Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels. If you would like to take part please get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org or @em_luxton – I would love to hear from you!
This week, I’ve been chatting to Melanie van Zyl about her latest trip. Growing up around camping clutter, 4×4 tackle, Hilux bakkies and the South African bushveld, adventure is runs through Melanie van Zyl’s veins. Her current day job is unearthing and testing the latest travel gear for Getaway Magazine and reviewing exceptional hotels, lodges and cottages across Southern Africa for the esteemed travel magazine. She’s lived in Johannesburg her whole life and is still unearthing awesome things to do in and around the city.
Melanie studied photojournalism at Rhodes University and learnt about politics, art, journalism and english only to have travel teach her how little she really know about the world. She loves reading, fairy lights and succulent plants. She dislikes licorice, sitting in front of the television for the sake of it and bad coffee. Keep up with Melanie on her blog MelanieVanZyl.com, or on Twitter @Melanie_vanZyl.
Welcome to Postcard From Melanie! Where have you been most recently?
The last place I went to was Sodwana Bay on the northern coast of South Africa. This is South Africa’s first World Heritage Site and home to the southernmost coral reefs in Africa making it a premier diving destination. The Indian Ocean is beautifully warm and the beach is covered with scuttling crabs. I was there over our summer Christmas holidays and it was pure mayhem, but incredibly entertaining. Divers were thronging under beach shelters kitting up and waiting for their boat to beach, children played in the lagoon, locals walked the beached selling wooden boats and Land Rovers while fisherman tried their beach to get as far away from the thronging masses as possible to land their catch without having their line interrupted.
Summer at Christmas still sounds wrong to me – how was the weather?
It was hot! South African summers are gorgeous – especially when they’re on the beach and you can swim in the sea to freshen up.
Where did you stay?
I stayed in Coral Divers Resort. It was definitely the perfect option over this time of the year because it’s situated inside the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Accommodation is basic but comfortable and the settings vibey with a central lodge-cum-restaurant overlooking the pool area. It’s an established resort with a great reputation and doesn’t break the bank. If we had stayed outside the park, we would have needed to queue every morning to get inside the park and onto the beach – a really harrowing affair with reports of people getting their place in the line at two in the morning.
Ouch, so it’s lucky you stayed at the park! What did you get up to?
I loved eating Sodwana Ice cream, which is a pineapple peeled by the local ladies and you eat it using the stalk as a handle.
Scuba Diving was a dream come true and the experience was just breath taking with colourful coral reefs, slow peaceful turtles, dust-spraying sting rays and an incredible variety of tropical fish. It was Finding Nemo in real life.
Beach walks chasing the crabs.
Catching my very own fish for the very fish time in the waves off the beach. Such a satisfying feeling.
Relaxing on the beach. I haven’t had a beach holiday in years and having sand between your toes when you live in the city is always exciting!
What was your highlight?
Hands down scuba diving for the first time. Swimming alongside a turtle that’s in no rush is a feeling I’ll remember forever.
Sounds incredible! So, what was the food like in Sodwana Bay?
We ate on-site at Coral Divers, there’s a large breakfast spread and set menu in the evenings. The pub lunches where great and I ate something different every day for a week. Think Pizza, calamari, tramezzinis and greek salads.
Did you have any embarrassing moments?
They don’t warn you that when you get back to the beach after an hour long dive you need to pee. Badly. It didn’t end badly, but there was lots of hopping around and it wasn’t because the sand was hot.
Were there any disasters?
Thankfully no, because a lot can go wrong under water. It took me a while to master how to clear my mask in the practice pool sessions so I was a little apprehensive about our venture into the deep blue, but it was the first thing I did after the safe descent to the coral and I nailed it.
Do you have any tips or advice for anyone headed to Sodwana Bay?
Go out of season to avoid the crowds and queues. It can get overwhelming! Browse the market on the main beach, but venture to the back. If you look hard enough you’ll find some unusual things under all the other identical curios – I managed to find a quirky wooden owl for my sister after some digging. If you want a change of scenery or get away from the hoards, drive to Msini Lodge and find the stairs descending to the beach – it’s a little quieter on this end of the bay.
And finally, my favourite new question: did you read any new books on your trip?
I re-read my thoroughly thumbed copy of Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins, his witty prose never fails to make me grin.
NB – all images are owned by Melanie Van Zyl