Recently I had the good fortune to stay with my family at both Thonga Beach Lodge, a beach resort in South Africa in Maputaland, and White Pearl Resorts, a Mozambique resort only 30-40km to north over the border. Firstly I must say that I enjoyed staying at both of these Southern Africa beach resorts but it’s important to note that they would suit quite different people.
Thonga Beach Lodge
Thonga is the original eco-lodge in this area. A stylish relaxed lodge on the shores of the secluded Mabibi Bay in northern KwaZulu Natal. The staff are all very friendly and competent and confident. You can see that the staff – all from the local village – love their jobs and have developed a relaxed confidence and affability with guests which is very personable. My sons made friends with the barman who delighted them with endless card tricks and even showed them the tricks of the trade…
Thonga Beach Lodge is a small lodge and the Natal Parks authorities were adamant that the local bush would remain as untouched as possible. This means that when you are walking along the beach, you can hardly see the lodge at all. It is tucked in amongst the trees. It also means that only 5 of the 12 rooms actually have sea views from the room. The rest have more of a forest view. It also means that the main areas of the lodge do not look over the beach. There is a beach deck where everyone congregates, which is also a perfect venue for dinner. Personally this didn’t really hassle me as you spend much of your day at the beach, either relaxing or snorkeling but it’s worth pointing out.
What I also like about Thonga is that they have a range of excursions on offer. I recommend the Ocean Experience which is a whale-watching and snorkelling excursion by boat. But you also have a daily guided (or self-guided) snorkelling trip – which is accessible from the beach. As well as sundowner drinks on Lake Sibaya, early morning canoeing on lake Sibaya and local village visits. Nearly all of which are complimentary so you feel that you get a real sense of the area and not just a beach resort. Extra paid activities are the scuba diving, the Ocean experience, PADI dive courses and spa treatments. There is a giant chalk board at the breakfast area where you sign up for whatever activities you want to do, which was a nice touch.
It is fair to say that it is not as ‘smart’ as White Pearl Resorts (see later). The rooms, though very pleasant and spacious, are not as luxurious as White Pearl, and overall it has a more casual beach vibe about it. Whereas White Pearl is more The Hamptons come to Mozambique…
It is also much smaller than White Pearl. If you were staying for a long period of time, like a week for example, you might wish for more space in the public areas. The food was very good and they also offered kid’s options for younger visitors. They accept kids and offer babysitters for guests who wanted to have some adult time alone (or who wanted to go diving or snorkelling). However because it is a small lodge, it never felt overrun with kids. So is equally suitable for couples and honeymooners, as well as families.
• People who prefer smaller, more intimate beach lodges rather than resorts
• Honeymoon couples
White Pearl Resort
Though the beach experience is very, very similar (you can also do snorkelling from the beach, scuba diving and PADI dive courses), White Pearl has a completely different feel. There is much more of a Mozambique resort feel. In contrast with the South African resort, the lodge has been allowed to remove whatever vegetation it wants. This means that you have beach views from every suite in the resort. This also means that the lodge is more noticeable from the beach.
I loved the suites – they were very spacious and stylish. Each has a large private deck with its own plunge pool and outdoor shower.
The suites are ranged over five levels with the beach front villas being the most attractive (and more expensive). The back three levels are a little bit of an uphill hike (though beach buggies are available). But the back level is my favourite option after the beach front suites as they have the best views and privacy.
There are other resort aspects to White Pearl from the pool bar complete with chairs in the water (very useful for those hot tropical summer days). A second rimflow pool overlooking the ocean with a great poolside restaurant serving Portuguese tapas meals throughout the day. One advantage that White Pearl has over Thonga is the snorkelling/dolphin boat excursion where you have the opportunity to swim with the dolphins. At certain times of the year, you might also see the Southern Right Whales at either lodge.
White Pearl is a new resort and it is still finding its feet a little. The service was friendly but not always very slick and sometimes rather slow. In contrast Thonga runs like a well-oiled machine. Being a Mozambique beach resort, you also have to cross the border post and get a visa upfront so that needs to be taken into consideration.
White Pearl Resorts has introduced dollar pricing (to be in line with the rest of Mozambique). Given the current rand weakness versus the dollar, this means that it is considerably more expensive than Thonga now. (We are talking 80-100% more!)
• People who are looking for a “resort experience” at the end of the African safari
• Honeymooners – those rooms are gorgeous!
• People who really want a five star experience
• Swimming with the dolphins (or whale sharks)
Other differences between the two lodges:
Thonga Beach Lodge has a permit to allow turtle-tracking by 4×4 vehicle (only at high tide). This means that you can travel further in search of the turtles and thus are much more likely to come across them. The turtle tracking experience is at an extra cost. White Pearl conducts turtle tracking walks from the lodge on a complimentary basis in season. However given that there is a marked difference in distance covered, your chances of seeing the turtles are much less. So if this is important to you, we recommend Thonga.
Thonga is Full Board and includes a number of activities. White Pearl is Dinner, Bed & Breakfast but with a nice selection of tapas option throughout the day at the pool restaurant or lunch at the main restaurant. Though this adds to the costs, it does mean that people can choose when to eat during the day.
Note on Rocktail Beach Camp
These are not the only two lodges in the area. Rocktail Beach Camp is a stunning little camp, also found in Maputaland, which is very well-priced. The only reason I haven’t compared this one is because the name is a misnomer. It is not a beach camp but lies quite a significant distance inland e.g a 10-15 minute walk to the beach, though they do offer complimentary transfers on a daily basis.
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