Jewel of the Indian Ocean

Heather Robertson

MY ANNUAL December holiday is a massive extended family affair at my parents' holiday home in Pringle Bay where there is no rest for the wicked as everyone has to pitch in with cooking, cleaning, dishwashing and keeping the kids entertained.

I usually land up in trouble with various superior family members for not cleaning or washing dishes fast enough or well enough.

It was thus an absolute treat to be invited by the Mantis Group to spend a weekend in five-star luxury at Texan property mogul Rip Miller's Oceana Beach and Wildlife Resort.

Just 8km away from Port Alfred, what was originally Miller's private African hunting lodge by the sea, has been developed into seven suites and a plush, free-standing three-suite house.

The minute you step into the safari- themed thatched lodge, with its breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean at its wildest and an undulating carpet of bushveld you immediately relax into a feeling of ease.

Its not just the view and venue that do this though. It is the unobtrusive but ubiquitous team of young, attentive lodge staff who are available for your every need from game drives, to golf cart drives to the beach, to pampering hot stone massages, to attentive waitresses and the highlight of my stay – the fine artists of cuisine in the kitchen.

We were allocated a lodge suite downstairs adjacent to the games room, which came in handy for a late night game of pool and shuffle board.

When you draw back the curtains and step onto your private deck, you are greeted by languorous nyala nibbling on grass and vervet monkeys trying out their latest Tarzan moves in the trees. Beyond is the pristine 7km stretch of Eastern Cape beach.

The bedroom suite encapsulates pure luxury with its individual temperature control and bathroom underfloor heating, handcrafted furnishings, antiques and artefacts, custom-made superking-size bed and capacious bathroom featuring a his and hers walk-in shower, jacuzzi bath and large lounge area.

Even though it defeats the purpose of experiencing the ocean and wildlife outside, for those who insist on staying inside connected to CNN and Australian MasterChef, there is a state-of-the-art sunken satellite TV which miraculously emerges at the foot of the bed.

We were keen to experience the only game reserve by the sea in South Africa, so we ventured on the lodge's Land Rover with a game guide, accompanied by fellow guests – Advocate Gerald Farber, who defended former SAA boss Khaya Ngqula, and Neville Schonegevel, the co-owner of the Sunridge Valley shopping centre, in Port Elizabeth.

Neville was a veritable treasure trove of twitching and game-spotting knowledge and in between coming across a southern bou bou, red hartebees, waterbuck, nyala and Burchell's zebra, the two regaled us with tales of their lives as rebel students when the then UPE campus was run by the Broederbond in the late '60s and early '70s.

I learnt how the animal kingdom operates on strict gender lines as we saw an all-female nursing herd of nyala while the males club together in a bachelor herd. There's definitely no New Age men helping to raise babies in nyala land.

We spotted the rare and costly black impala which fetch a price of R200000 each as opposed to the run-of-the-mill tawny impala which go for R10000 each. It is unfortunate that humans have a tendency to weigh worth in rands and dollars, but it was quite heartening to see a member of the rhino family that poachers have been hunting for the presumed aphrodisiac properties of their horns, defying the laws of nature by adopting a three-year-old calf that has been kicked out of the "nest".

The 25-year-old rhino was casting a protective eye over the younger rhino as if the calf was hers from birth – her behaviour definitely shakes up the selfish gene theory that animals nurture only their biological offspring.

After this heartwarming encounter we headed back to the lodge, passing a pair of languidly loping giraffe. These have to be the most majestic animals to grace our African plains.

I could continue waxing lyrical about the views of the Indian Ocean and the awesome experience of watching whales lolling around in the ocean, but the truth is, I thought I saw a whale, until I peered through the telescope in the lodge lounge and realised it was actually just a rock.

Not that I have anything against the awesomeness of rocks.

For one, they existed long before we humans even started our evolution, but I have to confess the best part of our stay at Oceana was less prosaic than rocks, whales or the gorgeous wildlife, but more gastronomic.

Chefs Angie Sousalis, Adriaan Boshoff and Jacque van Rooyen make staying at Oceana much more than a five-star experience. Their artful preparation and presentation of taste- sensations for breakfast, lunch and supper is fit for angels. Using fresh produce sourced from local farmers, the three chefs' passion to please palates was evident in the mouthwatering dishes they served.

My favourites were the roasted peach, blue cheese and springbok carpaccio salad with toasted cashew nuts drizzled with a lemon, honey and mustard dressing for lunch and for dinner the dukkah-rubbed fillet of beef on wholegrain mustard, with mashed potato, caramelised beetroot, red orange marmalade and steamed mange tout. For Jacque, who hails from Despatch and looks more like a hippy surfer than a chef, the secret behind the sensations they serve up every day, is variety."We all bring different styles to the table – from French, to Thai to Mediterranean and Italian and we do something different every day so no one gets bored."

Angie, who was born on the island of Lesbos where he father worked as a maritime engineer, says her love of food comes from big, fat Greek family feasts. "Feeding people makes me happy. If I create a dish, I can taste it in my mind."

Wow. The passion these chefs put into creating a plate of food is what makes the Oceana experience a flight into culinary heaven.

And of course, being pampered 24/7 definitely beats been nagged about not washing the dishes on time.