Umngazi Family Resort & Spa
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About Umngazi Family Resort & Spa
To discover Umngazi River Bunglalows as an overseas visitor feels like you are being let in on a secret which South African families have returned to and enjoyed for many years. Umngazi gives you the chance to access an authentic South African holiday experience, explore the less well-trodden and beautiful ‘Wild Coast’ of South Africa, whilst being able to completely unwind and enjoy time with your family without the usual modern day distractions.
The signs along the dirt track which make up the last 10km of the journey start to set the scene “relax, you can take your shoes off now, almost there!”. Indeed, you do need a little reassurance on the dirt track, as the pot holes are deep in places. However, as long as you have a decent vehicle (it’s worth hiring one from the SUV category) then you will be fine, and the treats which await you at Umngazi more than compensate, as well as the fact that you won’t need to use your car again until you leave.
Within 10 minutes of unfurling ourselves from the dusty and crumb-littered car, we were having afternoon tea on loungers with the kids playing happily in the pool alongside. The facilities on site are fantastic – heated swimming pool, tennis court, trampoline and climbing frame, games pavilion, crafts room and teen lounge. Happily, next to everything that our kids wanted to do, there was something which suited us adults down to the ground too. While my daughter bounced on the trampoline, we played a game of tennis. While the kids made models in creative corner we could be enjoying a lazy lunch outside in the sunshine.
It was such a pleasure to show all of this to the kids, in full knowledge for once we could say yes to everything, as all these activities and facilities are included in the price and all are within a safe area meaning they could navigate it independently. There is an innocence about Umngazi, which as well as meaning you feel you’ve had value for money, allows you to fully relax in a way which is hard to do on trips closer to home, when you feel like you are being asked for another £20 every time you turn a corner! Where there are additional charges for services at Umngazi (babysitting for day/evening, spa treatments, guides for hiking, fishing, drinks in the bar etc.) these are really reasonable.
Beyond the facilities, a programme of organised activities is on offer for children 365 days a year (again, most of these at no extra cost), tailored to the number and ages of kids staying at the time. Our kids loved the dodge ball, treasure hunt, marshmallow bbq, crab hunting, sandcastle competition and football games – next time we’ll hopefully be there for the African dance lessons! Guided hikes for kids and adults are available, and well worth the effort.
The coastline is beautiful and the trip over to the beach is another part of Umngazi’s magic appeal for kids – when you’ve had your fill of dune surfing (boards available – for free – from the jetty), sandcastles and paddling (the tide is strong, there are lots of safe alternatives for swimming in the estuary and the pool), you ring a bell and await your return boat, which child would not enjoy that?!
We rented inter-joining bungalows for our stay, which meant we had the reassurance and ease of having the kids next to us, but also the space to relax on our own. There are no TVs in the bungalows – our kids didn’t even notice, but we adults appreciated their absence and it freed us up to enjoy each other’s company all the more.
Umngazi has a very unpretentious and relaxed feel and we found the lack of hard and fast rules made life much easier for us as parents. Our youngest loved the children’s dining area (mainly used by kids 6yrs and under), but on some days she chose her food from there and brought it through to eat with us. Every evening there is a kids movie shown at 7pm, conveniently timed so that you can go straight to dinner (or a sneaky pre-dinner drink!) and finish before the end of the movie. Our kids loved joining us in time for cheese and crackers before we’d all head to bed together. There is a solution to suit every age-mix/family, and babysitters which you can hire for the evening if you’d prefer to get your kids to bed at the normal time and have drinks and dinner under your own steam.
If you were to visit in UK summer time (SA winter) then I still think Umngazi would be a good choice. SA winters tend to be dry, so whilst the mornings and evenings might be chilly, the days are clear and often warm. The lounge area is soooo cosy and inviting that I was actually thrilled when we did get a bit of rain and spent the most deliciously indulgent afternoon cosied up by the fire with a bottle of red, good books, and our kids coming in occasionally to let us know what they were up to.
The food…. the FOOD!!! The beautiful food served at Umngazi is a huge part of its appeal. The buffet breakfasts and lunches in particular were stand-out. We loved the inventive range of things for breakfast (kedgeree, home-cooked baked beans, maize-meal porridge, local fruits salad, home-made granola etc.) and the healthy and tempting spread of salads and heartier dishes at lunch. Our favourite lunch was the seafood pasta, made for us individually while we watched. The desserts were sensational (I’m still thinking about the passion fruit meringue cheesecake), and as with so many of the dishes, were often based on South African recipes. It’d be hard to imagine how you could not enjoy the food here, whatever your diet or requirements.
I’d definitely say it’s worth booking for 3 days or more – it would be a shame to travel all that way only to have to leave after a few days. Umngazi River Bungalows doesn’t just tick all the boxes – it’s written a whole new list. I now wouldn’t consider a holiday in South Africa complete without us all getting our Umngazi fix!