A visit to the Wild Coast of South Africa has been a dream of mine for years. Ever since I lived in East London as a kid I’d been hearing about it – Chintsa, Morgan’s Bay, Kei Mouth, Coffee Bay, Hole in the Wall, Port St Johns, Umngazi.
The names sounded exciting and very adventurous.
But once I moved to Cape Town in my early teens, the dream seemed rather out of reach… And then it became even more so when faced with the prospect of a very long car journey with 2 small kids – a nightmare as any parent will attest! This all meant that I shelved the dream, only to let it reoccur very occasionally. I spent years wondering if it would ever come true.
And then, finally, it did!
The whole trip was spearheaded by the fact that I won 2 nights accommodation for our family of 4 at Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve just outside East London waaaay back in 2014.
It took us almost 18 months to finally get there and when I finally managed to make it happen it was so very special. Often a long awaited trip or holiday can be just that….an amazing experience, but it can also be the complete opposite and fall flat, especially if you’ve hyped it up in your mind to be bigger and better than it is in reality.
Fortunately, I didn’t have too many expectations. This is probably because the Wild Coast seems fairly undocumented. Yes, I have friends who head there for an annual family holiday and I’ve seen magazine pictures of “Hole in the Wall”, but I never have read or heard too much about the area from tourists or travelers. The Wild Coast has an air of mystery to it. A secret spot that many have discovered but prefer to keep it to themselves so as to keep the place untouched and free of tourists. I now know why!
Our trip to the Transkei and Wild Coast started with that very long car drive. 15 hours to be precise all the way from Cape Town to East London via the N2. We started in the wee hours of the morning and stopped only for toilet breaks and the occasional snack or quick visit to our favourite farm stall in the world. The plan had been to stop half way for the night but when we reached Nature’s Valley at 2pm we decided to push through and see if we could rather spend 2 nights in East London instead of our planned 1. It proved to be a better option as it meant we were far more relaxed during our time in East London and I was able to enjoy taking my kids to see all my old haunts. (they didn’t seem as excited as me tho!)
After 2 nights in East London, we headed to Inkwenkwezi for 2 nights and then we checked in just 2 mins down the road to Crawfords Beach Lodge in Chintsa East…
Huge tropical vegetation greeted us as we wound our way down the driveway to reception. The sounds of the waves pounding the beach below us was the first sound to greet us. Wild indeed!
Our room was a family suite with one bedroom downstairs and another upstairs, each with a sitting area, tv, minibar and en-suite bathroom. Us adults claimed upstairs as it had a balcony offering an endless view of the Indian Ocean, stretching to the horizon.
From our private balcony we could also keep an eye on our kids in the pool down below! Bonus!
After setting down our bags and settling in, it was time to explore…
I love arriving at a new place and heading out the door to go and find out all it has to offer. As the name suggests, Crawfords Beach Lodge is located overlooking an exquisite stretch of South African coastline.
The beaches of the Eastern Cape are some of my very best. I love the soft yellow sand, towering sand dunes and warm water. Chintsa is located about 30 mins north of East London and marks the start of the Wild Coast. But before we headed down to walk on the sand, we took a wander around the grounds to get our bearings.
First up was the lounge and dining area where a couple of guests were finishing off their lunch and a few more were relaxing with a book in the lounge (only much later on in our stay did I discover why this lounge area was so popular – the never ending supply of the most DELICIOUS home made cookies I’ve ever had – think oats, berries and nuts drizzled with dark and white chocolate. YUM. I may have been back more than my fair share of times to restock my tummy!)
Outside was the main swimming pool, surrounded by beach loungers and outdoor seating – perfect for book reading or an afternoon zzzz with the sounds of the waves as background noise!
Below the main pool is an outdoor kids play area and trampoline. There is also an indoor kids club that is ideal for youngsters. There are full time assistants overseeing the kids and parents can drop their littlies off for a few hours every day. My 10 year old wasn’t too keen tho which meant his sister didn’t go either… A while later we realised that all the older kids were off on an outing down to the beach which is why there were only kids under 5 around!
On the other side of the property is a tennis court for those who enjoy being active on holiday (not me!) and there is also another, more private, swimming pool that far more chilled!
Our last discovery at the property proved to be the hit… hidden up a steep wooden staircase from the main dining area was another lounge area – this one with view and two games areas which were already being frequented by a few of the older kids staying at Crawfords. My son was hooked. He’d found his tribe! And it didn’t take long before they were all chatting and playing table tennis and pool like old friends. I loved this about Crawfords. The feeling here was that of being part of the family. Every guest was chilling out, doing their own thing, but feeling entirely at home. This is spot that people come back to year after year… and then they bring their own kids.
Once we discovered the pool table my kids wanted to do little else! This was Ben’s first exposure to pool and he got hooked. Whenever we weren’t sure where he had disappeared to, we looked upstairs. And there he was, cue in hand, challenging the next opponent who wanted to take him on.
We finally managed to drag them away down to the beach with the promise that we would return upstairs later in the day for a family pool game!
Which we did. Over and over again. We all loved it. These pool games became one of the highlights of our time at Crawfords and these fun times made for very happy memories of our holiday and time spent together as a family.
The beach at Crawfords is the real winner… I grew up on a very similar beach (Nahoon) and just love these sorts of beaches. It amazes me how different the beaches of the West Coast and the East Coast of SA are. Two extremes!
On our first visit down to the beach we strolled as far down the beach as we could carry ourselves and then turned around and walked back. The stretch of sand was so vast that you quite possibly could have kept on going for days!
The next day we discovered that there were sand boards we could borrow to enjoy the dunes in a whole different way… another childhood memory of my own I now got to introduce my kids too!
They love it of course! The dunes were steep and sandy and a real tough workout to get to the top (my thighs ached for days afterwards) but the thrill, and the view, totally worth it!
I love this classic sequence of photos that really capture a sandboard experience (my sunglasses were his answer to the sand in eyes problem sand-boarding does present. Clever (and very cute) Boy!
My own rather woeful attempt at sand-boarding ended with a terrific sideways wipe out (and a rather uncomfortable sand wedgy) but I did it, twice!
On our last morning at Crawfords we once again headed down to the beach… this time to enjoy some sand building and cartwheeling!
My kids had a blast on this beach… Often we were the only ones around and the rather windy conditions but they didn’t seem to notice… they were absorbed in building massive moats and crazy castles and the fact that they’d manage to convince their dad to join in. Not an easy task given his extreme aversion to sand!! Another happy memory making experience.
They were all thrilled with the resident Jack Russell joined in with their excavating work! Spot him above getting rather enthusiastic at the task!
As a family we all enjoyed Crawfords Beach Lodge as a chilled out spot to enjoy quality time together. The beauty here is the chance to do nothing and love it! Walking, reading, sleeping, playing, surfing, digging, cartwheeling, being. And we created fabulous family memories doing just that – nothing!
All too often I’m guilty of going on holiday and finding all the “must-do” things and experiences in the area. Then we race around checking off our list returning back to collapse and do it all again tomorrow. After this holiday I realised that it’s important to take a holiday for the sake of taking a holiday.
A holiday is different to traveling. It’s not about rushing around and being busy. It’s about slowing down and unwinding and relaxing. Sometimes that might even mean being a bit bored. It’s so important to go away to get away. Holidays are true holidays when your mind and body can really let go! I needed that reminder and Crawfords allowed me the chance to just be!
Crawfords Beach Lodge
42 Steenbras Drive, Chintsa East, 5275, South Africa
Images: Kathryn Rossiter