Driving through the boom gate of the Isimangaliso Wetland Park’s Eastern Shores, I tingled with excitement. The hubby took his foot off the accelerator, we opened the windows. Slowing down to a dung beetle’s pace, we breathed in the muggy Zululand air. I could faintly hear the pounding sea hidden behind some of the world’s largest vegetated dunes on my right. In no time, we spotted our first Kudu, regal and watchful. I smiled as we meandered towards the dunes in the distance, ten days camping at Cape Vidal was just what the doctor ordered. A unique destination, Cape Vidal is located on South Africa’s north eastern coastline and offers a veritable beach and bush paradise rolled into one. Set in a marine reserve, it’s just a hornbill flit from world-renowned Lake St Lucia and the abundant wildlife which thrives on its shores. As the emerald bumps in the distance grew bigger I could no longer picture my desk, what my laptop looked like or the school run.
Three hours after leaving Durban and packed to the hilt, our double-cab rolled into the campsite around lunchtime. We unbuckled the children who immediately started exploring the sandy and, thankfully, shady space. A swig of water, a quick bite and we began the challenging task of putting up the camp that would be our home for ten days. After a few questioning sideways glances and eyeball rolls between hubby and I, the camp took shape and we were soon sitting in deck chairs sipping a refreshing gin and tonic as the night sounds filled the air. Our first night was restless as it always is for me. After what felt like my eighth trip to the ablution block, I finally fell asleep to the idyllic sounds of a bush pig raiding our bin.
Mornings are early for most campers and we were no exception as the children launched a full-scale attack onto the bed. The hubby was already long gone, rising at first light to launch the ski-boat for a morning of fishing the abundant waters off Cape Vidal’s coastline. For us it was a quick breakfast washed down with coffee, condensed milk and a rusk, and soon we were off to the beach.
Cape Vidal sits at a point along the Zululand coastline which is accentuated by a reef jutting 45 degrees out from the beach. Within and around these warm and safe waters is a hotbed of activity for sun worshippers, families, tourists and fishermen. Snorkellers bob around the rocks while kids explore the many pools with their buckets and fishing nets. Babies splash in puddles, squealing with delight while the generous sun warms the beach. April is a great time to visit as the notorious Zululand heat has waned yet the ocean remains warm and silky to swim in. Ski-boats started beaching and we were delighted with the cuta and dorado caught by our valiant fishermen. Cuta and dorado are both delicious game fish that would be consumed with great gusto that evening around the braai. Sun-kissed and truly exhausted the children fall asleep to the sounds of the adults around the fire discussing nothing of any great importance.
In no time at all, the days quickly fell into a rhythm swinging like a pendulum between beach time and camp time as we thoroughly embraced wind-free days and calm seas. Besides its inherent natural attributes, what keeps families going back to Cape Vidal year after year is the immense freedom the area offers the kids. Secluded and sheltered, there is only one way in and one way out and that is through a game reserve. Like a pack of mongooses, the little people melt into gangs with the eldest usually the top of the pecking order, and raid the campsites as they go. So and so has a game of Snap, this one wants to play ‘Man Tracker’ in the dunes with the walkie talkies and this one is dishing out marshmallow contraband nicked from his mom’s trailer pantry. They hit the beach, quickly getting involved with building dams rivalling Kariba or a sand castle ‘Kilimanjaro’. On one particularly calm day around a Spring low tide, our kids even played a game of Marco Polo, in the sea, supervised of course. In the evenings, they return to camp, starving, needing a bath and their beds. It was typically lights out before 7pm.
No trip to Cape Vidal would be complete without a visit to Mission Rocks. About halfway back to the nearest town, St Lucia, Mission Rocks is a series of ledges that jut into the sea. It was bang on Spring low tide on the day we went, the perfect time to explore the many life-filled rock pools and to teach the kids a thing or two about fishing. Driving through the pristine reserve we spotted wildebeest, waterbuck, warthog and kudu. Surveying the scenery, it struck me as no wonder the Isimangaliso Wetland Park was appointed South Africa’s first UNESCO World Heritage site back in 1999.
On our arrival at Mission Rocks we ambled down to a sandy area amongst the rocks carrying umbrellas, picnics and fishing tackle. The excitement was barely containable as the dads started rigging up rods one at a time. Suitably geared up, my plucky daughter proudly took her pink rod complete with pink reel and walked in her pink crocs down to the reef’s edge. Dad helped her cast into the turbulent waters below. Around her came the jubilant shouts of kids pulling carrantine and rainbow wrasse out of the water. Amidst the hubbub, our little fisherwomen calmly struck her rod and reeled (imitating her mom no doubt), low and high, low and high and proudly landed her little sergeant major. The triumph vanished as soon as her dad brought the fish near her. The fight was fun but this little princess was not interested in touching that slimy little fish and so back into the water it went.
The Eastern Shores is populated with a series of meandering game drives that will take you up a dune, through a forest, past hippo-heavy pans and abundant grasslands. Catalina Bay offers a lookout point over the lake and from here you can spot hippos and a variety of bird life including the beautiful saddle-billed stork. It’s especially pretty, late in the day as the sun dips below Lake St. Lucia’s western shoreline and casts its liquid orange light across the water. There are few souls around so it’s easy to drink everything in from the smell of the bush to the grunting of the hippo as they leave their watery refuge. The light fades from blue to black and as we arrive in camp, the stars are like glitter across the night sky. Someone lights a fire and opens some beers. We settle in for the evening, listening to the comforting roar of the ocean. Another beautiful day in this beach and bush heaven!