Travel – A mid-winter thaw

2012-07-26 12:46

Alison Visser heads to the KZN South Coast to escape the frosty Highveld

Whoever decided that hell is someplace hot and fiery obviously never experienced a Highveld winter.

There’s the toe-numbing frost that kills anything just starting to grow, the chill that gets into your bones and fingers, the icy wind that rips through many a jacket, and of course the electricity bill at the end of the winter.

Like swallows and pasty Europeans with more euros than sense, Gautengers also like to fly south for the winter, to thaw out the bones, inject some moisture into cracking skin, up the Vitamin D stocks and maybe enjoy a swim or two.

Winters on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast are a pleasure, and generally temperatures range from about 16° C to 25° C.

Timing is everything – go during school holidays and the South Coast can be a bit of a logistical nightmare.

Mid-week, mid-June, seemed quite safe, though – there were just a few retirees walking their dogs on Marina Beach, the blue-flag sandy shore that borders the San Lameer Estate.

Calling San Lameer an estate is a bit of a misnomer.

It’s more like a little town, boasting everything a sports lover could want, from the world-famous golf club to squash and tennis courts, action cricket nets, a bowling green, a little convenience store, a library that also rents out DVDs for those rainy days, wildlife – various buck and more than 195 bird species – and a Camelot day spa that offers everything from massages to salt baths.

There is an ATM and a little boutique to ensure essentials are easy to come by when you want to prevent an emergency trip into the bustling centre of Margate during the silly season.

There are various accommodation options within San Lameer.

The “villas”, which have built up steadily around the golf course, range from modest units to mansions that sport lifts.

Ten of them belong to permanent residents drawn by the village lifestyle and surroundings, but the bulk of these clay-coloured houses are owned by companies or individuals who rent them out for most of the year.

The other option is the four-star Peermont Mondazur Hotel and Spa. Its rather drab exterior, which matches the villas, is not its selling point.

However, clever use has been made of space – sliding and folding doors ensure the rooms are open, spacious and airy.

They boast modern, free-standing baths, roomy showers, enough cupboard space and great views that stretch over the lagoon or gardens.

While we were there, locals were gearing up for the world-famous sardine run, which sees millions of fish making their yearly trek from the south, followed by dolphins, sharks and the occasional whale, who are only too happy to join the feast.

The sardine run also coincides with the migration of humpback whales, which move north in search of warmer waters in which to calve.

A combination of sun, sea and spa was just what a couple of Vaalies needed to make it through the remainder of the Joburg chill.

It would be easy to stay at San Lameer’s Peermont hotel for weeks, but a couple of days did the trick. Next time we’ll stay a bit longer – and maybe come back with a tan.

How to get there:
San Lameer is situated 140km south of Durban, and is nestled between Margate and Port Edward.

The N2/ R61 from Durban to the South Coast is a bit of a mess at the moment, with roadworks stretching from after Sipofu Mtwalume turnoff  to just before the south coast Oribi toll gate.

It is estimated that these will be completed soon but there’s no avoiding them if the south coast is your destination.

Flying down may seem like a great idea – Durban’s King Shaka Airport is a quick 45-minute flight away – but once you add commuting time to and from OR Tambo and the wait at the airport plus the two hour drive to San Lameer from the airport you’re looking at about six hours.

It takes about 8 to drive down.

What’s nearby:
The Hibiscus Coast, which includes the beautiful Oribi Gorge, boasts nature reserves and indigenous forests.

Hiking trails and birdwatching are popular pastimes.

The blue-flag Marina Beach borders San Lameer and a security-controlled gate ensures that only guests enter the estate from the beach.

The kilometre long beach boasts a tidal pool and lagoon.

The Mpenjati Nature and Trafalgar Marine reserves are a 60-hectare retreat of dune forest, wetlands and grasslands with hikes, picnic spots and prolific birdwatching.

Other activities in the area include snorkelling and cage diving, fishing (boats can be chartered), craft markets, the crocodile farm and art gallery, bungee jumping, white water rafting and canoeing, horse riding, mountain biking, abseiling, microlight flips and quad biking.

» Visser was a guest of Peermont

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