Did you know?
The Xhosa people introduced cattle to the Wild Coast between 600 and 700 AD.
You’re doing the 14 km ‘slack-pack’ hike from Morgan Bay to Trennery’s, you’re slightly out of shape, more than a little tired and suddenly you’re in the middle of a crazy Wild Coast cattle drive!
Some look like pure-bred Nguni cows, others are more cross-bred and feral, but the world-famous Xhosa beach cattle all bear great sets of horns. And they pass you on the soft sands like dignified, painted warriors on a seaside jaunt.
The international backpackers who flock to this part of the world, drawn by the excellent Wild Coast hiking opportunities, will tell you about their encounters with the marvellous beasts of the amaXhosa.
Visitors usually delight in picturesque towns like Port St Johns and Coffee Bay, the dramatic shoreline and the ‘greatest shoal on Earth’ – the legendary Sardine Run – as it goes seething up the coast.
Many, however, will recount tales of just hanging out on obscure Wild Coast beaches somewhere in the ‘divine company of a cow or two’, or taking interesting photos of horns, sea and sand, all in a single frame. There’s something soothing about the experience, surely one of the most bizarre things one can ever do on a beach.
The cattle, which are usually followed by a young cowherd on foot or horseback, come down to the shores to curl up on the sand, look out at a distant spot on the Indian Ocean horizon, sigh deeply and chew the cud.
Don’t be daunted by their ‘warpaint’ and their size. These beefy beachcombers are usually quite docile and will allow you to buzz around them and take photographs.
The Xhosa herds of old carry a sadder back-story in the form of the infamous ‘cattle killing’ of 1857. It’s a tragic tale involving prophetic visions which caused much of the Xhosa nation to sacrifice its livestock, crops and kraals in the hope of a miraculous rebirth – and freedom from their colonial enemies.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Wild Coast Holidays
Tel: +27 (0)84 267 6354
How to get here
On the N2 between East London and Port Edward, there are a number of turnoffs to the Wild Coast. It's a long and arduous drive to the Wild Coast from any of South Africa's larger cities, so it's worth considering flying to East London and hiring a vehicle there, or if you're staying at a Wild Coast hotel, negotiate for them to pick you up there.
Best time to visit
Summer is gorgeous – especially from about November to April. During winter, between about May and August, it can be rainy and windy.
Tours to do
Guided hikes from hotel to hotel up and down the Wild Coast and horse riding.
Length of stay
The Wild Coast is not an overnight destination – allow for three days minimum, but more if you can.
What to pack
Good walking shoes, beach gear, informal garb.
Where to stay
There are many family hotels along the Wild Coast, including hotels at Kei Mouth, Morgan Bay, Port St Johns, Coffee Bay and Mazeppa Bay.
What to eat
Fresh seafood at the family hotels along the Wild Coast has always been a favourite.
Xhosa curios such as bead work and woven crafts, sold predominantly by women, all along the Wild Coast.