Mabibi ... beautiful Mabibi!

Article and photos by Lynette Oxley

Mabibi, "beautiful Mabibi", as it is lovingly called by the local Zulu people, is a place of great contrast for the would-be tourist. Great harshness manifests itself through bad terrain, black scorpions and mambas, while on the other hand Mabibi projects great unspoiled beauty untouched by human interference and destruction. Blue seas and miles of white beaches nestled in emerald green coastal forests beckon only the very adventurous tourist.

Where . . .

Mabibi coastal camp is situated on the coast between Lake Sibaya, Sodwana Bay and Mazengwenya in the vegetation rich Northern Kwa Zulu/Natal in South Africa. Famous Kosi Bay and the Mozambican border lie to the North while the camp forms part of the Coastal Forest Reserve.

Access, 4 X 4 driving & amenities . . .

Access to Mabibi and surrounds, is only recommended with a good 4 X 4 vehicle. We went with a 1972 2A Landrover and experienced no problems, while one of our travelling companions in a softer 4 X 4 vehicle experienced major problems, especially with the suspension of his vehicle.

As soon as we entered the Coastal Forest Reserve from the main dirt road, the road infrastructure, if we can call it that, became nonexistent. Directions to the coastal camp seemed easy from description but no directions signs are available. The only way to get to the camp is by using good old common sense. Several small intertwining roads snake their way over dunes in all directions and when locals were asked if we were on the right road, we always got a positive answer, a smile and hand directions over the next hill. We found Mabibi Coastal Camp situated above the sea next to a large dune with a white sand blaze (silhouetted against the green bush) on the side. This dune became our major landmark for the remaining time of our stay.

The closest petrol, amenities and refrigeration facilities are available approximately 1,5 to 3 hours drive from Mabibi. (A small farm shop nearby stocks some basic goods, warm beer and cider). Sodwana Bay is the closest town with good amenities and can be reached via three different routes from Mabibi. The different routes all hold their different advantages and disadvantages. The first route takes you via the main incoming dirt road past Mbazwane and is the easiest but furthest and most boring. The second route snakes through the surrounding area, past Lake Sibaya, accesses the beach at '9 mile' and follows the beach to Sodwana Bay. This option can only be taken during low tide and one needs a beach permit (only obtainable from Sodwana Bay). On the way back from Sodwana access into the coastal forest, can get tricky at times. For example our 1972 Landrover had to pull out a brand new TDI Landrover stuck half way up the dune. Several people had difficulty at this particular spot during our stay. What makes this particular spot difficult is the steep incline on loose beach sand around a corner (with trees and bush next to the road - to complicate matters further), and sometimes an incoming tide lapping at your wheels. The third alternative route to Sodwana Bay takes one past Lake Sibaya inland parallel to the beach. For this option one needs good directions from the locals, a permit for the coastal forest reserve at Lake Sibaya and a vehicle that can wade through a metre deep fountain drift. This last option off-course is the shortest. For the last two options good landmarks have to be kept, otherwise one can become lost very easily. It is also important to note that driving during the night in the area is not advisable, because of the roughness of the surroundings.

Planning and accommodation

Good, advance planning is necessary for your trip to Mabibi, as everything needs to be taken with you except fresh water. Accommodation takes the form of ten campsites, each with its own shade netting cover, freshwater tap and braai (barbeque area). There are communal ablutions with hot and cold water showers and a few open cold showers near the entrance to the beach path. The limited number of campsites ensures peace, quite and miles of unspoiled beaches to yourself.

Only two other campsites were occupied during our stay. One by three Russians from Moscow. This group experienced major problems with the remoteness of the location and a lack of knowledge in terms of local conditions - once you arrive at Mabibi very little information is available. Their misfortune started with their vehicles battery running flat after the first night because they had a small fridge connected to it. This problem was compounded by severe sunstroke, after the previous day was spent in the sun without protection, as well as major problems with fishing in the rough seas of Mabibi. Fishing equipment was small and the light sinkers used to wash out minutes later and wrong bait was used. This was a real tragedy, seeing that they were staying for a period of two weeks and that they had brought very little food with them. I should maybe also explain that they miraculously got to Mabibi with a 2-wheel drive vehicle with the locals digging and pushing them out of problems. It therefore wasn't that easy to run backwards and forward between Sodwana Bay and Mabibi. Preparation, planning and a good knowledge of ones surroundings are therefore essential for an enjoyable carefree holiday adventure in Africa.

