Thonga Beach Lodge

iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa
Book from Book from £493 per night

Luxe beach-meets-bush lodge on endless sands, with world-class snorkelling and diving, great wildlife, fine dining and secluded forest suites

This is surely one of the most spectacular and unique beach lodges in all of Africa. It's tucked away on the furthest coast of Kwazulu-Natal, in Maputaland (which you may have heard of), and more precisely in iSimangaliso Nature Reserve (which you probably haven't, but you should). Getting there is not for the faint hearted, but it's all part of the adventure: a 4- to 5-hour drive from Durban, then a 1-hour jeep transfer along sandy tracks to the lodge, which is set deep in dune forests above the endless sands of Mabibi beach. You’re actually nearer to Mozambique than to Jo'burg, but don't let that put you off. On the contrary: with two pools, a dive centre, a blissful spa, and a superb al fresco restaurant and bar, you’ll not want for creature comforts here.

Accommodation is in 12 spacious circular thatched suites dotted in the woods, with canopied kingsize beds, private balconies (some ocean-facing), and big ensuite bathrooms. Outside, nature awaits. Go snorkelling among fire fish, scuba diving in coral reefs, whale watching from inflatable boats, turtle tracking by night, kayaking or bird watching on shimmering Lake Sibaya (with the possible bonus of hippos and crocs). It's all run - with smiling staff and outstanding service - by Isibindi, the team behind Kosi Forest Lodge (which, at two hours’ drive away, is one of your nearer neighbours). Put it on your bucket list; or better still, carpe diem and go now.

Highs

  • Great for outdoorsy couples, friends and families alike: you can request twin beds, family suites or a honeymoon hideaway with its own plunge pool
  • We love how immersed it is in the environment, with marine conservation projects, well-trained local staff and brilliant bird guides
  • The sandy beach is totally undeveloped, with pristine reefs, lush dune forests - and no hotels within 60 miles
  • We hear the food is divine and fresh, especially given the far-flung location
  • Probably South Africa's top diving spot, with equipment and training available, and plenty for snorkellers, too

Lows

  • It's remote, so expect long journeys in and out, no mobile coverage and patchy WiFi
  • Being a coastal wetland, there is some rain (and, on summer afternoons, possible thunderstorms)
  • This is a low-risk malaria area - but all beds have mosquito nets
  • Many activities are not suitable for children under 8
  • It's not cheap - but when you consider that all meals and some activities are included, we think it's very fair value

Best time to go

In winter (May-Sept), expect daytime temperatures between 10-25C, with some very cool evenings and early mornings. The sea is a refreshing, but perfectly manageable, 18-22C.

In summer (Oct-April), temperatures rise to 20-35C by day, with some high humidity and occasional afternoon and evening thunderstorms; the sea is beautifully warm at 20-26C.

In terms of wildlife, turtle breeding season is Nov-Feb, while whale-watching is June-Oct. Birding is best in winter, and diving is better in summer (typical visibility 15-20m from Dec-May).

Overall, our personal preference is for April-June or Sept-Oct- for their combination of pleasantly warm, sunny days with good wildlife on (respectively) land and sea.

Our top tips

Sign up for a free 1.5-hour guided walk among the coastal forests, to discover the amazing birds, insects, plants and mammals which inhabit them - including the rare samango monkey and setaros dwarf chameleon.

Keen birdwatchers can go a step further - to Lake Sibaya - where waders and raptors abound. Again, don't hesitate to book a bird guide - it's all included in the rate. Combine this with the coastal forest and you can tick off over 400 species, including the palm-nut vulture, Livingstone’s turaco, purple-crested turaco, green twinspot, grey waxbill and green malkoha (green coucal).

Great for...

Beach
Great Outdoors
Romantic
Family
Eco
  • Luxury Beach Lodge
  • 12 rooms
  • Restaurant & bar
  • All ages welcome (8+ for some activities)
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Kayaks
  • Marine centre
Room:

Rooms

12 circular thatched rondavels are dotted on the edge of the forest, raised on wooden stilts, some of them looking out towards the ocean. Inside it’s safari-style chic: blonde wood floors, knotted rugs, and cane-covered walls with large hinged windows to drink in the views. Centre-circle is a canopied kingsize bed, some of which can be split into twins, with a semi-open bathroom to the rear. All of these have showers and twin basins; a few have tubs.

Families should make a beeline for one of the three pairs of connecting suites, linked by wooden walkways and offering one double and one twin bedroom (both ensuite). One of these has its own plunge pool, as does the stunning honeymoon suite. For loved up couples who enjoy empty beaches and (marine) wildlife, we can think of few better places in the world.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Fan
  • Hairdryer
  • Mosquito net
  • Safe box
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries

Eating

All meals at Thonga are included in the rates - and, by all accounts, they are every bite the equal of the spectacular setting.

Chef Carl Moller prides himself on ethical, sustainable cuisine: freshly caught fish, cheese from the Indezi River, Natal spices, Hluhluwe dried pineapple, and his own home-grown 'micro greens' in spectacular salads. Tables are laid outdoors on a raised deck amidst rampant foliage (or indoors in cooler weather); lucky couples might get a romantic table on the beach, with flickering lamps and private butler service.

