Zipping down the Wild Coast to discover hidden gems
Now that the annual peak travel period is over consider using your remaining leave days to explore the lush Wild Coast.
Overlooking The Gorge at Wild 5 Adventures in the Oribi Gorge | Picture: Supplied
As someone with a mild fear of heights, I could have never imagined myself zip-lining across the treetops of the Lake Eland Game Reserve at the Oribi Gorge along the KwaZulu-Natal Wild Coast, but once I got past that second platform, the experience felt like a thrilling aerial safari, taking in the surrounding foliage and wildlife.
Hosted by South African Tourism’s Sho’t Left initiative as part of their Easter Seat at the Table campaign, the stop at Lake Eland Ziplines was just one of many across the Wild Coast coastline connecting the Eastern Cape to KwaZulu-Natal.
Of the locations we visited over a period of six days, Lake Eland and the general Oribi Gorge area stand out as hidden gems and the undisputed highlight.
The Oribi Gorge is a canyon in southern KwaZulu-Natal, 35 kilometres northwest of Port Shepstone, which is 120km south of Durban.
Cut by the Mzimkulwana River, the Oribi is the eastern part of the two gorges that cut through the Oribi Flats of KZN.
Although the Wild Coast area mostly consists of rock formations and foliage, it is a sight to behold with the kind of fresh air that feels as though it could put the wind back beneath the wings of any burntout city dweller.
Thrill-seeking adventure at Lake Eland Ziplines
We visited Lake Eland Ziplines on an overcast day with slight showers and this initially dampened the mood of the group of about 20 people who were looking forward to an afternoon of adventure.
The drive into the game reserve felt like a safari of its own, featuring promising sightings of its healthy ungulate population, going about their business on the lush, green land.
Although the wonder of the scenic journey was interrupted by the rocky and bumpy drive up, any annoyance was quickly replaced with slight apprehension upon entering the cliffside office to get strapped into protective gear ahead of the safety demonstration that precedes each zip line tour.
I can’t begin to coherently explain why I – an acrophobe – was first in line to make my way across to the first platform but I did, struggling slightly to apply enough pressure to come to a complete stop just as I got to the first platform.
One of the zip line instructors had to apply the emergency break to get me to stop, and having that happen on a zip line is enough to either speed up your aptitude to stop on your own or make you turn back, after being flung about in the air over a gorge. The latter is what happened to about 12 of the journalists and influencers on the trip, leaving only five people who successfully completed the afternoon’s tour.
As one of the five, and the only woman, to have made it to the end, I can confidently say they missed out on quite the thrill, crowned by a moment zip lining across the top of the lake, stopping just shy of touching the water right at the end. On the zip line tour, guests could potentially reach speeds of up to 160km per hour.
The entire experience could set you back anything between R350 and R490, depending on what you wish to do and it is worth noting that the X-Treme Tour (one of three options) is not for children.
Discovering hidden gems
Aimed at highlighting the fact that “small towns in Mzansi have something to offer for every occasion” the campaign trip took journalists from Umtata to Shelly Beach and finally to the Wild Coast.
Now that the annual peak travel period is over and the transit traffic has died down, perhaps it is time to consider using those remaining leave days on a romantic getaway or a family vacation?
Here are some other hidden gems I fell in love with:
C-Bali Restaurant and Beach Bar
C-Bali is a stylish restaurant located on St Michael’s Beach in Margate, just a few steps away from the ocean.
The restaurant is cosy and welldecorated with a beautiful beachfront view and a menu filled with delicious Bali-inspired meals. With authentic Thai dishes, fresh seafood, sushi, steaks, light meals and its self-proclaimed “famous flying Dutchman potjie,” you’re spoiled for choice at C-Bali.
Given the restaurant’s location, I gave their sushi a try, coupled with Spier’s MCC, and it was a lovely, satisfactory dinner. I have, admittedly, had better sushi but their freshly made dish was the perfect meal after a long day and stops at other sub-par restaurants.
If you’re planning on making it a three-course meal, expect to pay around R600 per person, excluding drinks.
Wild 5 Adventures:
Located at the beginning of the Wild Coast’s Oribi Gorge, Wild 5 Adventures is just one of the many attractions in the area. It is also home to the world’s highest gorge swing. While I chose to skip the particular activity, thanks to my fear of heights, those brave enough to try it had nothing but good things to say about the exhilarating experience.
The property also features a range of other activities, such as paintball, abseiling and quad-bike tours, as well as hiking trails that allow visitors to take in some of the most beautiful views of the gorge. You can expect to pay anything between R200 and R795 per person, depending on the activity.
I recommend a picture near the edge of the cliff overlooking the gorge.
Catherine’s on 15 Restaurant at the Gorge Private Game Lodge & Spa:
The restaurant operates by a “field to fork” philosophy that sees the culinary team create dishes using their own fresh produce. Each morning a basket of freshly laid eggs is delivered to the kitchen door and twilight sees the chef foraging culinary herbs, veggies and shrubs for evening service.
According to the team, they incorporate their essential oils crops, such as rosemary, rose geranium, sweet marjoram, peppermint, lemongrass and tea tree, into the sensory dining experience.
Diners can expect to taste the likes of lamb and marigold arancini, honey and Rooibos-glazed pork belly with pela pela peppers and feta mousse, as well as lavender cured salmon trout, with an average cost of about R195 per meal.
During our brief afternoon visit, we tried the restaurant’s simpler dishes but I believe the true mark of a good restaurant is the kind that can get the basics right. I enjoyed a simple double beef patty burger with mushroom sauce and a side of onion rings, and after an afternoon of adventurous cliffside outings, it was a welcome delight.
Though I had no time to indulge in the lodge’s pure-leaf tea infusions paired with a delicate spread of carefully designed treats, I’m keen on returning to try out their weekly high tea spreads.
I was also left in awe after a tour of one of the lodge’s breathtaking cliffside villas, featuring a bathtub placed right in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows that offers an uninterrupted view of the verdant and untouched land.
Wild Coast Sun:
The final days of my trip were marked by a stay at the Wild Coast Sun, a family-friendly property that is highly reminiscent of Sun City. One of my afternoons was spent on a one-hour quad-biking trail through the hills of the property, offering a somewhat relaxing end to a jam-packed week.