Saturday, October 29, 2011

Sand dunes, the African Bush and Secluded Luxury at South Africa’s 5-Star Oceana Beach & Wildlife Reserve

After spending a few days on safari at South Africa’s iconic Shamwari Game Reserve, where I experienced the adventure of Africa’s Big 5 for the first time, I arrived at its sister property, the Oceana Beach & Wildlife Reserve. Positioned between the Indian Ocean and the African bush, Oceana offers guests a unique blend of luxury, privacy and nature that gives new meaning to the phrase, “getting away from it
Connected by a walkway leading through the Milkwood Forest, the seven private suites feature thatch-roofs, and stone and wooden materials that fit in with the natural environment. Benches positioned outside your door provide a place to wait in absolute stillness and quiet for the rare (and
shy) African Loerie to make an appearance. Once inside, the suites feature His and Hers appointments, from individual
cupboard space to the marbled bathsuites that waste nothing of the view.

You could be content to spend your entire stay within the comfort of your own suite, where you can enjoy spectacular East Coast sunrises from your private veranda, or even from your king-sized four-poster bed. When you want to bring the outside “in” you can do that, too – the floor-to-ceiling windows can be slid open for an unobstructed view of the land and a breath of fresh air.

Natural beauty is complimented by modern conveniences, like the flat screen television that, at the touch of a button, rises up from its hidden position from an otherwise ordinary chest of drawers at the foot of the bed. Small touches, like a personalized welcome note and a selection of complimentary South African snacks, ensure you feel like a very special guest from the start.

Oceana’s true strength is its ability to deliver impeccable service in a setting of unbelievable beauty, and its game drives, which can be arranged at any time you wish, are just another example of this winning formula. While this isn’t a Big 5 reserve, some of Africa’s most majestic and rare wildlife can be viewed here without the danger of predators. Guests are escorted by trained rangers in safari vehicles, complete with refreshments and a set of quality binoculars for each person. Use them to study the intricate markings on free roaming animals near and far – from kudu, water buck and impala to inala, blue wildebeest and zebra.

Highlights for me included a family of giraffe, including a young baby which calmly stood observing us, while we sat observing him. Then there was the endangered white rhino – which after enjoying the gaze of our cameras for several speechless moments made a sudden departure with a quick turn, click of his heels and a duck into the thick bush, leaving us with only a giant cloud of dust.

It was remarkable how such a behemoth of an animal could just “disappear” into the bush, something I’ll keep in mind the next time I think I’m “all alone” in nature!

And the final highlight for me, was an encounter with the majestic sable. Exceedingly rare, it is a beautiful sight with its arched horns and painter’s markings that frame its face in contrasting tones of stark white, black and brown.

We spotted a herd of them from a distance, and, as we bounced along the gently sloping hill to our viewing point our ranger told us how she had hand reared one of them when he was orphaned, and explained that because he had to be fed with a specially formulated milk, he had not been able to receive some of the nutrients he would have gotten in the wild, resulting in his coat becoming a distinctively lighter, copper colour compared to the rest of the herd with their dark brown coats. As we came to a stop he seemed to take notice of us, and she explained further that he did in fact recognise her yet had been accepted by the herd as part of his rehabilitation and introduction back into nature. It was beautiful to hear the love for nature in her voice and to see that such a gentle creature had been nursed back to health because of it.

At Oceana you can do the things you want, when you want – and there certainly are many options to choose between. Practice your swing on the 5-hole putting green, whale watch from the decks (June-October is the season), or find your competitive streak in the Games Room – complete with a pool table, shuffle board, and a lounge and television. Invigorate at the gym, or relax at the spa where you’ll emerge without a care in the world. Then take a drive down to the beach, accessible via a 4-wheel drive vehicle, with one of the rangers available to escort you at any time you wish.

Once at the beach you can enjoy a private lunch from the resort’s viewing platform, go fishing or take in a long walk along the dunes filled with the feeling of solitude and the sound of silence. Everywhere you look sand dunes stretch from the edge of the bush towards the sea, and each step you take seems to fall out from under your feet as you descend towards the shoreline.

This is a place that leaves you are utterly and wonderfully alone with your thoughts, free to reflect on the experience of Africa with the Indian Ocean gracing your feet and the sound of the waves in your ears. Walking at the water’s edge you’ll see a curiosity of seashells strewn out before you, and – if you’re lucky like I was – the absolute magic of wild oysters might be there for the taking!

Our ranger, visibly impressed with our find, told us with a glint in his eye how he used to walk this beach with his grandfather in search of oysters decades before. When we returned to the lodge the chef was only too happy to prepare them, serving them to us at dinner on a plate of crushed ice and fresh lemon wedges. They were some of the tastiest oysters I have ever had, complete with a champagne toast, and even the discovery of a pearl in one of the shells!

From our candlelit table I could still hear the crashing of the waves, and I knew that just beyond the balcony lie more of nature’s wonders. The cozy sounds of a crackling fire was complemented by the happy clatter of dinner conversation. It had been a day full of discovery – one I would remember forever – and as dusk fell and the stars presented themselves, I could only imagine what tomorrow would bring next.

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