Experience the magical Maphelane
Escaping the hustle and bustle of city life, even if it's just for a weekend away, can restore peace to the soul. Maphelane in KwaZulu-Natal is 230 km north of Durban and has all the ingredients for a blissful break.
Maphelane is the southern most campsite in iSimangaliso Wetland Park and means “Big Hill”.The name was inspired by its most noticeable feature – the largest dune in iSimangaliso (183m) which supports a rich variety of life in its lush forest.
This prominent feature is contrasted by the vast open beach and gaping iMfolozi Estuary to the north. The tranquil beauty of the estuary is deceptive and you should only be lured into the water if you enjoy swimming with hippos and crocodiles which is not recommended.
The beach is spectacular but be warned, there are no shark nets in the bay (it is a reserve after all).This restricts your movements to splashing in the shallow waters at low tide.
A visit to Eden
We arrived via the single sand track that leads to Maphelane from KwaMbonambi. The thick, green multi-storeyed coastal and dune forest (with its full complement of vines, creepers, figs, red duiker, wild olives, mangroves, bushbuck and mahoganies) was breath-taking. After driving through this Eden for a few kilometres we realised we had all been smiling the whole time.
Maphelane has 40 campsites and five wooden cabins. The campsites are sheltered by large mahoganies and coastal silky oaks and are patrolled hourly by opportunistic vervet monkeys, who are masters at raiding food supplies. We merrily unpacked and set up our home for the rest of the weekend under the watchful gaze of the mischievous monkeys.
According to Maphelane's official brochure, ablution and shower facilities are “modern” but we suspect the brochure might have been printed in the 1930s.The warm water was an erratic dribble and the smell of sewage and heavy rust on anything vaguely metallic did not help the cause.That said, this was the only negative experience of our entire stay.
Beautiful stretches of beach
As evening approached we headed down to the beach to have a look at what Maphelane had to offer. Emerging from the vegetation,
only 50m from our camp site, we found ourselves staring at the immense expanse of ocean in front of us and long stretches of beach to the left and right. We had arrived.
On one of the mornings we decided on a walk. Maphelane has two trails. One climbs up the towering dune and offers stunning views of the beach and estuary, while the other hugs the estuary and meanders through a Tarzan-like setting under towering fig canopies and criss-crossing vines. We chose the latter (the Umphafa Trail) as we were planning to spend the majority of our carefree hours on the beach. The forest transformed us into children again. We climbed trees, hung on vines and marvelled at all things bright and beautiful. Hours skipped by in the rich cool air and eventually our stomachs reminded us it was time to return to camp.
After lunch we scampered off to the beach. Some in our party
chose to take leisurely walks to the mouth of the iMfolozi Estuary to the north, others jogged to a shipwreck about 7km to the south and the rest went fishing at the estuary. Despite Maphelane's reputation as a Mecca for fishermen, our attempts proved fruitless.This was anything but disheartening as the stunning views of the beach and estuary more than made up for the lack of fish.
Stars above and below
That evening we returned to the beach to look at the stars. We stood enchanted as we tried to spot shooting stars. We noticed that as we ran excitedly to the water's edge kicking the sand up behind us, small glowing “stars” would fling into the air and then slowly fade once they had landed. We stood there stunned.We started to run wildly and shuffle about with expectant amazement, flicking the sand and watching the bursts of luminescent light. On closer inspection we found these were, in fact, tiny bioluminescent jellyfish – ctenophores or comb jellies to be more precise.
Hundreds of these ctenophores washed onto the shore with the high tide and were stranded in the damp sand when the water receded. We spent the evening watching stars in the sky as well as on the sand.
Maphelane was the magic potion we needed after long weeks of work. Rejuvenated and relaxed with wonderful memories of forests, stars, ctenophores and sea, we sadly headed home.