I just returned to Joburg after a week in Leisure Bay, a seaside community on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast. I went there to escape Joburg’s cold, dry winter, and also to work on my memoir, which has been languishing for several months.
The name “Leisure Bay” sounds like a retirement community but it’s not that at all. This sleepy beach village was tinged with just enough jungly wildness to remind a city dweller like me that she is truly away.
Leisure Bay is a long trip from Joburg. It’s on the border of KZN and the Eastern Cape, almost in the Wild Coast, and is nine-plus hours by car. I initially planned to drive but then decided it’s really too far to get there in a single day. So I flew to Durban, rented a car, and drove the two-hour remainder of the journey.
I could have chosen a closer destination; I’m not sure why I didn’t. I could have gone anywhere, really, as long as it was away from the city. But when I decided to go away, I spent an afternoon aimlessly surfing Airbnb and somehow landed up on Plumbago. I immediately knew this was where I would go, even though it was a new Airbnb listing and had no previous reviews. I felt certain Plumbago was my place, and I was right.
Quick side note: If you want to stay at Plumbago, I recommend booking before December. The house has been sold, sadly, and it will probably go on being a B&B after the sale but the current hosts will be gone. And you’ll definitely want to have Jackie, Jess, Libby, and Mick as your hosts, because they are delightful. They made me feel so comfortable, treating me like family while also giving me plenty of space. I’m really grateful I landed up with them.
Writing in Leisure Bay
When I posted on social media about going to Leisure Bay, I received all kinds of great suggestions for things to do in the area. I intended to follow at least a few of those suggestions, but — with the exception of a quick lunch outing to Beaver Creek Coffee Estate and a night out at the Dolphin Pub & Grill, the local dive bar, both of which I heartily recommend — I didn’t go anywhere. I did nothing but write, hang around my room procrastinating writing (knitting, reading, meditating, etc.), and take long walks along the beach.
Each morning, I woke up and immediately began to engage in emotional warfare with myself. I should be working, I thought, as I lingered in bed at 6:45 a.m., even though the sun wasn’t fully up yet. I’m wasting the privilege of being in this beautiful place. I should be up and writing by now. I should be down at the beach, photographing the sunrise and pondering the unresolved ending to my book. I should be busy at every waking moment. I’m lazy and uncreative and useless and my book sucks and I’ll never finish it.
Then I took a few deep breaths and told myself to calm the fuck down. I listened to the surf crashing against the rocks and the birdsong floating through the window. I’m here, I thought. I’m present and I have plenty of time. I can enjoy myself while also being productive. Relax.
I did relax, each and every day, and by the end of the week I had edited ten chapters of my memoir. I feel much better about the book than I did before I went to Leisure Bay. I’m more confident that I’ll finish it and get it published. I feel way less afraid of failure.
I experienced a lot of coincidences during this writing retreat week. Three days after I arrived, I glanced at the daily tide report on the lifeguard hut and saw the date. I realized it had been exactly 12 years since I moved to South Africa, on 6 August 2010. Then I went back to Plumbago, opened up my laptop, and realized I was editing that very scene from exactly 12 years ago, when I first landed at O.R. Tambo International Airport.
Later in the week I was editing a section about a trip that Jon and I took to the South Coast in 2011. We had been in Port Shepstone, just up the road from Leisure Bay, and it was also in August. I took my favorite photo of Jon and me — as we stood together on the beach under a full moon — during that trip. The photo hangs on the wall of my office now. I’m looking at it as I type this.
There were some more coincidences but they’re too complicated to explain here. You’ll have to wait for the book to read about them.
I finally understand now why writers go on writing retreats. I needed to find this lovely, faraway place in order to smash through my writers’ block — it was totally worth the long journey. Thanks, Leisure Bay and Plumbago, for helping me learn.
Don’t forget to book Plumbago before the end of 2022.