are two training pools for those who would like to complete their PADI certification or a refresher course, as well as a splash pool, a small play area for kids, TV lounge, bar and pretty gardens with picnic tables under the trees.
The beach is a short drive from the resort, and as we were treated to beautiful weather, we took the opportunity to wander down to Jesser Point, the rocky point from which the dive boats launch. At low tide, it’s a beautiful spot for snorkelling, as well as for exploring shallow rock pools. The marine life is rich, and we spent the morning adventuring in and out of the water. After some exercise and plenty of sea air, we had worked up an appetite and decided to pop into the nearby restaurant at Mseni Beach Lodge. With big windows, plenty of natural light and an unrivalled sea view, it’s an easy place to while away a few hours.
There’s something for everyone on the menu – from tapas and salad to pizza and vegan dishes – but we enjoyed some Sodwana-style seafood, including grilled fish, prawns and calamari. We were even lucky enough to spot some whales splashing close to the shore from our table on the shady deck.
Sodwana Bay is perhaps most famous for its world-class diving and the nature reserve lies next to Africa’s most southern coral reefs. After a quick refresher in the morning with one of the resort’s dive masters, we set off for Two Mile Reef. The reef is a short boat ride from the shore and boasts incredible topography, including dramatic overhangs, coral gardens and shallow caves. It’s alive with marine life, including white tip reef sharks, rays and turtles. We were lucky enough to encounter an octopus showing off, as well as a huge honeycomb moray eel and an impressive potato bass. With visibility of around 15 metres, it was possible to see some beautiful details and pretty creatures like peacock mantis shrimps, porcelain crabs and colourful nudibranchs.
Coral Divers has a gazebo set up on the beach, so after surfacing there was time for coffee and a snack before heading out to the second dive of the day, this time to Four Buoys, also on Two Mile reef. With even better visibility of around 20 metres, we spotted an amazing variety of fish and some really incredible corals. The dive operation was seamless – everything from booking a refresher to arranging a dive and borrowing equipment was super-easy and the team was approachable and always ready to help.
After a morning of diving, we spent the afternoon relaxing under the white milkwoods back at camp before wandering back to Mseni for one last cocktail and a final glimpse at the whales just off shore. From the deck, we could see unspoilt natural bush, pristine beach and an endless sea… there really is something unique about this stretch of the Elephant Coast, and there’s no doubt that we’ll be back again.