Seeing Durban's South Coast with Friends
Three months after first meeting our friends Armandt and Darnelle while snorkeling in Zanzibar, we were finally going to see them in South Africa. Wrapping up our brief visit to the Transkei, we were off to see Durban’s South Coast.
St. Michael’s on Sea - a Gem of Durban’s South Coast
Armandt’s family owns a beach house in the beautiful, South Durban coastal village of St. Michael’s on Sea, and he and Darnelle generously invited us for a long-weekend stay.
What a place!
The house itself sits in a quaint residential neighborhood - directly across from the crashing waves of the Indian Ocean. As we’d soon discover, there are few more enjoyable places to have your morning coffee than sitting in this home’s sun room, taking in the area’s tropical warmth and looking out on kite surfers and sailboats in the distance.
The town of St. Michael’s on Sea is one of a series of beach towns dotting the miles of pristine beach on Durban’s South Coast. The city of Durban is massive - the third most populous in South Africa behind Johannesburg and Cape Town. Naturally, people there look for ways to escape the city during the scorchingly hot and humid southern hemisphere summers.
The South Coast serves as that escape. Whether you want quiet villages or raging party scenes, you can find it somewhere along the coastal stretch from Duban south to Port Edward, the last town before crossing from KwaZulu-Natal Province back into the Eastern Cape. St. Michael’s on Sea falls more into the former category, comprising a solid mix of both retirees and young families looking for relaxing beach weekends away from the big city.
Picnics, Wildlife, and Bakkies at Lake Eland Game Reserve
Our first full day in town, Darnelle and Armandt lined up a trip to a local park - Lake Eland Game Reserve.
We’ve mentioned it before, but South Africa has numerous privately-owned game reserves (recall Chipp’s potential career as a rhino guard...). These reserves are somewhat like a mix between a national park and a private ranch, with entirely open areas for animals to roam inside the reserve. But, fences surround the area to keep these animals from escaping out into more built-up areas - don’t very well want a giraffe strolling along a highway!
These reserves also play a crucial role in conservation and preventing poaching. Yes, you don’t want wild animals escaping out into towns. Just as importantly, though, you don’t want poachers coming into these areas to illegally hunt protected animals. Win-win.
Lake Eland was absolutely awesome. We loaded up into Armandt’s “bakkie” (the nomenclature we knew from our time in Ashton!), and drove the 45ish minutes out there. Like national parks, you pay a fee and then have access to the entire reserve - seemingly hundreds of miles of gravel roads winding through the rolling hills surrounding the stunning Oribi Gorge.
Perfect day. Once we entered the park, we could “stretch out” a bit. For a while, Chipp and Armandt would drive inside the cab, with Jenna and Darnelle sitting in the open air of the bakkie’s bed, and then we’d switch spots - very cool experience cruising in the open air, surrounded by hundreds of zebra, gazelle, wildebeest, and warthogs.
Maybe (definitely) it’s because Chipp often thinks with his stomach, but the highlight of our day was the picnic lunch Darnelle prepared. Mid-afternoon, we pulled into a shaded grove of trees, dropped the tailgate, and proceeded to work through a gluttonous spread of sandwiches and snacks.
And, one snack in particular really hit the spot (read: Chipp didn’t have the discipline to stop eating it). It’s a simple - but absolutely delicious - trick. Take a tub of cream cheese, dump it onto a plate, cover it with sweet chili sauce, and dive into it with some crackers. Incredible.
Paddlers and River “Camping” at the Pont
Darnelle’s godfather owns a beach bar and restaurant - Paddlers - 40 minutes south of St. Michael’s. Located on the river separating KwaZulu-Natal from the Eastern Cape and just up-river from the Indian Ocean, this’d be a perfect place to spend a Saturday.
Well, not just Paddlers. That is, we wouldn’t spend the entire Saturday sitting at a beach bar. Paddlers actually sits on the river inside the Old Pont Resort, an escape for boaters, campers, and people just wanting to hang out by the river. Roping together a group of people, we decided to “camp” there for the night.
Technically, the Pont’s regulations don’t allow for permanent structures. Instead, families have spent generations building up the most permanent-cottage-like “temporary” structures we’d ever seen. So yeah, we were a little surprised, expecting the whole tent thing and showing up to a beautiful, three-bedroom-AC-and-running-water-equipped rental home.
For the rest of the day, we bombed up and down the river in a friend’s boat, took dips in the Indian Ocean, and ate tons of food. And yeah, we did end up at the bar, spending a fairly long night partying with a wild cast of characters at Paddlers.
Playing Golf with Gazelles
Somewhat groggy the next morning, a dip in the river, hot coffee, and a greasy breakfast over at Paddlers brought us back towards equilibrium.
In one of those brilliant-at-the-moment ideas the day before, Armandt and Chipp had decided to play golf the next day. Jenna and Darnelle had a nice relaxing time back in St. Michael’s, and the two guys hacked their way through 18 holes at San Lameer Golf Course.
Did we do the game of golf any favors? Certainly not. But, poor play or not, we couldn’t have asked for a cooler course to explore - and, with the way we were spraying it all over the place, we explored a lot of it.
For Chipp, the views out towards the Indian Ocean and the course itself were certainly amazing. What really set the experience apart, though, was the wildlife. In the States, you occasionally see deer dart across a fairway. In South Africa, there were dozens of impala and other local gazelles everywhere! Wild ripping up a fairway (in a bad way) right next to a scene from Lion King!
Finally, a Real Braai
We attempted a braai during our time in Robertson, but it’s hard to claim success as a couple novice Yankees. Our last night in St. Michael’s we got to experience a proper braai.
While the guys golfed, the girls picked up a ton of supplies to throw on the braai (NOTE: braai functions as a verb, generic noun for the whole process, and specific noun for the actual cooking set-up).
As expected, the meat was mouth-wateringly delicious. The real star of the meal, though - and a new treat for us - was the braaibroodjie. According to Darnelle, you can’t call it a braai if you don’t include these downright addictive grilled sandwiches. Throw cheese, diced onions, mayo, and chutney between a couple pieces of white bread, lather some butter on the outside, and throw that guy on the braai until it crisps up - basically grilled cheese on crack!
Thanks to Armandt and Darnelle for showing us such an outstanding weekend!