Escape the City for a South African Tropical Paradise

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A year ago, life came to a grinding halt. We were forced to self-isolate at home. Work stopped and outdoor activity was banned. Everybody became master bakers of banana bread.

Some overworked employees enjoyed the time-out from life in the fast lane. However, most people didn’t take well to the government-imposed house arrest. Many desperately yearned escape to a secluded place. Many longed for respite from the Covid-19 madness and hot to trot lockdown police.

Now things are almost back to normal (at least for the time being). We are free to go almost anywhere. Finally, it is time to plan that off-grid trip. Prepare to self-isolate on your own terms.

We’ve actually stumbled upon a remote piece of paradise. There, the warm Indian Ocean laps onto sea shell-strewn beaches. It’s separated by rocky outcrops and coastal dunes and lush tropical forests surround it.

Furthermore, crystal clear, warm water accommodates more than 1200 fish species. If you’re into snorkelling, this is a great destination all year-round. This coastal garden of Eden has no cell phone reception or electricity. At night, billions of flickering stars pop against a jet black African sky.

Welcome to Mabibi!

Mabibi Beach Camp is hidden on the remote shores of the Maputuland Coast. Because of this, seclusion is one of its most attractive features. In fact, it is one of the last unspoiled and undeveloped wilderness beaches left on the African continent. This hidden treasure remains one of Mzanzi’s best kept secrets. It is only accessible with a 4×4.

Mabibi is located on the remote Maputuland coast of KZN.
Mabibi is located on the remote Maputuland coast of KZN.

Mabibi Beach Camp is located between Lake Sibaya, Sodwana Bay and Manzengwenya in Northern KwaZulu Natal. As such, it forms part of the Isimangaliso Wetland Parkand the Maputuland Marine Reserve.

The former is South Africa’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. The latter exists to preserve bales of leatherback turtles nesting in the area.

With a bit of luck and impeccable timing, you may see leatherback and loggerhead turtle hatchlings head for the sea.

It is enclosed with a series of amalgamated nature reserves and game parks. They stretch all the way from St. Lucia to the Mozambican border. The nearest shop and petrol station is an hour away at Mbazwana. If you’re going, you’ll have to plan well and be self-sustained.

Accommodation

Eight private campsites carefully carved into the milkwood-rich coastal forest are available. They sleep a maximum of six people each. There is no electricity, but communal ablution blocks have gas geysers for hot water.

The entrance to Mabibi Beach Camp.
The entrance to Mabibi Beach Camp.

Michelle Dragt frequently visits Mabibi with her husband and two young children. “Individual campsites are protected by dense forest and you don’t ever hear your neighbours,” she says.

The sand dunes buffer the campsite from the wind. In addition, the beach is only accessible via a walkway. It ends with 62 large wooden steps down to the beach. This might present a challenge to elderly people. However, Michelle says her seven-year-old twin girls navigated the steps like pros.

“The campsites are very sandy and a ground sheet is essential. Take a dust pan to remove sand that’s been walked your tent. Pack a bucket or skottel for washing up too as there are no dish washing facilities,” advises Michelle.

Ice is sold on site at nearby Thonga Beach Lodge. Wood can be purchased from the ladies outside the gate. However, you have to bring your own drinking water. Water at the campsite has a high iron content and is not safe to drink.

“You have to be pretty much self-sustained. I would highly recommend bringing a reliable camping fridge and portable solar power kit. A pressure washer to rinse sand off snorkelling gear and your feet will be handy too. It is also a good idea to take your own braai grid,” Michelle adds.

Being at Mabibi feels like a remote holiday.
Being at Mabibi feels like a remote holiday.

There are three self-catering four-sleeper units with electricity. There’s also a kitchenette. It’s equipped with a stove, microwave, kettle, cutlery and crockery. For your convenience, Mabibi Beach Camp employs helpers. They service the units and campsites. They work on a daily basis and tips to show appreciation are always welcome.

Mabibi Beach camp is situated in a low risk malaria area. However, some surrounding game reserves are said to be high risk. Consult your doctor regarding malaria prophylaxis and definitely bring mosquito coils.

Activities

Snorkelling

Mabibi is situated along Africa’s most southern coral reef and in a marine protected area. Thanks to this, it offers some of the best snorkelling spots in the country. However, conditions are tide dependent. You can also only snorkel at low tide. Own snorkelling gear is essential.

In the wild, clownfish form a symbiotic relationships with sea anemones.
In the wild, clownfish form a symbiotic relationships with sea anemones.

“The sea life is incredible! We went earlier this month. We saw honeycomb moray eels, lion fish, goldies, and rays to name a few. The kids loved it!” says Michelle.

Also keep your eyes peered for striking sub-tropical fish. These may include Moorish idols, parrot fish and blue surgeonfish. You may also see bottlenose dolphins, whale sharks and a variety of turtle species.

Surfing

Surf is good in the bay and there is also a nice bowl wave for kids. Beginner to intermediate surfers who are not comfortable at backline can take advantage of this.

Fishing

The protected Maputuland coastline is superb for surf fishing. It’s also a great fly-fishing destination, especially Hulley Point. However, being a protected reef, only shore fishing is allowed. Rather leave the fishing skis and boats at home.

Nearby attractions/Day trips

  • Maputoland Marine Reserve boasts a 50 km reef complex. It offers some of the world’s top dive sites. These are accessible from Sodwana Bay.
  • Scuba diving safaris and courses at Thonga Beach Lodge.
  • Unforgettable sundowners at Lake Sibaya. This is the largest freshwater lake in South Africa. You can enjoy this while observing hippo and crocodile activity.
  • View the largest African elephants in the world at Thembe Elephant Park. You can also see leopards, buffalos, rhinos and a variety of antelopes.
  • Hike through the tropical forests of Mapelane Nature Reserve.
  • Guided turtle tracking at Thonga Beach Lodge (Nov-Feb).
  • Isimangaliso Wetland Park – UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Kosi Bay, Ndumo, Enseleni and Sodwana Bay nature reserves and parks.
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