Monday, October 9, 2017

Zebras and the waves: Oceana Beach and Wildlife Reserve, South Africa

Christine Cunanan tries out a safari by the sea in Africa.

In a span of two-and-a-half years, I’ve been on over a dozen safaris, and each one has been unique and memorable. However, Oceana Beach and Wildlife Reserve, which is a two-hour drive from Port Elizabeth along South Africa’s eastern coastline, has truly been different from the rest.

In a way, Oceana combines the best of all worlds. As its name implies, this 750-hectare private estate is right next to the Indian Ocean, on a ridge overlooking forest and hills, and the widest and emptiest golden sand beach I have ever seen.

The resort's beautiful location allows breathtaking panoramic views to be viewed from almost anywhere
Rooms with a view

Since you are on a ridge up high, you have a magnificent panoramic view of a portion of the Eastern Cape peninsula from almost everywhere. This dramatic coastline stretching from Port Alfred up to the unspoiled Wild Coast, is what this part of South Africa is famous for, and you have it in front of you all day, including from your private terrace, soaking tub, and four poster bed in your suite, and from the swimming pool and breakfast table in the main house.

Yes, this game reserve is all about the views.

It's all about the views at Oceana
In fact, the main house is so cleverly designed that – at the owner’s request – you can even enjoy the view of the coast from the swimming pool. This is no mean feat, by the way, as the swimming pool is actually located behind the house, with a bar and lounge area between it and the view, on an upper landing past an open barbecue area.

But when you are in this swimming pool, you can indeed see everything, including the beach, the sea plus giraffe and zebra parading by, if you’re lucky. It’s just high enough for your line of vision to skip past the bar and the outdoor dining terrace and head straight for the view.

This alone is worth the trip, as far as I’m concerned.

Sea and safari converge at the Oceana Beach and Wildlife Reserve 
Safari by the sea

Then there’s the safari experience.

Oceana doesn’t have the Big 5, but it has enough animals on its estate to keep most people and their cameras and mobile phones ecstatic. Giraffe, zebra and rhinoceros wander freely and happily, along with the usual assortment of non-predatory wildlife, and all the animals are within arm’s length, figuratively speaking, since Oceana is modest in size, as far as private game reserves go.

The upside here is that you will literally bump into animals at every turn, since their “home” is not as large as a traditional Big 5 game reserve and there is literally less, but adequate, grounds to roam on.
Resort guests and wildlife co-exist harmoniously at this reserve
The size of Oceana has more significance than most people will understand at the outset. In general, safari game drives involve twice-daily three-hour forays into the wild in search of animals. For the uninitiated, this can either be an exhilarating experience or a grueling one, as six hours under the sun or in the cold, bumping up and down in a safari jeep is something one will either end up loving or actively disliking – although it’s quite possible to also achieve a neutral position and to simply put up with the rides, especially if you believe this will be one of the very few safari experiences you will undertake in your life.

Luck is less a factor

Oftentimes, too, spotting animals is a matter of luck, especially in a very big game reserve. Some days you will see every species in one go, and other days, you will have nothing to show on your camera, after spending six hours of a precious vacation day on a 4WD jeep.

At Oceana, a fruitless safari is almost impossible, and this is its major attraction, especially for travelers who are not die-hard enthusiasts for the wild. The animals co-exist with you in a territory that’s large enough to feel the African wildlife vibe, but small enough so that you are able to avoid the long and tedious game drives that are usually only appreciated in earnest, either by the first-timer or by the serious safari-goer.

Feel up to the challenge of an hours-long safari on a jeep
Taking the easy way 

Oceana’s drives are shorter and sweeter than the game drives at most other lodges. Even in an hour’s foray, for instance, you will have seen enough animals to satisfy someone who doesn’t need to tick off a long list of animals.

Moreover, the game literally comes to you, even when you’re not riding a jeep, making you feel that you’ve not traveled halfway around the world in vain. We saw just as many animals sitting on our terrace as we did on our game drives. Giraffe, zebra and a host of non-predators regularly graze on the greens just outside the main house and the villas so that there is no need to do multiple game drives during your stay unless you truly relish bobbing up and down on a 4WD or getting up close and personal enough to take portraits of giraffe with your iPhone.

A magical sight 

The vision of wild animals grazing just several meters away from you, with this dramatic beach view behind, is frankly quite surreal. There are many lovely safari game reserves with luxury lodges and wide open spaces that allow you to commune with nature in a way you never have before. But only a handful in this wonderful world will offer you a beach and a typical safari experience at the same time.

You may have lions and cheetah on your safari to-do list – and this is quite usual as far as Big 5 game reserves go – but not too many safari goers will have seen wildlife grazing very relaxedly by a majestic beach in their lifetimes. Even among the hardcore ones.

Guests sometimes get lucky enough to witness a parade of wildlife 
Somewhere you can live in 

Then there are the accommodations, which were likely designed with fussy travelers like myself in mind. The ocean-view suites along a ridge – I hesitate to call them suites as they really are villas – are spacious and well laid-out, with no comfort left to chance. Each of these have two dressing room areas and two bathrooms on either side, a jacuzzi and shower room that both offer panoramic views.
African-inspired interiors help define the Oceana experience
“Many of our guests have told us that this is what they liked best,” the lodge manager remarked, referring to the two-bathroom set-up.

A rather romantic four-poster bed is the centerpiece of this large suite that’s really a house without a kitchen, with a living area that opens up to an expansive terrace where you can sit for hours simply doing nothing. To take advantage of the view, a flat-screen television even slides up only when needed.

It’s basically the perfect honeymoon suite, even if you’re not on one.
With Oceana's cozy interiors, it makes it difficult to decide whether to stay indoors or outdoors
A shoreline for the books 

Finally, the beach is unlike any other. Frankly, this beach is the equivalent of the wild west, with an empty stretch of sand so wide that airplanes can probably land on it, and the strong waves of the Indian Ocean and its accompanying fierce winds. Oysters wash up on shore and sand rustles up in tiny tornadoes even on clear days. Getting down to it – at least when we were there – involved a serious sort of mountain climb both ways since a recent storm had washed away the makeshift pathway in use before then.

This isn’t a placid oasis for sunbathing, but if you’re the type who’s keen on feeling the extreme forces of nature, this is certainly the beach for you.
Oceana provides a different kind of African experience 
A great formula 

With its quick-and-easy game drives and its intimate atmosphere, Oceana is an easy vacation. “It’s a holiday from a holiday,” as one guest described, and obviously the formula works. In our three-night stay here, we met two sets of guests who were actually on return visits.

One of them said, “We like it very much because it’s so relaxing. You have the ocean and the safari in one, and both are in front of you. Where else can you see the beach and the wild animals at the same time from your breakfast table, while having eggs benedict?”  

Indeed, no where else in the world, perhaps, but at Oceana.

Oceana Beach and Wildlife Reserve

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