Not far from Port St Johns on the Wild Coast is Umngazi River Bungalows and Spa, a seaside resort beloved by many South African families. The owners and managers strive to improve the lives of their staff and the local community, and their actions speak louder than words.

Did you know?

The Wild Coast is so named both for its untamed natural beauty and its perilous coastline.

It’s sunrise at Umngazi River Bungalows along the Wild Coast, and the broad beach has turned copper and pink at low tide. Common terns gather on sandbanks in the estuary, suddenly lifting, wheeling and flying downriver at an unseen signal.

An hour later, children and nannies are tossing tennis balls to one another over the net, a gentle atmosphere of trust hanging over it all. Their parents and other couples are heading to the beach which stretches empty from horizon to horizon.

In the reception area, other guests are signing up for canoe trips, a sundowner cruise, mountain bike rides and hikes into the forest.

You might notice, while you’re there, that Nelson Mandela and his wife Graça Machel penned a letter of appreciation after their stay here in 1997.

But there’s a side to Umngazi River Bungalows you might not observe, unless you asked the staff a few probing questions about why their welcoming smiles are so broad.

The resort hires staff from three nearby villages – Cwebeni, Sicambeni and Vukandlule – and since owners Pat and Karin Goss took over the resort in the early 1990s, conditions have steadily improved for them.

In Cwebeni and Sicambeni, Umngazi River Bungalows have built classrooms for schools and at Vukandlule, an entirely new school was built, along with a thatch-roofed little church.

Umngazi River Bungalows and Spa also supports local entrepreneurs, buying in-season vegetables from local growers.

Staff members are constantly uplifted through training and local villagers are supported in creating their own businesses. It’s a great example of responsible tourism in action.

And no visit to Umngazi is complete without experiencing a tour through one of the local, environment-savvy river rangers. They’ll show you the local forest, the mangroves, the birds and you’ll walk away with an insight into river ecology – not to mention the choicest flyfishing spots.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Umngazi River Bungalows and Spa
Tel: +27 (0)47 564 1115/6/8/9
Cell: +27 (0)82 321 5841
Email: enquiries@umngazi.co.za

How to get here

From Port Elizabeth, head north on the N2, into Mthatha. Here you'll find a clearly marked intersection with the R61 to Port St Johns. Turn right and drive for 90km until you see the turn off to Umngazi River Bungalows.

Best time to visit

It's rare that one can say that a destination is good in all seasons. This is one of them.

Around the area

Visit the spa for an Umngazi's Four Hand Signature Pondo therapy.

Tours to do

You could canoe through the mangrove swamps at Umngazana estuary, or visit one of the nearby villages.

What will it cost

The rooms vary in price according to position in season, but are quoted on full board.

Length of stay

You should plan for two to three nights to get the full benefit.

What to eat

Try out the sweet-sour black mangrove honey sold in the local shop.

What's happening

If you're here during June or July, you may see the Sardine Run, and the fishing is phenomenal.