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Lifestyle | 10 Sep 2021 | By Ebrahim Moolla

Releasing the Wild within

Kids enjoy ice cream at the Wild Coast Sun pool. | Photo by Sun International

One of South Africa's most-loved resorts, the Wild Coast Sun remains a tour de force some 40 years after opening its doors.

On the border between the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, Sun International's Wild Coast Sun is an effective diplomat, skilfully meshing the best of the bold and confident Zulu and warm and hospitable Xhosa cultures.

I've returned to Wild Coast Sun Resort for just shy of a week – the last time I romped through the lawns of the fabled holiday hotspot was as a precocious pre-teen. It's like being cocooned in a cherished memory, except it's one that you can still add to and improve.

It's an intensely emotional experience. As a rule, I only shed tears when Arsenal lose, but I inexplicably become teary-eyed when my Tsonga colleague tries – and fails – to make herself understood in isiZulu at the boom gate.

Tide of memories

The tide of memories wafts in on the Indian Ocean breeze. I recall doing cartwheels by the pool in my kiddy speedos – I still have the photograph of my wiry physique and full head of hair somewhere in the trove of family albums. Then there was the time I got a wad of cash to spend as I wanted from my uncle who'd just won big in the casino or bunked school and took the bus with my mum and her friend to the resort from Durban – a thrilling midweek adventure.

In another wonderful childhood excursion, my dad told me: "The road trip begins now," as we pulled into the Wild Coast Sun, our first stop on the Garden Route on the way to Cape Town over the school holidays.

My first experience of a casino was at the Wild Coast Sun casino when I was just six. The quintessential mummy's boy, I was pining for her just outside the security cordon when she invited me to dash in and pull the slot machine arm. We didn't win, which may explain why I prefer to stick to the tables nowadays.   

River, sea, or land – the Wild Coast Sun promises all-out action. | Photo by Sun International

In the tumult of the pre-1994 era, the Wild Coast Sun was a haven for the Indian community of KwaZulu-Natal. Crossing the soldier-strewn border into Transkei, we could put aside the pressures of the day and take in a bhangra or chutney musical performance – in-between the gaming, of course. This tradition continues – there's a thunee tournament (a wickedly addictive card game reportedly invented by Indian indentured labourers) soon! I feel a twinge of regret at not being able to take a crack at the R30 000 first prize.

Never a dull moment

Through my child's eyes, I was always awed by the enormity of the resort. As an adult, the resort seems smaller, but while I'm here for almost a full week, there is hardly enough time to experience everything the Wild Coast Sun and its surroundings have to offer.

I'm barely off my kayak when I'm promising Deidre at the River Side water park to return with my partner and chart a kayak for a full day to venture upriver for a picnic at the evocatively named Leopard's Beach. And I'm inspired by charismatic General Manager Peter Tshidi's commitment to improving his golf game and make a point of conquering the Wild Coast Sun Country Club – a course so chock full of scenic beauty that it could make a poet out of the most jaded golfer – in future.

I need to check out the Oribi Gorge on the KwaZulu-Natal side and use the Wild Coast Sun for the achingly beautiful hiking opportunities up the Eastern Cape coast. The bustling casino remains as magnetic as ever despite Covid-19 restrictions, but the plethora of gaming opportunities are just one part of the resort offering.

But the impending launch of the Wild Coast Sun's private beach is what has me most excited. Long renowned for its location on river bank and coast, the resort is set to maximise the benefits to guests by offering outstanding bathing opportunities in the perennially sultry Indian Ocean waters coupled with the prospect of a G&T-drenched afternoon at a beach bar. It's a scene that first captured my imagination when I witnessed a beautiful woman riding a horse on the same beach many years ago – an outrageous triple whammy for the mind of a pubescent boy!

As we both turn 40 this year, I can't help but feel that the Wild Coast Sun and I are kindred spirits – along with the exhilarating sensation that the best is yet to come for the both of us. Yes, everything is alright with the world when you're slap-bang in the middle of an endless summer.

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