Kwazulu-Natal – La Lucia Winter Warmer

La Lucia for a week’s holiday in Winter

During June 2013 and again in June 2014, Gerda and I travelled to La Lucia, a suburb of Durban on the north-east coast of South Africa to spend 8 days at La Lucia Sands Resort.This was a holiday trip with Gerda rather than a birding trip, but I took the opportunity here and there to do some good birding (no surprises there).

We have owned timeshare for the last two weeks of June at La Lucia Sands Resort for about 30 years now, but had only used them occasionally up until a few years ago as they fell outside the school holidays. Latterly we have started using at least one of the weeks on a regular basis and now enjoy the chance to have a warm holiday in the middle of winter in tropical Durban, with lunches mostly taken at local restaurants to make it super relaxing. The KZN north coast has superb weather in Winter, with warm days and cool nights and none of the humidity that can make it uncomfortable in Summer.

Getting There

The 2013 trip began with a fairly stressful drive to our overnight stop in the Kwazulu-Natal Midlands, due to the very busy highway which did not allow for a moment’s relaxation. We spent the night at Granny Mouse Country House, which had expanded since we last saw it many years ago, but had still retained its charm.

Granny Mouse Country House, Midlands KZN
Granny Mouse Country House, Midlands KZN
Our room at Granny Mouse Country House
Our room at Granny Mouse Country House

The room was very comfortable with a log fire to ward off the cold (-3°C in the morning) and the Bistro where we had supper and breakfast was excellent. Our simple supper of soup followed by fish and chips could not have been done better and breakfast was equally tasty.

Saturday morning saw me up early to fit in some quick birding before breakfast and a stroll around the garden produced 19 species including a Dusky Flycatcher.

After breakfast we completed the journey to La Lucia just north of Durban and settled into “our” apartment, still in good condition and well maintained.

A Motoring Interlude

Sunday was Top Gear Festival day for me joined by the Genis males, while Gerda and Anlia Genis did their own thing at the Mall. More about Top Gear on another occasion (thinks : is this the cue to start an “All Things Motoring and Mechanical” Blog?)

Relaxing at La Lucia 

Monday was the start of our holiday routine, which included some light birding from the balcony overlooking the lush tropical gardens, typical of the north coast beyond Durban. One of the first to appear in the large trees along the front of the property was Rose-ringed Parakeet – only my second sighting of this species after seeing them a few years ago in Irene near Pretoria. Other regulars in the garden were Bronze Mannikin, Black-collared Barbet, Black Flycatchers, Cape White-eye, Sombre Greenbul and Dark-capped Bulbul.

Rose-ringed Parakeet, La Lucia
Rose-ringed Parakeet, La Lucia
Bronze Mannikin, La Lucia
Bronze Mannikin, La Lucia
Black-collared Barbet, La Lucia
Black-collared Barbet, La Lucia

The beach lies directly in front of the complex and is accessed through a gate – I rustled up some energy for a late afternoon walk along the beach, which produced Kelp Gulls, Swift Terns cruising past in the strong breeze, Cape Gannet offshore and even an Albatross which was just to far off to positively ID, but was most likely a Black-browed or Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross.

La Lucia beach with the Moses Madiba stadium in the background - built for the 2010 World Soccer Cup
La Lucia beach with the Moses Madiba stadium in the background – built for the 2010 World Soccer Cup
Swift Tern
Swift Tern
The iconic lighthouse at Umhlanga Rocks
The iconic lighthouse at Umhlanga Rocks

On another day a commotion amongst the Parakeets, which were flying in a group of 6 or 7 in wide circles, led me to spot a Lanner Falcon higher up in the air, probably on the lookout for an easy meal.

Lanner Falcon, La Lucia
Lanner Falcon, La Lucia

Daily walks on the beach were always interesting – the changing tides, weather conditions and the subtleties of the light at different times of the day meant that no two walks were ever quite the same, not to mention the passing “traffic” of interesting people and seabirds either cruising rapidly by in the same direction as the prevailing wind or using their wing power and streamlined shape to fly against the wind.

La Lucia beach
La Lucia beach
La Lucia beach in the evening
La Lucia beach in the evening
Lonely girl on La Lucia beach
Lone girl on La Lucia beach

Out at sea there was also an ever-changing landscape, with surfers catching the strong waves and large ships either at anchor, waiting their turn to get into busy Durban harbour or steaming away over the horizon, headed for the high seas.

A surfer off La Lucia beach
A surfer off La Lucia beach
Off to the high seas
Off to the high seas

One afternoon a few fishermen were fishing off the beach and the Swift Terns were watching closely for left over bait, occasionally being rewarded for their efforts – a Cape Cormorant stood nearby hoping for a look-in but the Terns were too quick for him (is that why they are Swift Terns I wonder?).

Fishermen on La Lucia beach, Durban in the background
Fishermen on La Lucia beach, Durban in the background
Swift Tern
Swift Tern
Cape Cormorant
Cape Cormorant

Oyster Box Treat

We like to do something special on our anniversary, often going away to some special place for a weekend. This year’s anniversary treat had been missed, so we thought to make it up with a special lunch at the renowned Oyster Box Hotel, a five-minute drive from La Lucia. They serve lunch on the terrace which we chose as it was fine weather and the view is unbeatable, with the iconic red and white Umhlanga lighthouse as the centrepiece. It’s the sort of place that you look around at the other guests and wonder if they are rich and famous (not that it matters of course) or just ordinary folk like us.

The Terrace Restaurant, Oyster Box Hotel
The Terrace Restaurant, Oyster Box Hotel
Lunch at Oyster Box Hotel, Umhlanga
Gerda and I enjoying Lunch at the Terrace Restaurant
Oyster Box Hotel, Umhlanga - the view at lunchtime
The view from the Terrace

The meal was just superb and the service as we like it – attentive without being obtrusive. Our main course was a full plate of prawns, perfectly prepared.

Seeing the week out

Over the remaining days I made a couple of outings to some of the listed Durban birding spots, which I will tell you about in later posts – Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve and the Durban Bayhead were both interesting spots to visit but the best was the forest gem in the middle of Durban suburbia, known as Pigeon Valley Nature Reserve, where I found a lifer and some other specials.

The rest of the week was more of the same and we returned home on a less busy day after a wonderfully relaxing week.

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