To be honest, it wasn’t really a convenient time to go away. Workwise, there was so much to do and frankly, I was concerned about taking the time away from my desk.
But, one of the kids had a big birthday. Ages ago, before things got this frenetic at work, they’d booked us into a beach place. And, dammit, I was in need of some good, chilled family time.
“The beach in mid-winter?” some may say.
Aren’t we lucky? KwaZulu-Natal must be one of the best places to winter in. It’s sunny, with warm days and the beach is totally doable.
We headed off for Shaka’s Rock on the Thursday morning. The car was loaded and our spirits were high. The roadworks and manic traffic aside, there was a decided air of road-trip fun.
I’d never been there before. Isn’t the best part of a beach holiday the first exploration of the coastline where you’re staying?
The anticipation and thrill are simply delicious, especially if you find it’s as if you’d ordered it, which this was.
I was a bit worried before we got there. We’re still recovering from the catastrophic floods of April.
I thought the beaches may still be strewn with flotsam and jetsam, and was worried about the pollution that had washed down the rivers. But I was surprised at how clean the beach was.
It’s a very magical spot — typical KZN coastline that conjures up the nostalgia of the best beach holidays you’ve had before.
If you know the area, you’ll know what I mean. If you don’t, let me tell you. We entered the beach opposite a spacious pool which drains to almost empty at low tide, but at high tide it’s a good thigh to waist deep.
It’s sheltered and if you’re nervous about swimming in the open ocean it’s exactly right if all you want to do is paddle in shallow water at low tide, or wallow on your back catching gentle swells in high tide.
To the left is a rocky area which is pretty to look at but not great for swimming. The proper swimming beach is further to the left, a nice walk away, but it’s at the bottom of a big dip and I was worried about the backwash there.
To the right of the swell pool, is one of the best tidal pools we’d ever seen.
As we approached it we saw it held a richness of fish life. They darted around or swam sociably in lazy, haphazard circles.
There were so many! Joining them, nestled among the rocks, were spiny sea urchins, anemones and growing coral. It was a natural aquarium, enchanting to see close up. Richard Attenborough himself would have been impressed.
The next day was gorgeous. There was no wind to speak of and we donned our cossies and set off after breakfast.
It didn’t take long before we’d each had a dip in the fishy pool. As we stood in one general area, too nervous to move around because we didn’t want to damage the delicate coral or inadvertently step on an imposing urchin, the fish swam in closer, interested to see if there was a snack to be had.
They were not in luck.
A prominent sign next to the rockpool asks people not to feed the fish. The reasons are obvious. It’s an ecosystem which does not need nor want human intervention.
The fish there, contrary to what some obviously believed, are not meant to eat the meat pies or bread we saw people toss in.
They have abundant food from the sea which comes in at every high tide. Sadly, however, we saw many people ignore the sign and throw in all manner of food. Lots of it.
And of course the fish rushed in to eat it. We were discouraged to see how many people think that the few seconds of gratification they get from seeing the fish flash to the surface to eat is more important than obeying the rules.
But, the moments we each spent in the tidal pool felt incredibly profound. The water was clear, with no ripples from wind and the visibility was sharp.
As the colourful fish moved around us, they were so close we felt the currents they created against our legs, it was like nature was saying: “I’m still here. I’m okay. I can survive.”
On an absolute high from the thrill of it all, we spent a lovely evening together celebrating the special birthday. The next day saw a cool wind come up.
It was not really ideal beach weather. It was cold enough for jackets and a crocheted cap. But how can you not go to the beach when you’re at the beach?
So, we took a walk down and as the tide was high in the swell pool, and the waves were causing pleasant undulations, the child couldn’t resist it. In she went.
She was having such fun, I was not far behind. We spent a long while just bobbing around, exhilarated, and loving every moment of it.
The sea is therapeutic isn’t it? It’s as if you’re getting a deep body massage from Neptune himself and all the stress ebbs away on the outgoing tides.
On the first morning we were there, the special birthday, I woke up early and unlocked the doors to go onto the veranda overlooking the beach.
I wanted to watch the sun come up. It was still dark. Completely by fluke, there in all its celestial glory, I saw the planetary alignment of Mercury, Venus, the moon, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. I’d read it was happening but forgot all about it.
Oh, wasn’t nature just showing off now! I called everyone to come and look and we shared a moment that we’ll likely never see again.
It felt like such a privilege to have seen it when so many other people anticipating it across SA had been greeted with cloudy skies obliterating their view.
I had needed these experiences. I needed to switch off and relax into the moment of them. They were balm to my soul. Sometimes, nothing else matters.
Work is so important. But sometimes, other things take precedent.
We have to remind ourselves of that. May your candles shine bright this weekend as Eskom has yet another wobbly.
Maybe it needs a beach holiday too.
• Stephanie Saville is the editor of The Witness.