Want the beach all to your­self? Chris Davies found an out-of-sea­son par­adise on KZN’s North Coast just for you

Getaway (South Africa) - - Contents - CHRIS DAVIES

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.

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