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HomeLEISURE DRIVEHEADING NORTH

HEADING NORTH

IN THE HYUNDAI TUCSON N Line

It was my birthday, and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend it than with a little Zululand “surf n turf” – scuba diving and beach fun at the beautiful Thonga Beach Lodge, before heading inland for some time in the bush and unbeatable hospitality at Mkuze’s Ghost Mountain Inn. And the cherry on the top? A cherry-red Hyundai Tucson R2.0 N Line AWD to get us there.

Never the lightest packers at the best of times, add in dive gear and a bag of birthday presents for me, and we had quite the cache, but the Tucson’s expansive boot swallowed it with ease – and with room to spare. It also happily accommodated our many water bottles, two coffee mugs, both phones charging, and a cornucopia of road trip snacks in the various storage bins dotted around the cabin. 

With my phone paired to the 8” infotainment system via Android Auto and music on play, we pointed the N Line’s distinctive tiger grille nose northwards and hit the road. And we cut a fine figure doing it, too. Its incorporation of “parametric jewels” (prominent geometric patterns) throughout the Tucson’s design gives it a chiselled and dynamic appearance. These elements have been enhanced in the N Line, which boasts a taller and wider grille and edgier parametric jewel patterns on the grille pieces to create added bling. The front air intake and rear spoiler are also larger on the N Line to enhance its sporty character, as does the addition of bright silver skid plates and aggressive-looking twin-tip muffler exhausts. 

We were also sitting pretty inside, thanks to the N line’s supremely comfortable black suede and leather seats. Striking red stitching on the seats, door panels and steering wheel help to differentiate it from its less swanky Tucson siblings, as do its cool black roof lining, dedicated N Line steering wheel, leather gear knob and, of course, metal foot pedals. 

The new “snowflake” patterned 19” alloy wheels are another striking addition, and while we couldn’t be further from the snow as the temperature gauge crept into the mid-thirties, we kept our cool thanks to the Multi-Air mode functionality, which diffuses cool air throughout the cabin using both direct and indirect jets without blasting cold air aggressively onto your feet or hands.

The N2 highway heading North from Durban has never been the safest of roads, but it’s been made somewhat dicier of late thanks to extensive roadworks almost as far as Ballito, a proliferation of cargo trucks coming to and from Richards Bay harbour and long sections of single lane road coupled with impatient drivers. That said, the N Line’s impressive suite of safety features, including Blind-spot Collision Avoidance Assist, Lane Keep and Lane Follow Assist, Forward Collision Avoidance Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Rear Cross Traffic Collision Avoidance Assist, gave us extra peace of mind and ensured that we arrived in Mabibi relaxed and ready to enjoy everything Thonga Beach Lodge has to offer. 

BEACH TIME

Thonga Beach Lodge overlooks the unspoilt Mabibi Beach and is part of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The beach here is powder white, expansive and often deserted save for a few other guests, and the sea is a jewelled patchwork of aquamarine, lapis lazuli and sapphire blues, making it the ideal place to snorkel, swim, walk or just enjoy the view from one of the loungers. If you’re a diver, you’re in for a treat, as the reefs here are some of the best in South Africa, if not the world. They’re teeming with life, from mini creatures like nudibranchs and cleaner shrimp to colourful fish like clown triggerfish and larger pelagics like reef sharks and – if you’re lucky – turtles. 

Mealtimes at Thonga are an absolute treat, with superb fare made all the better thanks to friendly service and the willingness of the staff to make special occasions extra special, such as the private candlelit dinner they set up for my birthday, complete with singing and birthday cake. Afterwards, we joined one of the guides in a moonlit walk on the beach in search of turtle tracks. Between November and February every year, leatherback and loggerhead turtles lay their eggs on this beach. If you’re lucky, you may spot a female turtle labouring up the sand, digging a hole and laying her eggs before returning to the sea. It is a supremely moving experience that is hard to do justice to in print but will likely stay with you forever. 

For more information on Thonga Beach Lodge, visit www.thongabeachlodge.co.za.

BUSH TIME

Sun and sea-ed to ultimate relaxation, we bid a fond goodbye to Thonga and headed inland to the little town of Mkuze. Our GPS selected the most direct route, but we quickly realised that our shortcut had become a long one as we found ourselves on a succession of dirt roads of varying quality. It came with the benefit of seeing a different side of northern Zululand, punctuated with small villages and waving children, and peaking (literally) with a drive over the spectacular Lebombo Mountains.

 The N Line’s 2.0-litre turbocharged CRDi diesel engine, eight-speed automatic transmission, and HTRAC all-wheel-drive system all coped superbly with the terrain, particularly when we selected “Sand” in the Terrain Mode. While we had no need of the N Line’s claimed top speed of 201 km/h or its 9.4-second zero to 100 km/h acceleration speed on the dirt roads, the turbocharged engine’s 137 kW of power and 416 Nm of torque ensured no mountain or hill was too high to conquer. 

The phrase “home away from home” is often bandied about when referring to accommodation options, but in the case of Ghost Mountain Inn, it couldn’t be more apt… because that’s just what it started as – a family home – and it retains that comforting and inviting feeling more than 60 years after it first opened. It is still family-run and owned, which adds such a welcoming feeling to this little oasis. That and the warmth of its staff, many of whom have worked here for so long that they’ve become part of the family, just like the many guests who – once they have discovered the charms of the place – continue to return year on year for holidays, weddings and conferences. 

The inn also manages to offer something for everyone. Walk through the common areas at any given time, and you’ll find locals at the bar cheering at the rugby game on the big screen, conference delegates cutting loose in between strat sessions with a glass of wine over lunch, a bunch of ladies celebrating a friend’s baby shower, kids playing in the pool while mum and dad look on from their loungers, and the odd person looking very relaxed and wafting an alluring smell of essential oils on their way back from the spa. Plus, there is a range of different accommodation types to suit various budgets and preferences. 

The inn also offers a long list of excursions. A popular one is to Pongolapoort Dam (known to most as Jozini Dam) for both anglers (tiger fish being the main drawcard) or those keen for a boat ride along its shores. There are also half-day or full-day trips to Mkhuze and Hluhluwe Imfolozi game reserves, as well as an array of exciting activities (dependent on availability) at Manyoni Private Game Reserve, and several cultural experiences on offer to learn more about the Zulu culture. 

For more information, visit www.ghostmountaininn.co.za.

LAST WORD

After a wonderfully relaxed few days, we repacked the Tucson only to discover that all of our bundu bashing on our “long shortcut” from Thonga had taken its toll on one of our tyres. Holding our breath – lest we find a repair kit or “biscuit” – we lifted the boot floor and whooped with delight to find a full-size spare wheel (not always guaranteed in modern cars). It was a godsend in such a rural area, and we were quickly on the road again. It also served to re-emphasise what we had already come to realise during our trip – that the Tucson N Line isn’t just about pretty looks; it’s a superbly capable, cleverly designed and safe car that can handle almost anything you throw at it. 

They say that the journey is as important as the destination, but the journey is **so** much more enjoyable when you do it in style – N Line style.

Report by NICKY FURNISS | Images © ISIBINDI AFRICA / GHOST MOUNTAIN INN / HYUNDAI SOUTH AFRICA

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