Overnight in Zululand

Low tide at Tinsley Manor beach
Low tide at Tinsley Manor beach

Doing a bit of catchup here! Seeing as we are already in the Cape, I am backtracking to KZN and the overnight to Mtunzini.

Off to Zululand

Finally heading to the beach! Somehow, we just haven't managed to get there during all this time.

The main purpose is for me to visit Tapanga Rum, a distillery out on a sugar farm up the North Coast, near Gingindlovu. The post I did for World Craft Distilleries is here. But our trip was more than just the distillery.

We left early to avoid traffic that we expected to be heavy, with people heading to work.

It's a well-known fact that there are thousands of unlicensed drivers and vans on the South African roads. Tickets given are frequently ignored or if mailed, fail to reach the offender as the address provided on the fake license or registration is non-existent.  So the police set up road blocks periodically, with a couple of vans ready to either haul people off to jail or for them to pay the outstanding fines. Of course, we got caught in the road block!

We were directed to an area where a young policewoman asked for my drivers license, so handed over my Washington one and my South African ID book. Off she went to the van to run a check and we watched the hoards of police swarming around the cars. Some appeared to be detained, others given the get-out-of-jail-free card and were on their way. The policewoman returned to the car with my documents and said, "I've been told to ask you one question." "OK," I said. "What do you think of your new president?" I replied, "Who?" then rolled my eyes. She laughed, saying "He's a clown!" A woman after my own heart!

Released, we breezed through the non-existent traffic and headed north up the Dolphin coast. We drove through miles and miles and miles of sugar cane fields that rolled over the hills, as far as the eye could see. The further we got from Durban, the sparser any development became.  Once beyond the King Shaka International Airport, the road turned into a toll road, which for us on foreign funds, is extremely inexpensive!

Just before the second toll booth, as we came to a stop, we were surrounded by what seemed like dozens of teenage boys, offering to sell us bags of fresh lichis! We had just passed a lichi plantation so we were pretty sure that they were illegally collected. But we bought them anyway, and boy, were they good! Zoze peeled and I ate, and had juice dripping from my elbows!

Being bombarded by boys selling lichis
Being bombarded by boys selling lichis


We found our Airbnb, a lovely big house set in a gorgeous garden, just five minutes from the beach. We unloaded the car, got directions and made for the beach. It's a KZN Wildlife reserve called Umlalazi and we drove along the wetland area to the beach. But unfortunately, it was so windy, the wind whipping up the sand in a frenzy, that we decided not to walk to the water and instead drove along to the lagoon that is surrounded by beautiful mangroves. Walkways meander through the mangroves. It was low tide and the roots all exposed, with thousands of different crabs scuttling around.

On the way back, stopped on the side of the road to watch a family of vervet monkeys. There were three very young ones who were still partially attached to their mothers. The rest of the time they were bouncing around, learning to climb trees and navigate the tall grass.

It always amazes me when I come home, how beautiful and varied the country is. And the area we were, in Zululand is one of my very favorite areas.

Next morning, Mathias from Tapanga Rum met us at the house and we followed him to the distillery which is right in the heart of sugar country on the farm. We bounced along dirt roads, winding through the cane fields, our little rental car barely making it over some of the bumps!  But it was so worth it.

I was so impressed with the setup there. Everything they do there is based on sustainability and care of the land. The businesses, Tapanga Rum, SOIL essential oils and sugar and macadamia nut farming are integrated, with care being taken to incorporate waste from one into an important component of another. For instance, the bagasse left after crushing the sugar cane, is mixed with a by-product from the distilling operation which is full of nutrients, and then used as a fertilizer on the macadamia nut trees and botanicals used in the oils.

Mathias of Tapanga Rum in the tasting room
Mathias of Tapanga Rum in the tasting room

We had a wonderful tour of the whole operation; saw the green houses for the botanicals and the packing and shipping area, where Mathias loaded us up with goodies. Everything is done by hand, from the hand planting to extraction, bottling, labeling and shipping. In the distillery, the cane crusher is manual and the distilling is done by a young woman called Melissa who runs the process from start to finish, with each filled bottled weighed and measured individually.

Tasting was a treat, too, with a variety of cocktails created from the wonderful rum. I think I even converted Zoze from brandy :) We left, feeling like we had Christmas early and I have appreciated the bounty every evening at cocktail hour.

Once we left there, we took a circuitous route home, ducking down to the beach whenever we could. The wind had died way down, but it was very low tide, lovely on the rocks but it also creates very strong rip tides so we didn't swim.

Once again, I was impressed with how the attitude in the country has changed in the last five years. We were making our way down the stairs over the rocks to the sand when an Indian gentleman asked us if we were local. We gave him our shpeel about being from here and he said, "it's always home," then invited us to join him and his group for a braai! We declined as we were heading south but that would never have happened a few years ago.

Sand sculpture on the beach at Ballito
Sand sculpture on the beach at Ballito

We finally found a fun place for lunch right above the beach. And although the food was just OK, the location was dynamite. Perched above the beach, the sea, rocks and sand gave us an almost 270-degree view up and down the most beautiful coastline in the world.

Although it was a quick trip, it was worth every minute of it.

[su_carousel source="media: 4021,4022,4024,4029,4028,4027,4026,4025,4030,4031,4033,4035,4036,4041,4040,4039,4038,4037,4042,4043,4044,4045,4046" limit="61" link="custom" target="blank" width="900" height="780" items="2" autoplay="3000"]