Not far from Port St Johns on the Wild Coast is Umngazi River Bungalows and Spa, a seaside resort beloved by many South African families. The owners and managers strive to improve the lives of their staff and the local community, and their actions speak louder than words.

Did you know?

The Wild Coast is so named both for its untamed natural beauty and its perilous coastline.

It’s sunrise at Umngazi River Bungalows along the Wild Coast, and the broad beach has turned copper and pink at low tide. Common terns gather on sandbanks in the estuary, suddenly lifting, wheeling and flying downriver at an unseen signal.

An hour later, children and nannies are tossing tennis balls to one another over the net, a gentle atmosphere of trust hanging over it all. Their parents and other couples are heading to the beach which stretches empty from horizon to horizon.

In the reception area, other guests are signing up for canoe trips, a sundowner cruise, mountain bike rides and hikes into the forest.

You might notice, while you’re there, that Nelson Mandela and his wife Graça Machel penned a letter of appreciation after their stay here in 1997.

But there’s a side to Umngazi River Bungalows you might not observe, unless you asked the staff a few probing questions about why their welcoming smiles are so broad.

The resort hires staff from three nearby villages – Cwebeni, Sicambeni and Vukandlule – and since owners Pat and Karin Goss took over the resort in the early 1990s, conditions have steadily improved for them.

In Cwebeni and Sicambeni, Umngazi River Bungalows have built classrooms for schools and at Vukandlule, an entirely new school was built, along with a thatch-roofed little church.

Umngazi River Bungalows and Spa also supports local entrepreneurs, buying in-season vegetables from local growers.

Staff members are constantly uplifted through training and local villagers are supported in creating their own businesses. It’s a great example of responsible tourism in action.

And no visit to Umngazi is complete without experiencing a tour through one of the local, environment-savvy river rangers. They’ll show you the local forest, the mangroves, the birds and you’ll walk away with an insight into river ecology – not to mention the choicest flyfishing spots.

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