Mariska Ford (April 2014)

Every true traveller must have a courageous camper somewhere hidden among the layers of their exploratory DNA. I am a passionate traveller, but my adventurous DNA has a missing link.

Camping is a totally selfless act of sacrifice for my tactile challenged body and sensitive soul. The constant sand in your sleeping bag, the shared ablution facilities, the trapped feeling when the elements are against you and the spiders… Let me stop here and tell you about our adventure before all ‘the missing link campers’ out there leave this page and abandon their chances to evolve.

Mabibi camp is situated at Hulley Point in the heart of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in KwaZulu-Natal. In the local Zulu language, iSimangaliso means ‘miracle and wonder’ and it is no surprise that it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Hulley Point is one of the last undeveloped beaches on the African coastline with the warm water of the Indian Ocean keeping guard over this well-kept secret. Some call it a footprint-free wonderland and others a sub-tropical paradise that offers serene swimming, snorkeling and offshore scuba diving. Unfortunately, the only way to get there is with a 4×4 vehicle because of the thick sand roads that lead you through the astounding eight interdependent ecosystems (beach, coral reef, lakes, swamp, wetlands, woodlands, coastal forest, and grassland).

Mabibi camp has nine private campsites hidden away amongst Milkwood trees. No drinking water or electricity is available and cell phone reception is limited to one specific hill outside the camp. A solar geyser and lights ensure that a warm shower is not a given, but an absolute luxury and that the ablution facilities are not always well lit. The nearest shop is one and half hours’ drive from there and you need to take everything you need with you. Very rustic indeed.

On arrival, it looked like we entered paradise. Beauty, peace, and quiet with the sound of the ocean to frame it. It was only after my first visit to the ablution facilities that I saw something that gave me an instant cardio workout. A spider as big as a dinner plate (orbit smaller I must confess, but let’s keep to the first one for dramatic effect!).

After a few hours, I realized that there were plenty of Golden Silk Orb Weaver Spiders all around us. I could hear them whisper “I know what you did last summer!” and I felt trapped in paradise. The manager ensured us that the spiders were peace-loving and not dangerous to humans. I had to make a mind shift if I wanted to enjoy my holiday here…

Even though I forced myself to focus on the calming sound of the waves kissing the beach that night, the only thing on my mind was spiders. It was an internal battle with dread that lasted way past midnight. I wouldn’t say my fears were buried alongside the battleground that fateful night, but what I can say is that I woke up with new eyes. Ones that could see the beauty in the spider and look beyond my own fear to the people I love beside me and nature in all its glory around me. And so our wondrous holiday at Mabibi started on the morning of the second day.

The best part of this place was the unspoiled beach. At low tide, a shallow reef was being exposed that held all our snorkeling dreams within. The kids had a wonderful time exploring the countless pools. Fishing in the one, snorkeling in the other and swimming in yet another. For me the bird watching from the beach was magnificent and the solitude proved to be utterly refreshing.

We had an unforgettable time in this piece of African heaven and we gave it our TIAA (This is authentic Africa) stamp of approval. I would have missed out on an adventure of a lifetime if I didn’t face my fears and so, my monument of personal victory is a heap of rocks under a Milkwood tree at Mabibi!