“Believe me, my young man, there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.
Kenneth Grahame might have written ‘The Wind in the Willows’ nearly a century ago, but his famous fable of Toad, Mole and Rat taking to the water in search of adventure and good times is as inspiring today as it was back then.
Grahame’s classic tale is a celebration of the simple joys of life; good food, friendship and the beauty of nature… all elements that make a holiday on the water one of the best ways to escape the hurly-burly of modern-day life. Whether it’s luxury cruising through the sub-tropics or sitting quietly on your houseboat waiting for the Steenbras to bite, there’s nothing to transport you away from reality like a holiday afloat.
If you’re the type that thinks bigger is better and prefers a holiday that’s more dished up than DIY, cruising is hard to beat. And no, it’s not just for the blue-rinse brigade, but is rapidly becoming a popular option for families and couples.
Durban is the hopping off point for most of the cruises in South African waters, with Starlight Cruises’ ships Melody and Sinfonia plying the waters off the east coast from November to March each year. From two-night ‘Cruises to Nowhere’ to longer voyages up the Mozambique coast there’s a range of options to suit all cruisers, and cheques books.
A trip on board a luxury cruise ship might seem expensive at first glance, but when you consider that your fare includes all entertainment and meals on board, it starts to become great value-for-money. And boy do you get to eat your money’s worth! Meals are served from the crack of dawn till the stroke of midnight, so you’ll certainly never go hungry, and as long as you stay away from the casino and bars on board, cruising can be a fairly affordable way to travel.
Cruises aren’t for everybody though, and if you’d like a little adventure thrown in with your luxury live-aboard, a house-boat might just be the ticket.
Lake Kariba is the most famous, and dramatic, destination for house-boating in Southern Africa, offering fantastic game viewing and exciting tiger-fishing as you motor your way along the lake-shore. Trips start from the eastern Kariba town or Binga in the west (a few hours’ drive from Vic Falls) with a full-crossing of the Lake the ultimate Kariba adventure. Taking the kids along? Make sure you ask for a child-proof boat with nets to stop them falling overboard en route.
Closer to home, a houseboat on Jozini Dam in Pongola is as close as you’ll get to a Kariba experience without venturing north of the border. The 85-foot ‘Shayamanzi’ houseboat is the way to do the Dam in style, offering six luxurious en-suite cabins, top-notch cuisine and a top-deck jacuzzi for naughty late-night dips. For something more active, hop on board one of the two dedicated tender boats and cast a line for the hard-fighting tiger fish; Jozini is the only place in SA you’ll find this prized sport fish.
Our house. In the middle of our… lagoon?
To really feel like a sea-faring cap’n though, you need to feel the south-easter in your hair and the smell of salt in the air. All the while sipping on a G&T, of course.
The ‘Nirvana’ houseboat on Langebaan lagoon is less houseboat and more floating gin palace, but it’s still a great way to feel the motion of the ocean without worrying about freak storms and feeling seasick. Moored at Kraalbaai in the stunning West Coast National Park, Nirvana can accommodate up to 24 people on a self-catering or fully-catered basis. If you’re looking for something more intimate, the houseboat ‘Larus’ is moored not far away and sleeps up to six people at a time.
Both houseboats are anchored in the calm Langebaan lagoon, making them the perfect base for fishing (don’t forget your permit), swimming and sun-tanning. The lagoon is also a designated Ramsar site (meaning the wetland is of global ecological importance), so twitchers will enjoy the frequent fly-past of feathered visitors from across the globe.
With ‘Nirvana’ weighing in at an enormous 130 tons you won’t be going anywhere in a hurry, so if you get cabin fever just hop in one of the tenders and scoot over to the beach for a bit of fun in the sun.
On the move
Houseboats don’t have to be stationary though, and if you’d prefer to be captain of your own steady ship, the Lightleys houseboats on Knysna lagoon are a fantastic way to feel the waves beneath your feet.
Lightleys offers two different types of craft, depending on the size of your group.
The six-sleeper Aqua Chalet has the aero-dynamics of a brick and is little more than a floating caravan, but the sleek two-person (or four at a real squeeze) Leisure Liners are ideal for exploring the lagoon. After a brief safety briefing you can load your bags on board - the boats are full equipped, so all you need to bring is groceries and clothes - and set off for the high seas. Well, the southern end of the lagoon at least.
There are a number of designated overnight mooring spots where you can drop anchor at sunset, but the ‘no wake’ upper reaches of the Knysna River are a good bet for escaping the rubber-duck cowboys of the estuary. Drop anchor, pour yourself a G&T and listen out for the fish eagles calling across the water. With drink in hand, braai fire crackling in the Weber and the sound of the rushing tide slapping against the bow, you can’t help but think that Mark Twain was mistaken when he said heaven was modeled on Mauritius.
Like Greene’s Toad, Rat and Mole, who yearned for a quiet life near the river that would go on unchanged, ‘like the wind through the willows’, after a few days on the water you too might find yourself happy to stay on board and set sail for the setting sun.