Before dinner, guests can mingle over cocktails and canapés - a classy touch in this remote setting. Starters might be a salad or soup (the mussel soup gets a thumbs up); for mains perhaps a prawn curry, Tandoori kingklip or mushroom risotto. There's always one veggie option, while vegan and other diets can be accommodated - but don't expect a vast range (you're 50km from the nearest shop). Exotic fruit and creamy cakes hit the dessert spot sweetly.

Lunch is often served as a buffet, while breakfast is a mini-buffet brought to your table, plus a la carte cooked options. Standouts include impressively fresh pastries, superb coffee, and the DIY fruit- and veg blend juices.

Features include:

  • All meals included
  • Bar
  • Children's meals
  • Restaurant
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

For outdoorsy types and water babies, Thonga Beach Lodge offers a veritable smorgasbord of adventure- and nature-based activities:

  • Spectacular snorkelling in the 'home reef' a short walk away, with prolific angelfish as well as turtles, shrimps, anemones and tiger cowries
  • World-class scuba diving further afield, with over 1,000 species including lion fish, sharks, and bottlenose dolphins, plus PADI courses available
  • Non-divers can take an ocean safari on a semi-rigid 10-seat boat, looking out for bottlenose or spinner dolphins, manta rays, giant sea turtles and whales (June-Oct)
  • The seemingly endless sands of Mabibi Beach cry out for long walks, beach combing and play time with the family
  • Explore the coastal forests which teem with birds, plants, butterflies, exotic insects and animals; lodge guides will identify and bring it all to life for you
  • 20 mins' drive away is Lake Sibaya, southern Africa’s largest freshwater lake, where you can kayak among hippos, crocs and amazing birdlife, or enjoy it all with sundowners from the shore
  • Give a little back by helping with turtle monitoring: loggerhead and leatherbacks nest during summer nights (Nov-Feb) and watching them beetle out to the sea is a deep pleasure
  • It's also a great spot for kite-surfing or fishing - but you'll need to bring your own equipment (and fishing licence)
  • If that all sounds too much, relax with a hot stone massage, exfoliation, cleansing facial or pedicure at the spa: feedback is consistently excellent

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Boat trips
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Kayaking
  • Kitesurfing
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Private guided tours
  • Safaris
  • Scuba diving
  • Scuba diving courses
  • Snorkelling
  • Surfing
  • Swimming
  • Traditional cultures
  • Turtle hatching
  • Well being
  • Whale watching
  • Wildlife

Kids

Thonga Beach Lodge manages to welcome both couples and families with equal warmth and dedication - and those with more adventurous kids will have the time of their lives here. We think it's best for outdoorsy teens and pre-teens; many activities are only open to children aged 8 or more.

Best for:

Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

There are 2 Forest View Family Suites, which have two bedrooms (1 double, 1 twin, both ensuite) connected by a short passage. The top-of-the-range Deluxe Ocean View Family Suite has a similar set-up, but the two bedrooms are closer and you get your own plunge pool.

Babysitting:

Charged per hour (min 4 hours)

Baby equipment:

  • High chairs

    Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

    Children's meals:

  • Kids menu
  • Children under 8 are served dinner before 7pm

    Kids Activities on site:

  • Snorkelling (5+ years, 8+ preferred; fins available from size 36/37)
  • Guided rock pool snorkelling at low tide
  • Fishing
  • Forest walks
  • Turtle walk
  • Scorpion and spider night walk with infrared torches
  • Two swimming pools
  • Warm seas year-round
  • Bubble-maker scuba course (ages 8-10)

    Families Should Know:

    The ocean can be dangerous, with big waves and breakers. The lodge is remote.

  • Distances:

    • Shop: 50km / 1+ hour's drive
    • Hospital: 45km / 1 hour's drive (Mseleni)
    Kid Friendly:

    Location

    Thonga Beach Lodge is on Mabibi Beach, near Lake Sibaya, in northeast Kwazulu-Natal. It's set within the iSimangaliso Nature & Wetland Park, and reached by unsurfaced roads; the journey there is part of the adventure!

    By Air:
    The nearest airports are:

  • Richards Bay (210km): domestic flights from Jo'burg
  • Durban King Shaka International (345km / 4 hours' drive)
  • Johannesburg O.R. Tambo International (610km, 8-9 hours' drive)

    For those willing to charter a small private plane, there is an 800m tarred airstrip 30 mins' drive from the Lodge.

    By Road:
    The journey from any of these airports or cities is long, and must be planned in advance. The lodge itself is only reachable by 4x4 vehicle, so most guests drive as far as Sodwana Bay (where secure parking has been arranged). From here, there are twice-daily 4x4 transfers to Thonga Beach Lodge (1 hour's drive) - normally at 12.00 and 15.00.

    If self-driving, you will need a 4x4 vehicle, and you should arrive before 4pm. The nearest fuel stations are over 100km (2 hours' drive) away, in Hluhluwe or Jozini, so you should fill up there.

    Detailed directions will be sent when you book through i-escape.

    Airports:

    • Richards Bay Airport (Domestic) 210.0 km RCB
    • Durban International (King Shaka) 345.0 km DUR

    Other:

    • Beach 0.1 km
    • Shops 50.0 km
    • Restaurant 50.0 km
  • Rates for Thonga Beach Lodge

    Arriving on: