South Africa’s Wild Coast is synonymous with pristine, untouched beaches, with dunes and cliffs that rise from inland and then tumble dramatically into the ocean.
Chintsa is a gem of a village, located on the accessible-end of the Wild Coast, and only a 30-minute drive from East London. I decided to explore the region from my home base at three uniquely charming lodges.
Crawfords Beach Lodge
I remember it vividly. We would arrive at the lodge and within minutes us kids would spill out the chalets needing to answer the most pressing of questions: how many pools were there, where was the trampoline, how far was it to the beach, and of course, to scout out who the other kids were! We’d arrange to meet our parents for meals and be out exploring for the rest of the day.
This is my memory of Wild Coast holidays and being at Crawfords Beach Lodge took me right back.
Speak to anyone in hospitality along the Wild Coast and the Crawford family name comes up. For over half a century the family has played a custodian role with involvement in various lodges on this rugged piece of SA’s coastline. For at least 40 years of that they’ve been welcoming guests to Chintsa. What began in 1976 as a string of modest holiday cottages has now grown into an iconic lodging. You only have to speak with a few South African families to hear stories of favored childhood holidays at Crawfords.
A variety of accommodation options are on offer, all a stone’s throw from the beach. Generous buffets and a rotating menu will keep you more than satisfied in-between activities which include: surfing, canoeing, fishing, tennis, and more. Golfing, safaris and a few other Wild Coast activities are only a few minutes’ drive away.
Despite the strong family emphasis, Crawfords is a perfect getaway for couples, friends, or anyone wanting an idyllic coastal break.
Understandably, owner Mark is rather passionate about the region and putting it on the map: “I want it to be a haven for people to enjoy all year around. People will love it as it’s never overcrowded and there are no queues.”
And with a generous 21kms of coastline to explore, you don’t need to convince me Mark.
Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve
As the game vehicle quietly stopped, the lion cubs sitting in the bush nearby were suddenly roused. One in particular, decided that a closer inspection was in order, approaching us with curiosity. The fact that they are white lions only added to the awe-inspiring nature of the experience.
White lions, which are a result of a rare colour mutation, are incredibly rare with a precious few left in the wild. Inkwenkwezi is a registered breeder and hopes to be part of restocking the Timbavati where the lions originate from. Inkwenkwezi covers over 4000 hectares of wilderness and has been open to the public since 1999. It’s almost inconceivable that, sitting in our game vehicle in Big Five territory, we’re only a 30-minute drive from East London.
The reserve’s uniqueness lies not only in its accessibility, but also that it spans several biomes including savannah, marsh, thicket, and fynbos. This variety makes every game drive a unique and diverse experience. A must-do is the forest walk to the cluster of rare Umtiza trees, endemic to the area and occurring in only a few pockets of the country.
There are two tented options available for guests: Bush Camp has six safari tents with generous views over the valley. For a more luxurious bush stay, Valley Camp has six tents providing a plush and spacious tented lodging in the heart of the forest. Lying in bed with the canvas windows rolled down, you’re lulled to sleep with the sounds of the surrounding forest. Thankfully, from the safety of your elevated tent.
Dining takes place in the Sunset Lapa with lavish views over the valley below. Packages are inclusive of meals and two game drives per day. Substituting your safari vehicle for a quad bike will provide an even more exhilarating exploration of the bush. After hours of conversation with our guide, I was encouraged to discover the reserve to be a superb wildlife experience underpinned by several earnest endeavors at animal conservation. Inkwenkwezi offers a memorable stay at a game reserve with exceptional hospitality and a rather warm heart.
Within minutes of driving into Prana Lodge, I understood why it is considered one of the most romantic luxury getaways in the country. Eight spacious and completely private units are hidden in a coastal forest, all reached by a series of manicured garden paths that guide you through the enchanting property.
Prana is a five-star lodge with an elegance and understated luxury that permeates the aesthetic, ethos, and guest offerings. Owners Tim and Gail purchased the property close to 35 years ago and in 2020 the lodge will celebrate a decade of hospitality. The original desire was to create, and then curate, a place of retreat where a holistic and healing hospitality experience would be on offer. Only hours a few hours into my stay and I could tangibly sense how this has been achieved.
The private and isolated nature of the suites only seeks to enhance the sense of discreet luxury, each sporting a private pool, veranda, and tropical garden. No wonder the lodge is popular for honeymoons, minimoons, babymoons – frankly, any romantic or special occasion – moon or no moon! A short walk from the suites takes you to the restaurant, followed by a boardwalk through the garden leading you to a private ocean viewing deck sitting 40 meters above the beach. Glass of Chardonnay in one hand and book in the other, you’re ready to languish away the afternoon with the waves cathartically caressing the shore below.
Gastronomy at Prana is also a luxe affair with hints of an Afro-Asian fusion emphasis in the fine meals prepared. I now understand why Eastern Cape locals throw distance into the wind to come and dine here. The spa is also popular with visitors, with a host of experiences ready to sooth body and soul. Residents also have access to the jacuzzi, sauna, and steam room.
You may just struggle to find a more beautiful, intimate and beach-fronted lodge. Prepare for delightful encounters with the staff, just watch out for the endearing but mischievous vervet monkeys - they’re as eager as you are to be at Prana and share an equal appetite for the homemade biscuits found in your room.
Other Things to do in the area
- If you’re looking for an eventful and scenic day trip, I recommend the 45-minute drive to Morgan Bay. Start with a drink at the hotel and then make your way to the popular cliff-viewing spot. You can also arrange some adrenaline-pumping abseiling through the hotel.
- Keeping it closer to home, Emerald Vale has a brewery and is a favourite of the locals.
- The C Club is a popular local restaurant, which also doubles up as a wedding and concert venue.
- For the golfers Olive Wood is the perfect place to play 18 holes.