Easter, Christmas and New Years would draw many tourists to the sleepy seaside settlements of the South coast and within days hotels, caravan parks and camping grounds would be filled with holiday makers keen to pursuit the outdoor activities on offer.
Unfortunately visiting a place and actually living there all year round can be very different, a lesson that we had to learn the hard way...
When the summer season drew to a close, the tourists would load up their cars and trailers and return to the cities. The town would become vacant overnight. The strong northeasterly wind would blow, leaving stinging blue-bottles and jellyfish on the beaches and the windswept coast with its rugged coastline and harsh vegetation would withdraw back into isolation.
Our house, fittingly named 'Hideaway' by previous owners lay nestled at the bottom of a green valley, which meant for cold winters and mosquito infested summers. Originally intended to be a holiday home, It was a single story dwelling built in the early 70's and had the appearance of being slapped together in a hurry on a shoe-string budget of materials, revealed by its poor plaster work, stable doors and steel wire mesh for burglar guards. Nevertheless, my parents felt it possessed a rustic charm and fell in love with the garden beautifully decorated with an assorted array of fruit trees, bougainvilleas, orchids and strelitzias. What was not so charming was the surrounding wild banana and sugar cane plantation, characteristic of Kwa-Zulu Natal, teeming with cane rats, spiders and deadly snakes.
From the day that we moved in the strange noises began. We were sitting in the lounge having a rest from a long, hard day of unpacking and moving heavy furniture when we first heard the loud thumping in the ceiling. Like someone banging violently on the wood board with their fist it resonated from one side of the lounge to the other. We sat in shocked silence looking up, listening, then exchanging horrified glances. My dad relieved the tension by suggesting it was likely just an iguana (large lizard) living in the ceiling. The thumps, bangs and scratches often accompanied by sweeping sounds would occur randomly throughout our 5 year residence, waking us up in the early hours of the morning.
My room, an obvious later addition to the house was constructed from cinder blocks, not bricks. Sometime between switching off my bedside lamp and falling asleep I would often hear tapping on my bedroom window. It sounded like little pebbles were being tossed up against the glass. Every so often upon pulling back the curtains to investigate I would see nothing but the pitch black of the night outside.
One evening whilst home alone something disturbing happened. I was sitting up late watching TV around 11 pm when I noticed the kitchen door handle turn downwards and the door swung open. Sitting directly oppose the door only about 3 meters away I was faced with nothing but the silhouette of the backyard mulberry tree in the moonlight. The night was still with not a breath of wind. Although the security gate was locked I didn't feel reassured. Had it been a would-be intruder the German Shepard next door surely would have barked his head off. Nothing, just silence. I felt as though a million eyes were on me and I slammed the door, locked it, turned on all the lights and the sound on the TV up. My parents only returned home hours later much to my dismay.
Before this, my older sister had often complained that she got the feeling of being chased when following the garden path down to the kitchen door when coming home late at night. I got this feeling even in the daytime.
Shortly before our house was sold in 1996 the thumping in the ceiling become louder and more aggressive. Around this time the geyser (water heater) in my parents en-suite bathroom stopped working. It also happened to be the only room with a trap door to the ceiling. My sister's husband, an electrician, came to repair the geyser and had to access the roof to fix it. Knowing he was an avid reptile collector we, being so desperate to rid the house of its menace, asked him to catch the iguana at the same time. After fixing the geyser he came down from the ladder and didn't look impressed. He remarked that the ceiling was cleaner than the house and there was no lizard or rats or animal droppings for that matter. The noises still continued the following night.
It was only after we left that we finally admitted to ourselves that something wasn't right about that cottage or its gardens. My mom even confessed to me that she had seen the ghost of a woman dressed as a maid coming hurriedly down the garden pathway one bright and sunny morning. The woman initially appeared solid and then faded the closer she got to the house.
Years later I came to know a little about the area's history. One of my former work colleagues had grown up in a township not far away. Local legend has it that the area was occupied by a tribe of cannibals and that Zulu's walking along the beach in passing would see strange glowing lights from the hills. Not only were the tribe cannibals but reputed to use human body parts for witchcraft. The name of the village directly translates into 'bad village,' a name given by the fearless warrior Shaka himself, King of the Zulus. Through his reign the village saw much bloodshed and he succeeded in almost completely wiping out the tribe 200 years ago.
The small stretch of road that runs through the town is also notorious for horrific road accidents. This has always puzzled us as it is seemingly a flat, straight stretch of road.
Last year I took my dad on a drive down the Hibiscus coast to relive our happy memories there one last time. My dad in ailing health, my mom having already passed on and my siblings living their own lives. We were sad to see how forgotten the village had become, its tourism ruined from the highway that now bypasses it.
Our little house too, seemed neglected and its gardens overgrown, standing empty and up for sale. Hideaway would always hold a special place in my heart as it was the last home we had all lived together as a family. I can never be sure if it really had a restless spirit or whether we shared our home with unseen creatures, but the bittersweet memories still haunt me in many ways.