Travel

Ex­pe­ri­ence the mag­i­cal Maphe­lane

Public Sector Manager - - Lifestyle -

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.

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