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IIf you choose to backpack along the Wild Coast – an excellent way in which to explore this remote region – you can stay in the heart of a traditional, decidedly non-touristy Xhosa village just above the shoreline, where you’ll bed down in a thatched hut for the night. Or you could opt for a small but comfortable family home, or a backpackers’ hostel right on the beach next to the pounding surf.
The Wild Coast, home to the Pondo branch of the Xhosa people, gets its name from its tumultuous seas, its shipwrecks, its secret lagoons, its splendid isolation and the pristine untamed wilderness of its forests.
This is undeveloped rural Africa: if you’re looking for luxury with all the mod cons, backpacking the Wild Coast is not for you. On the other hand, a place like Port St Johns is not a town, it’s a lifestyle – if you’re in the mood to relax and gaze at glorious views wherever you look, you have to backpack through Pondoland…
Instead of hustle and bustle and electronic noise, what you will find are friendly local communities where the women dress in colourful clothes and smoke long-stemmed clay pipes – not to impress the tourists, but because they have been doing so for centuries.
You’ll also find lots to do, from horse riding and hiking to some of the best surf in the world. Experienced wave jockeys should head off to Mdumbi Point, where you can ride a half-mile break (almost a kilometre). Novices – AKA grommets – can take surfing lessons at Coffee Bay.
If you choose the award-winning Bulungula Lodge, you can spend a day with the Xhosa village women learning how to cook and harvest food, or go sea fishing with the men, or pluck fresh oysters and mussels from the black rocks.
You can also walk with an herbalist in the coastal forest and discover ancient medicinal plants and traditional remedies – unless you’re in a more active mood, in which case try canoeing up the Xhora River.
The eco-friendly accommodation (don’t always expect hot water or flush toilets) and activities at Bulungula help support the adjacent village – a model being adopted at more and more eco-tourism operations around South Africa – so you’ll be doing your bit for rural development as well as having an amazing experience.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Tel: +27 (0)47 577 8900
Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency
Tel: +27 (0)43 492 0881
How to get here
The Wild Coast lies on South Africa’s Indian Ocean coast. It begins just north of East London and stretches to the Mtamvuna River on the KwaZulu-Natal border, just south of Port Edward. There’s no coastal road (too many rivers, canyons and cliffs get in the way), so getting to resorts and villages often involves long bumpy gravel roads off the N2, which runs further inland.
Best time to visit
Spring, summer and autumn (September to May) – be warned, though: during the December school holidays, most of the resorts and hotels are fully booked months in advance.
What will it cost
Rates vary: backpackers’ hostels and village stays are very affordable (see the Bulungula Lodge website below), but you’ll also find a few 3-star, 4-star and luxury options that are priced accordingly. Check prices on accommodation websites.
What to eat
Fresh seafood – but be sure to read up on seasonal restrictions, red and orange lists, bag limits and legal sizes before you buy from local entrepreneurs on the beach.