It had been a year since our friends Mike and Ang got engaged while we were staying with them at Luputana on the Wild Coast (see here), and the time for the wedding had finally arrived. As the wedding was on Ang’s parents farm near Kokstad, about a 7 hour drive from Johannesburg, we decided to extend the trip to spend some time in KwaZulu-Natal and southern Mozambique.
The wedding was great fun, and Ang’s parent did an amazing job of setting up the farm to host a party for almost 200 people. It was great to catch up with friends who’d come from all over the world for the wedding.
It was with slightly sore heads and a couple of bottles of Bozzies Chilli Relish (a Kokstad speciality that Ange had introduced us to) that we left Kokstad for the short drive to Oribi Gorge, a large canyon south of Durban. We’d been wanting to go there for quite a while, but never managed to find the time. There are stacks of adventure activities you can do at the gorge, including a terrifying 100m gorge swing, zip lines, abseiling and white water rafting. In our fragile state we opted to rather just do a short hike along the edge of the canyon where we could watch some very nervous looking foreigners hurl themselves off the edge of the canyon for the bridge swing. Our most adventurous moment was crossing a short suspension bridge, a feat which we felt earned us our evening drinks. If you are in the area, it’s worth having lunch at the Oribi Gorge Hotel (http://www.oribigorgehotel.co.za), with its beautiful views over the gorge. You can also stay there, but it was a bit out of our price range.
After picking up our mate Ady, we headed to the next stop on our journey, the famous Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park in northern KwaZulu Natal. This park is the reason why we still have southern white rhinos, as a result of Operation Rhino in the 1950’s. Thee fewer than 200 white rhino remaining in the world were collected from the park and transferred to various other places in order to establish safe breeding herds, resulting in the more than 17000 white rhinos we now have today. The park is probably one of the best places in the world to see white rhino in the wild, and it should be on any visitor to KwaZulu-Natal’s list of places to visit. We stayed at the lovely Nselweni Bush camp on the Mfolozi side of the park (http://www.hluhluwe.info/imfolozi/nselweni-bush-camp). The camp has around 8 self catering chalets in a crook of the Mfolozi river, and is a great place to escape from the crowds at some of the larger camps.
Our final stop in the South African part of our trip was Rocktail, our favourite dive area in South Africa (see here). A new budget accommodation option has recently opened up, and we were keen to try it out as an alternative to the lovely-but-pricy Rocktail Beach Camp. Called Gugulesizwe, it is aimed at scuba divers and currently consists of 8 large and comfortable safari-style tents with en-suite bathrooms. It is fully self-catering (with a great, well equipped kitchen), nice common areas and a small pool. Like the Beach Camp, it is 4×4 access only, but I believe they do transfers for those arriving in non-4x4s. The diving is still done through the excellent Mokarran Dive Charters (http://www.mokarrandivecharters.com), about a 20 minute drive from the camp. The camp is set back from the coastal forest with beautiful sunrise and sunset views over the rolling hills, with the nearest (completely deserted) beach about a 10 minute drive away. We were thrilled with the camp, which we found to be extremely good value, and we have already started planning our next trip there. You can book at the camp via Mokarran.
The diving at Rocktail was, as always, spectacular, particularly since we had some of the best visibility I’ve ever had in South African waters (around 25m). We were spoiled by huge schools of fish, an array of smaller critters, and best of all, a young tiger shark that popped past for a quick cleaning. Ady also completed his Advanced certification, and was well on his way to becoming a competent diver.
The final stop before the long drive home was Ponta d’Ouro, a small town just over the border in Mozambique, where we met up with our friends Erol and Elke. It’s a favourite for South African scuba divers and we’ve both been there many times before. The town has grown a bit over the years, but still retains a charm that keeps drawing you back. Not to be missed are some afternoon drinks at Jenny’s, further up the coast, with its spectacular views of the sea and sand dunes.
As we were there during the week just before the start of school holidays, we mostly had the dive boat and reefs completely to ourselves (including one day where we were the only boat on the ocean – something I’ve never experience before at Ponta). The visibility was even better than at Rocktail, and as a result of the lack of divers, all the large stuff was still hanging around the reefs. The highlights (chosen from a field of many) were being buzzed by a giant manta ray for 3 minutes while it got cleaned, and having a large leopard shark casually cruise past us. It was by far the best diving we’ve had at Ponta, and has us completely sold on midweek diving.
Next stop: Joburg for a few weeks, then back to the Philippines to revisit some of our favourite scuba spots with some mates!