One of our Destination Experts travelled to Thonga Beach Lodge, in iSimangaliso Wetland Park on South Africa’s Elephant Coast, to discover the appeal of this remote and wild corner of the country.
Thonga Beach Lodge has a prime location on South Africa’s Elephant Coast, a region in KwaZulu-Natal that stretches from Lake St Lucia in the south to Kosi Bay in the north, which is virtually on the Mozambique border. Lying within iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa‘s third largest protected area, the 3,320sq-km park contains three major lake systems, eight interlinking ecosystems, most of South Africa’s remaining swamp forests, Africa’s largest estuarine system and 25,000-year-old vegetated coastal dunes, which are among the highest in the world. Therefore, it was not surprising to hear from our guide Sthembisa that, in 1999, iSimangaliso was listed as one of the first World Heritage Sites in South Africa.
After a five-hour drive north from Durban, we came to a halt at ‘Coastal Cashews’, a dubious-looking cashew nut factory that serves as the parking spot and collection point for guests who are going to Thonga by car. On our way to the lodge, it was clear why we had been advised not to drive all the way there. Although it was only three miles away, the sandy road was in poor condition and it also served as a pathway for wandering cattle. An hour later, after a good ‘African massage’, we came to the top of a hill and caught our first glimpse of the golden sands and crashing waves of this remote corner of South Africa.
The eco-lodge has just 12 Zulu-inspired thatch cottages, all immersed in the surrounding dune forest to ensure minimum impact on the environment. Some of the rooms have stunning views of the sea below and have a plunge pool, making them a good option for both families and honeymooners. Others are engulfed by the trees and offer more privacy. All of them sit behind the vast dunes and the lodge is invisible from the sea.