There’s a place in South Africa where steep-sided cliffs drop into the depths of the ocean below, where the waves are liquid rock climbers, loud and dressed in white foam. There’s a place in South Africa where rolling hillsides are dotted with thatched-roof huts, where the roads are riddled with bumps and livestock crossing at their own pace. There’s a place in South Africa where a waterfall meets its Indian Peer, where the milkwood trees have stood the test of time, where cattle lounge on beaches, where a hole beckons you closer. There’s a place in South Africa where traditions are timeless, where rural still exists, a place home to the father of our nation, Tata Madiba, a place home to Thabo Mbeki. There is a place in South Africa, a place called: The Wild Coast.
Henry David Thoreau must have had a Wild Coast experience when he uttered the words, “All good things are wild and free.”
Because that’s the Wild Coast in a nutshell: Wild and free. And it doesn’t matter how you want to interpret “free” because apart from getting your tummy sorted around meal times and booking your Wild Coast accommodation, the Wild Coast – its scenery, numerous hikes, beaches and views – is free, a gift from nature, mahala, on the house (much like how your soul and whole being will be while visiting).
Waterfalls, gorges, cliffs, rock formations, forests, landscapes, land and sea animals, culture, traditions, rivers, crashing waves, sunsets, sunrises, mangrove swamps and beaches; there is nothing plastic or man-made about the Wild Coast’s entertainment, it is 100% organic, 100% raw, 100% South African.
Take me to the Wild Coast
There’s something elusive about the Wild Coast. It features on many “one day I want to go there” lists, but it is still rarely visited partly because of its semi-isolated location, and because of the distance-factor and the constant question mark that hangs over the road conditions; some say it is (as the crow flies) a 250 km stretch on South Africa’s east coast, while others argue that it is (as the crow flies) a 350 km stretch, somewhere from Gonubie in the Eastern Cape (close to East London) to Port Shepstone in KwaZulu Natal (122 km South of Durban).
There’s a place in South Africa where traditions are timeless, where rural still exists, a place home to the father of our nation, Tata Madiba, a place home to Thabo Mbeki.
Wherever the start and the end of the Wild Coast might be it still offers numerous options for travellers who want to go on a self-drive adventure and for travellers who want to travel via the backpacking bus (Baz Bus). To explore more of the northern parts of the Wild Coast – for example, Port Edwards, Port St Johns with its magnificent blowhole and Mbotyi with its waterfall that plummets into the ocean – it might be best to fly into Durban, and start exploring the following morning. Or start exploring the day after that and give yourself time to indulge in a bunny chow, to soak in the 031-vibe and, if you dare, do the Big Rush Big Swing at the Moses Mabhida Stadium. If you want to focus more on the Southern parts of the Wild Coast, start from East London (there are a few daily flights from South Africa’s major airports) and work your way up towards Coffee Bay. Or, start from Port Elizabeth, and have a quick overnight in Port Alfred before you continue with the trip.
Albeit a magnificent natural arch, there is more to the Wild Coast than just the Hole in the Wall (probably one of the biggest highlights for visitors) and while I always prefer to get on the road and do minimal planning, this principle takes a backseat when visiting this part of the world due to the distances between villages and towns, the possibility of getting lost and the road conditions. Of course, if time is no issue, then I’m all for an unplanned adventure.
Besides the Hole in the Wall (which is situated in Coffee Bay), also consider adding the following towns/villages – listed from most Southern to most Northern – to your itinerary, each destination has its own charm and activities from biking to hiking, from surfing to paddling, from doing nothing to doing something that’s almost like nothing:
Gonubie (Sandboarding, Djembe drum lessons and surfing).
Chintsa (Surfing, volunteer opportunities, ziplining and quad biking).
Haga Haga (Birdwatching and windsurfing),
Morgans Bay (Cliffs, abseiling, Motorcycle Museum (Billy Nel’s private collection) and the Corvair 880 passenger jet),
Kei Mouth (Horse riding, river cruise and crossing with the pont),
Mazeppa Bay (Manubi Forest),
Dwesa and Cweba (Dwesa Nature Reserve),
Coffee Bay (Hole in the Wall, surf and hike to Mapuzi Caves),
Mdumbi (Kayaking, lounge in a hammock, and explore caves),
Port St Johns (Magwa Falls, tea plantations and Blowhole) and,
Mbotyi (Waterfall Bluff and sardine run in June/July).
Please note that the above-mentioned towns and activities are only a few suggestions of what you can get up to when visiting the Wild Coast.
Driving around the Wild Coast
The majority of the roads is not your typical tarred road that’s free of potholes and free of roaming sheep, pigs, cattle, goats and reckless drivers, but the Wild Coast should not be avoided just because you can’t get your hands on the steering wheel of a 4×4 (but something with a higher clearance is always welcome if bumpy dirt roads are part of the plan). Always remember the golden rule when you’re on a dirt road: As slow as possible, as fast as necessary. Road works are ongoing and driving during peak periods, holidays and at night should be done with caution because of drivers in that part of South Africa excel in taking chances.
A side trip to Umtata
If you can tear yourself away from the coast, make a quick trip to Mthatha (or formerly known as Umtata) to visit the Nelson Mandela Museum and to stock up on any necessities or to fill up a petrol/diesel tank or gas can.
The Nelson Mandela Museum is filled with interesting displays and artefacts of Nelson Mandela; from his time as a young boy, to his time spent on Robben Island, to the time he served as South Africa’s president. It is a visual inspiring journey that visitors can take as a self-guided tour (opening times: 09h00 to 16h00 from Monday to Friday and on Saturdays or Public Holidays it closes at 12h30).
Thabo Mbeki said, “The Nelson Mandela Museum is a not for profit institution established by the government of South Africa as part of a portfolio of legacy projects that seek to transform the heritage landscape from our apartheid past. At the same time, it is a resource for promoting economic development throughout tourism in an impoverished region of the country. This is a region in which I was born and grew up.”
Where to stay in the Wild Coast
Whether you want to camp, stay in a dormitory, a small cottage or go for something with a few stars behind its name, the Wild Coast offers an array of accommodation options. Just have a look at what SA-Venues.com have on offer in terms of accommodation.
Some favourites and recommended affordable places along the Wild Coast include:
Buccanneers Lodge and Backpackers: Located in Cintsa, starting from R200 per night.
Haga Haga Hotel: Located in Haga Haga, starting from R910 per night.
Mitford Hotel: Located in Morgans Bay, starting from R835 per night.
Swell Eco Lodge: Located in Mngcibe (eastern side of Mdumbi River), starting from R800 per night.
The Ferryman Inn: Located in Port Edward, starting from R585 per night.