Want the beach all to yourself? Chris Davies found an out-of-season paradise on KZN’s North Coast just for you
Idon’t usually order pizza at 11am, but it was an unusual morning and, besides, I had nothing better to do. Sunshine sparkled on a receding wave and fluffy cumulus drifted serenely overhead, but I was in a mood, and not even a breakfast pizza could cure it. I sat back on the beach and thought about the birds. I’d never heard anything quite like it. Until about three o’clock that morning I’d believed I quite liked birds, but that had all changed now. The birds, and their incessant night-long cacophony, were to blame. And so, with perhaps five minutes of sleep and a hatred of all things avian, I was shoving pizza into my face on an empty KZN beach and obstinately refusing to take any of the surrounding beauty in. We’d arrived the day before, my girlfriend Ann and I, and found Zinkwazi Lagoon Lodge, the town’s only campsite, without trouble. It was midweek and term-time and quiet. Golden afternoon light poured through the thick forest canopy as a surprised-looking lady showed us the best stands and told us we could pitch where we liked. ‘There’s no one else here.’ Trumpeter hornbills swooped through the trees and somewhere in the distance a fish eagle called. It was the picture of tranquillity. This little town called Zinkwazi (‘place of the fish eagle’ in isiZulu) was putting on a show, and the next few days here could only be idyllic. But by 6am I’d hardly slept and, leaving Ann snoozing peacefully behind her earplugs (smart girl), I’d dragged myself to the beach, found an old shipping container that proclaimed itself a pizzeria, and resolved to sit outside until it opened. Proud’s Pizza is a Zinkwazi institution. Perched at the end of the beach’s 24-car parking lot, its wood-fired oven gets going around 9.30 daily, with first orders an hour or so later. I ordered a Nkwazi Special which was excellent (ham, salami, olives), but it failed to replace eight hours of sleep and I stumbled morosely back to camp. Ann was up. Making coffee and humming some happy little tune. One look at me and her humming stopped, out came the phone and in a few minutes she’d found another camping option outside of town. 1B4 Permapackers is, as the name suggests, a small permaculture farm-cumbackpackers seven kilometres from the beach – an oasis of variation in a landscape of cane fields. Owners Mike Rosati and Courtney Roux greeted us warmly and apologised for the mess. The backpackers was brand new and the rooms inside the
'Trumpeter hornbills swooped through the trees ... in the distance a fish eagle called'
main house still under construction. ‘We’re due to finish by December,’ explained Mike, who was shuffling his time between farm work, construction and guiding walking safaris in Hluhluwe–Imfolozi Park. Courtney’s from East London but Mike grew up here, and his enthusiasm for their project and for the sleepy little town down the road began to make cracks in my mood. ‘We’re not quite self-sufficient yet, but we’re getting there,’ he said, as we sat by the pool watching the chickens. ‘This whole area is sugar, sugar, sugar. And that goes for Zinkwazi too. A lot of the houses are owned by the sugar-cane farmers. They like that it’s small and quiet. There was a proposed development a while back but they all chipped in and bought it out. Nobody wants any big changes around here.’ We pitched our tent in the empty garden campsite and after a quick nap decided to pop next door to Mike’s dad’s place, Chantilly Resort, where its revamped restaurant and bar were relatively new additions to Zinkwazi’s handful of culinary and nightlife options. Managers Chervon Werth and Greg Phoenix came to meet us as we arrived and Greg, a Ballito boy who’d been back here about a year after a decade as a chef and hotel manager in Sydney, handed us some beers and then, on request, a few more. It was Friday night and an older couple – curious locals who’d clearly not visited before – wandered in. They looked around and declared it ‘quite nice’, had a Black Label and a double Amarula, and left. With beautiful leather couches and a long, polished bar, I’d go further than ‘nice’. But Friday is locals’ night at the Deep-Sea Angling Club on the beach, with a braai menu on picnic tables for 50 bucks. Despite Greg’s R50 Friday lasagne special, it was proving tough to pull people away from what they knew and had liked forever. A big, friendly-looking guy sat down next to us and ordered a double rum and Coke. ‘I’ll pour the Coke,’ he said to Chervon. ‘You guys always put in too much.’ A local and a regular. Jackpot, I thought, and turned on my barstool to chat. ‘You from around here?’ I asked. ‘You could say that,’ came the smiling reply. And so began a long evening of rum and beer at the bar. Charming and amiable, Eric Phoenix is, it turns out, also the owner of Chantilly Resort. Not a sugar farmer himself
(he works out of town in metal fabrication), Eric moved to Zinkwazi in the 1980s from Zim, thinking he’d just find his feet for a bit and then move on. Now with a house in town, his kids close by and this spot on the hill, it was obvious Eric wasn’t going anywhere very soon.
'this is how you do zinkwazi, i thought, as we watched dolphins and whales splash about below’
‘It’s paradise here,’ he declared, gently insisting we have another round of drinks. ‘Just don’t even think about coming here for Christmas or New Year. The beach goes crazy and the traffic is unbelievable ... spring or late summer is best. It’s cooler, quieter, but you still get those perfect days for doing nothing on the beach.’ Lack of sleep was getting to me so we waved off another round and made to leave. Outside a soft drizzle was falling. ‘No way are you going back to a tent tonight,’ said Eric, and pulled out a set of keys to one of the rooms. ‘On me,’ he insisted, and we weaved gratefully off to our best night’s sleep in ages. The next day was brighter and so were my spirits. We’d booked in at a house on the beach for the rest of Braai Day weekend, and I was looking forward to a few more comfortable nights and some time on the beach. When a beach house calls itself a ‘holiday manor’ it can be a bad sign – few live up to such a grand claim. Cecelia’s Holiday Manor has no such hubris. A sprawling, lived-in family home, it feels like the owners have just popped out for a bit, leaving jazz DVDs on the shelves and skateboards on the stoep. A bottle of good red wine was waiting for us on the dining table. Outside, a huge stone veranda led to an even bigger garden, a sparkling pool, five outdoor seating areas and, only just visible in the distance, a wooden deck overlooking the sea. We poured a glass and headed that way. This is how you do Zinkwazi, I thought, as we watched dolphins and whales splash about below. Out-of-season rates for a beautiful mansion on the beach. Taking it easy like a local. ‘Shall we get a braai going?’ I asked as we strolled back to the house. A few birds cheeped in the trees, but I found I didn’t really mind.
From your first step onto the twisting wooden walkway at Zinkwazi Beach House, you know you’re going to have a wonderful holiday.
THIS PAGE, FROM LEFT Shore fishing is popular south of the main beach; Zinkwazi’s righthand point break is suitable for surfers of all levels.
FROM TOP Pizza for breakfast from the eversmiling Sphe Ndlovu of Proud’s Pizza; Zinkwazi Lagoon Lodge has beautiful campsites under a lush forest canopy that’s a paradise for birds.
FROM LEFT A narrow sandbar protects Zinkwazi’s kid-friendly lagoon from the ocean waves; the deck at Cecelia’s Holiday Manor. OPPOSITE Sunrise across the water from Zinkwazi Lagoon Lodge.