You probably associate South Africa with safaris and maybe Cape Town and the Stellenbosch wine regions, however, there are some amazing beaches and compelling culture along its east coast, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). For instance, the Elephant Coast in the north has reefs and unspoiled beaches that are comparable to Seychelles or even the Maldives with amazing SCUBA diving, with a fraction of the people (and often at a fraction of the cost).
Travel To KwaZulu-Natal (KZN)
We stayed at the Thonga Beach Lodge in iSimangaliso Wetland Park, which is another one of South Africa’s huge national parks and home to Lake Sibaya, South Africa’s largest freshwater lake. The lodge handles dive trips, snorkeling, and more (they have equipment on site) and has miles and miles of beach access where you won’t see another human — but you will see dolphins and whales.
For anyone who appreciates more old school luxury, the Oyster Box hotel in Umhlanga Rocks (a suburb of Durban) is a must-visit. It is over 100 years old, where European royals stay when they are in KZN, and literally what it would look like if the “old money aesthetic” came to life! And you can experience its grandeur, too, at a relatively realistic price point (and all the rooms are fabulous, but it’s worth springing for an ocean view).
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The details at the Oyster Box are what really make it a destination, with perfectly restored mosaics and sculptures in the gardens, art by leading African artists everywhere, and more. There’s also a revered resident cat, Skabenga, who is quite the character.
There are several beautiful pools, a library/reading room where you can relax, a stunning spa with a classic North African hamman, and a couple great restaurants including a curry buffet that is a destination in and of itself. Plus there’s a working lighthouse and if you are lucky, the staff will ring the bell alerting you to dolphins frolicking in the bay!
KwaZulu-Natal or KZN covers much of the east coast of South Africa, with Mozambique and Eswatini on the north and west sides respectively. You could either head to the coast before or after a safari, in which case you’d either drive or fly into Durban or one of the smaller regional airports. You can also fly internationally into Durban directly.
It’s warm and subtropical in KZN, so it is never really particularly cold, but it can get chilly at night in the winter (which is October/November through March-ish in the southern hemisphere). In their summer, it’s downright hot, but wonderful beach weather and the ocean is warm enough to swim in and dive with or without a wetsuit throughout the year — but you might be more comfortable in the warmer seasons.
What to Pack for The East Coast of South Africa
It’s always relatively warm and even tropical in this part of South Africa, and you can swim without a wetsuit all year round. Your basic beach vacation ensembles will work, just some swimsuits, cover-ups, and tees and longer pants if you plan to explore the forests around the coasts. A windbreaker wouldn’t hurt either. If you plan to stay at the Oyster Box, you will likely want a dressier outfit or two for the restaurants as well (the fine dining option is jackets-required).
What to Eat in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN)
Like any coastal destination, all of the sea food! Fresh fish, oysters, lobster and more are readily available and delicious. There’s also a huge Indian population (Durban is home to a significant part of the greater Indian diaspora), so curries and seriously flavorful spice-filled dishes are on the menu as well.
Are you considering a trip to South Africa, or have you already been? What is your favorite beach vacation spot? Or the most interesting hotel you’ve stayed at? Let us know in the comments or our Growing Younger Facebook Group!
– Jacqueline Zenn
Photos: Jacqueline Zenn for Fountain Of 30 | Food Photo: @theoysterbox
You may also like to read more of Jacqueline’s South African travel adventures on her last trip: Travel Tips and Adventures in South Africa: The Safari Edition and Travel Tips and Adventures in South Africa: Spectacular Cape Town.
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