Exploring South Africa's Northern KwaZulu-Natal: Our Digital Marketing Team for Tourism Went on an Adventure
With an office based in Stellenbosch, our team of digital marketers for tourism know the winelands, Garden Route and West Coast better than most, but when it comes to Northern KwaZulu-Natal they need 'refreshers' every then and now. Luckily, one of our clients, Isibindi Africa Lodges, invited us to experience their lodges stretching from the iSimangaliso Wetland Park to the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Park. Here's how it went:
Meet The Digital Marketing for Tourism Team
It was always going to be an adventure - especially when one considers our team. One of us had (dare we say it) never been on a 'proper' guided safari before - yet she called herself a ‘South African’? However, our rental car driver was a seasoned safari-goer who spent weeks in the Mara doing her Masters - talk about choosing the right thesis topic! We also had a budding film director who is always looking for people to meet and content to capture. We may have looked like an odd bunch, but our goal was to experience places few have seen and leave with real stories to share with the world in the hopes of driving more direct bookings for our client, Isibindi Africa Lodges.
Thonga Beach Lodge - "Are We Even In South Africa?" Asked Our Digital Marketers
We landed at King Shaka International Airport and hit the N2 en-route to Sodwana Bay - a five-hour drive towards the last bit of South Africa before reaching the Mozambique border. After arriving in what most consider to be South Africa's scuba diving capital, we were transferred in a 4x4 vehicle by Mabibi local, Godfrey, who told us stories about local residents and the history of the land leading to Thonga Beach Lodge. Now, this is where it got interesting! The tarred roads turned to sand, and we suddenly saw parts of rural South Africa, forgotten by time and hidden from the world, yet looking out over it from the rolling KZN hills.
For an hour, we traversed twists and turns until eventually, we got to the top of an ancient forested dune where we suddenly heard (and smelt) the Indian Ocean below. Was this even real? We needed a pinch - and a drink. As Stellenbosch locals, we always thought that we could claim the title of living in the most beautiful part of South Africa - we had to think again! Thonga Beach Lodge and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park's coastline had rocked the podium for us, that's for sure!
That night the team got a taste of 'home' (not that we were missing it at all), over a bottle of wine while dining on a 3-course meal under the night stars, with the waves providing all the ambient music. Thonga Beach Lodge hosts every meal outside - weather permitting, although it usually does permit in this part of the world!
Sunkissed Skin, Sprays of Humpback Whales and Snorkeling
As the sun rose, so too did the sand between our toes with a beach walk where we went kilometres without seeing another person. If you didn't know already, Thonga Beach is the only lodge granted permission to 'set up shop' along the beach in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the iSimangaliso. This is all thanks to its commitment to working alongside locals and empowering the surrounding Mabibi community. You can read more about this here.
After breakfast, we (literally) hit the waves with a 2-hour boating experience where we got to see dolphins swim up alongside us and snorkel amongst turtles. However, a humpback whale and her calf stole the show - they always do! Just as we were about to turn back to the shore, these two must have thought, "oh well, if you insist", before breaching and putting on a synchronised display. National Geographic, eat your heart out!
Kosi Forest Lodge - Sir David Attenborough Would No Doubt Approve
Our hearts were now full, our bodies, well, sort of tanned, and it was time to head off to our next stop, which involved another 4x4 transfer, this time from a bustling town called Manguzi. To give you an idea of how far up north we were in KZN, some Mozambiquan's opted to do their grocery shopping here. Again, we drove through sandy trails that looked more like paths than roads, until we eventually reached an idyllic lake and the unassuming entrance to Kosi Forest Lodge.
Now we have to add a disclaimer: Kosi Forest Lodge is not a place where you come for clean feet and luxurious accommodation - although each cabin's outdoor bath and shower is incredibly dreamy! The paths between your rustic cabins are sand, and we think it's so that mother earth can rise between your toes, tickle your skin and imprint on your heart. This is a destination for birders and nature lovers. You come to Kosi to clean your soul, drawing strength from the ground and inspiration from the lake system which mirrors the sky - only to be rippled by the occasional splashing hippo.
Kosi Forest Lodge feels wholly removed from the concept of time and life in 2022. It's a place that's been left alone by the greedy clutches of everything wrong in this world. You come here to get back in touch with what's important, and don't be surprised if an endangered Palm Nut Vulture watches you doing so. The birds here sound so loud, but perhaps it's because we're so used to drowning out their songs and tweets with the noises and demands of city life?
Gliding Through Ancient Raffia Palm Forests and Lakes
Now the best way to get the full Kosi experience is to take the lakes. This is where all you hear are the gentle splish-splashing of your canoe paddles as you wade through channels under a canopy of dense forest and Raffia Palms. Who knew scenes like this ever existed in South Africa? We felt as if we'd been transported to the Amazon in South America!
That afternoon we switched paddles for paradise, with a boat excursion along all four lakes, moving from freshwaters to salt waters as we got closer and closer to the sandy estuary. It's as if the birds knew that a creative team were on its shores, for an African Fish Eagle perched itself atop one of the centuries-old fishing traps and let us get within a few metres of it to shoot some content - a definite influencer in the making!
Walking on the Wild Side at Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge
Before soon we were back on the road heading towards Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge in the Big 5 Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. This is the oldest proclaimed game reserve in Africa and home to "Operation Rhino", and other anti-poaching programmes started in the 1940s by Dr Ian Player. You can read more about this here.
Every morning and late afternoon, we went on game drives where we got to see plenty of animals. While this certainly was exciting, the highlight was the guided bush walk with our guide Sbonelo, who showed us everything from a Trapdoor Spider to plenty of rhino. This wasn't just an exciting walk; it was a spiritual awakening, and made us realise why we do what we do, and how through our services of digital marketing for tourism we can benefit so many more people, animals, and sacred places like these!
Few words or photographs can explain the allure of South Africa, and while we do our best to promote this great land, our African Trails Guide, Sbonelo, said it best: "Give credit to Mother Nature because this is an oil painting that she painted many years ago, way before you got here."