KwaZulu-Natal has always revelled in its reputation for dishing out idyllic seaside holidays; the kind of warm, sun-lotion-scented days that childhood memories are (or, at least, should be) made of. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Capetonian, and even I occasionally turn my jealous gaze eastwards towards the warm waters of KwaZulu-Natal, and perhaps just a single beach day not bedevilled by wind.
And lately, it seems like KwaZulu-Natal is polishing that offering even further, adding ever-increasing levels of bespoke luxury to the coastal experience. Of course, the likes of The Oyster Box have long been places where fans pushed the humid air about, and afternoon tea was de rigueur, but as Umhlanga sets off on an unstoppable rollercoaster of development, the smart money looks a little north for a bit of coastal R&R.
Sala Beach House is one of the most striking boutique gems to open on this stretch of coast, with deeply luxurious suites overlooking the sea at Shaka’s Rock. Sala is all about barefoot elegance, from screed floors and wraparound views, to the steps leading down to the beach and private access to the wonderful Thompson’s tidal pool. You’ll find a collection of airy sea view suites, as well as a glorious three-bedroom private villa for multi-gen getaways.
Of course, almost next door is Zimbali estate, a stalwart of this neck of the sugarcane-woods. Aparthotel group The Capital saw an opportunity here during the pandemic and pumped R100m into transforming the resort offering into a five-star seaside gem that offers Mauritian levels of resort comfort across 154 rooms, suites and villas. All without the cost of an international flight.
But, things are about to get interesting, with the announcement this week of the first ever Club Med development in Southern Africa. It’s been grist for the hospitality industry’s rumour mill for some time, but this week details were finally unveiled of a R2bn deal that will see a brand-new resort stretch across 32ha of the Dolphin Coast just across the Mhalali River.
It is, true to the Club Med style, a long way from a boutique offering. Club Med Tinley is set to offer 342 rooms, hosting upwards of 700 guests roaming a resort home to an activity centre, kids’ club, restaurants, bars and pool areas. For me, honestly, it’s too many people.
But happily, you don’t have to hang with the crowds. Also planned are 64 Exclusive Collection suites, which tap into Club Med’s increased focus on considered luxury over more-is-more all-inclusive.
Exclusive Collection resorts and suites take the enormously popular all-inclusive offering and ramp up the levels of bespoke service and access. Exclusive Collection guests enjoy concierge service, complimentary room service, an elevated dining experience and complimentary champagne in the evenings. There’s a better Wi-Fi offering and access to exclusive areas of the resort.
Another highlight of Club Med Tinley is the combo of beach and bush, with a second dedicated safari resort planned for a Big Five game reserve a few hours’ drive to the north. It’s an element not offered at any other Club Med resort worldwide, and that’s sure to be a drawcard for brand loyalists.
The new development comes with plenty of sustainability street-cred too, certified by the Green Globe initiative, and working with nonprofit organisation Agrisud to ensure the resort’s supply chain benefits the local economy. That’s great news for the local tourism industry, which is set for a boost in both profile and demand. For while any Club Med guests will hunker down on their sun lounger, many more will spend their days away from the buffet discovering all that the Zulu kingdom has to offer.
The new destination will break ground in 2024, with the first guests ready for check-in by mid-2026. So although you can’t dust off your Club Med theme outfit just yet, it is time to add the Dolphin Coast to your luxury seaside hit list.