We also experienced some disasters during our stay in Mabibi ranging from a gas freezer that did not want to work, to two of our fishing rods being broken. My father, who accompanied us on the trip also hurt his foot badly one night and we had to rush him to Jozini the next morning - this meant the end of the trip for him. Medical attention is problematic, especially if an accident happens during the night in this area because one cannot easily drive out.

Activities

From the camp there is a ten minute walk (down lots and lots of wooden stairs) to the beach, which provides the opportunity for uncrowded angling and snorkelling. The coastal dune forest vegetation is diverse and is home to many bird species, which allows for many hours of bird-watching.

Birds spotted in the area during our visit included Crested Guineafowl (Guttera pucherani), Trumpeter Hornbill (Bycanistes bucinator), African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer), Collared Sunbird (Anthreptes collaris), Shallow's Lourie and Yellowbilled Kites (Milvus migrans parasitus). The Crested Guineafowl were especially active around Lake Sibaya and the Yellowbilled Kites were most often seen when we were fishing and bait in the form of sardines was around. Their high pitched 'kleeeuw - kleeeuw' calls could be heard, especially early morning and late afternoon close to the sea. Shallow's Lourie is a subspecies of the Knysna Lourie and the crest is higher and sharper than the Knysna Lourie but shorter than the Livingstone's Lourie which are mostly found in Zimbabwe.

Angling is excellent at the Mabibi beach towards Rock Tail Bay and Kosi Bay especially during early morning and between 18H00 and 20H00 at night. A variety of species were caught during the short period we stayed at Mabibi, of which the biggest was a 2 Kg Largespot Pompano which is also an excellent eating fish. The largespot pompano, wave trevally or moonfish (Trachnotus blotla) can grow up to about 2.5 Kg and is a silvery oval fish with large moonlike 'porthole' oval spots on its side. Other species caught were grunter, queen fish, a ladder wrasse and stumpnose. Some anglers also caught a large Rock Cod off the rocks. Tom, one of the guys in our group, got into a big shark one dark night. The shark took his bait as it hit the water and when Tom attempted to strike to set the hook he experienced a massive overwind on his reel. He spent the next half hour running backwards and forwards up the beach yelling unintelligibly at the top of his lungs until the "johnny", as the shark species is known along the Kwa-Zulu/Natal Coast, eventually made off for deep water with the bait, trace and sinker.

Prepared bait, sardines, baby squid (tjokka) and shrimp are only available at Sodwana Bay. Fresh bait, in the form of sand lice, red bait and smaller bait fish can also be harvested.

The rocks at Mabibi provide excellent snorkelling opportunities during low tide and a variety of fish were spotted including a Moray eel. For scuba charters one has to travel up to Sodwana Bay as no boats can be launched at Mabibi because it is protected. The reefs in Sodwana Bay are one of the favourite scuba-diving sites along the South African Coast and several Charters function from here. Approximately 400 different species of fish occur along this very bio-diverse reef and comparisons have been made between this particular reef and the Amazon rain forest.

Lake Sibaya, the largest freshwater lake in South Africa, also provides an excellent day out and is an absolute magnificent site. Hippos, crocodiles, small buck and a variety of other wildlife are also found in and around the lake

The local Zulu people's life centres around the lake, where they catch black bream in fish traps and water which they use to irrigate their crops. Houses are built out of rock, saplings, reeds and thatch and provide interesting photos between Lake Sibaya and Mabibi.

Conclusions

The trip to Mabibi coastal camp was an unforgettable experience which our whole group would like to repeat as soon as possible. It provided us with a combination of beauty, interesting 4 X 4 driving and a variety of other activities - not to mention just purely getting away from all the stresses and strains of city life!

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