Monday, January 23, 2006

Pondoland must be God's country

This article is one that touches a soft spot. We pray that the highway developers don't mess up this very special part of our country.

On January 19 2006 at 12:24PM Greg Dardagan wrote:

It's a place which inspires people to say: "I'd like to get married here." Others dream of being there to celebrate their 50th birthday or another of life's milestones.

Many just long to spend longer there. Whatever the reason, there's a magnetism which pulls hard on the heart strings - this must be God's country.

Mbotyi in Pondoland on the Eastern Cape coastline is wild. Inspanned oxen pulling heavy loads are a common sight on the beaches. Goats and cattle drink from lagoons while bathers enjoy themselves in the nearby surf.

The bird life takes one's breath away
The countryside is rugged but it supports the local people's lifestyle, which is probably pretty similar to what it was 100 years ago.

Time hasn't really caught up with Mbotyi. Holidaymakers bring their high lifestyles with them which must be invasive yet tantalising for the rural population. Thus security is a concern and there have been lapses which have caused tourist stayaways.

However, the management of the Mbotyi River Lodge - the only hotel in the area - is involved in forums with local chiefs and headmen with the aim of getting the message out to the people that tourism is good for the area.

Lusikisiki police maintain a high profile and lodge general manager Charles Lamb is positive. "The co-operation of local folk has been heartwarming. They know their prosperity is very much dependent on the success of the hotel.

"Our occupancy for December was around 55% which is encouraging. Visitors are mainly South African but foreign tourism has increased significantly in the past year."

If you want to just contemplate your navel - there's no better place
Mbotyi is Xhosa for "place of beans". The area has a climate and fertile soils which are ideal for the growing of beans.

However, it is tea which is the main crop in the area. The Magwa Tea Estates occupy large areas of land around Mbotyi, providing employment for hundreds of people.

Mbotyi, about 26km from Lusikisiki, is a four-hour drive from either Durban or Pietermaritzburg.

The bird life takes one's breath away. More than 200 species have been recorded, ranging from jackass penguin and shy albatross to spotted eagle owl and blue billed firefinch.

Fish eagles searching for prey above the lagoons and estuaries are a common sight. Well represented are forest birds including Knysna loeries, narina trogons, trumpeter hornbills and olive sunbirds.

The most recent official count found more than 10 Cape parrots in the forest.

Nestling in wilderness area at the mouth of the Mbotyi River, the Mbotyi River Lodge is the centre of organised attraction. It has 48 double en suite rooms grouped in wooden chalets with a choice of sea, lagoon or forest views.

The diningroom, pub, lounge area and games room are set in a single complex which has an open verandah overlooking the pool area. The view on to Mbotyi Beach is special. Accomodation comes with full meals. The farmhouse-type cuisine is excellent, especially the freshly-laid eggs for breakfast and the roast lamb for dinner.

There is so much to do at Mbotyi but the scenery alone is worth spending hours admiring and absorbing. And if you want to just contemplate your navel - there's no better place. For the adventurous and mildly energetic, guided hiking trails and unguided walks are on offer. The walks lead to several waterfalls and view points where the scenery is nothing short of spectacular. The fishing is great. Be it rock, surf or fly, they can all be enjoyed along the coast and on the estuary. Many spots are within walking distance of the lodge.

Whales and dolphins are a common sight, especially during the sardine run in June and July. Horse riding trails wind their way through the foothills and then on to the beach for an exhilarating canter or a gallop. It's also an area full of potential for mountain bikers as well as 4x4 enthusiasts.

The beach in front of the lodge offers safe bathing with lifeguards in attendance.

There's the true story about legendary South African bank robber Andre Stander who hid out at the hotel while on the run from the police in the 1980s. With him was fellow bank robber, Patrick McCall, who was later killed in a shoot-out with the police.

There's also a story about Jack Barber, a one-time owner of the Mbotyi River Mouth Trading Site. Jack fell in love with a nurse, Sally Barnes, while convalescing in a military hospital in France during World War 1.

He proposed to her in the 1920s and she accepted. She came out to Mbotyi by sea from her home in Boston in the United States.

The ship's captain was told to look out for a bonfire on top of a hill a few days before Durban as that would mark the spot where Sally should disembark.

Sally finally arrived at Mbotyi by ox-wagon and spent the rest of her life there, becoming involved in caring for the local community.

The pathway leading from the lodge to the beach is aptly named Sally's Alley.

I had a lovely dream soon after returning from a four-day visit to Mbotyi.

I dreamt I was an African chief who spent the day lounging around outside my five-star chalet-type hut moving with the sun while at the same time calling to my beloved to bring me another beer whenever the desire moved me.

Farcical, I know, but that's what I want for my next birthday.

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