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OOn a seven-day road trip between East London and Port St Johns you will discover the soul of the Wild Coast, moving from cultural encounters to scenic experiences in a variety of backdrops; from coastal forests and wide stretches of beach to isolated villages and seaside hamlets lost in time.
South Africa’s Wild Coast in Eastern Cape province is for those with a love of life, an independent travelling spirit and a yen for surprises.
Start your special Wild Coast trip just outside East London at a legendary backpacker village called Buccaneers, in Chintsa (also spelled Cintsa) West. Have a drink at the lively bar, followed by lunch at the poolside café while you discuss your itinerary for the week – independent travellers can take on the Wild Coast in many different ways.
The birders can then hive off to the Buccaneers bird hide, while the rest of you ride along the beach on horseback. What makes Buccaneers so beloved within the backpacker fraternity the world over is its laid-back attitude, its many services and its beautiful setting within 8 hectares of coastal forest.
The next morning, meet up with a guide, perhaps Velile Ndlumbane from Imonti Tours, and go to a local village to meet the cultural icon of the area, Mama Tofu. Spend an hour in the company of this wise old Xhosa granny and you’ll gain an insight into Eastern Cape life and legend that you’ll treasure for many years to come.
Using the bustling N2 as your ‘spine route’ and tapping off it to all the coastal spots, make your way to Morgan Bay and check in at the Morgan Bay Hotel. You’re now in ‘Morgs’, which has been a family holiday destination for as long as anyone can remember.
After a restful night in this little seaside village, meet your guide, grab your daypacks and head off north along the beach for an exhilarating 14km walk to the next overnight stop, Trennerys Hotel at Qolora Mouth.
Some of you will fall in with loveable local rogues at the Anchor Bar in the hotel, while others will play a furious game of snooker. The fishermen will be off in the surf and the active sporty types will be on hired mountain bikes, exploring the area. There is something for everyone at these traditional old Wild Coast hotels.
There’s more hiking, fishing and socialising at the next stop, the Mazeppa Bay Hotel. The snooker gang can continue its fierce competitions, while others go walking in the Manubi Forest, or over the suspension bridge to the island off Mazeppa Bay beach, or for a longer walk to the unspoilt lagoon and Mile Beach or beyond.
At Dwesa Nature Reserve the next day, the twitchers among you come into their own, with the prospect of sighting more than 290 species of birds.
The next night you’re in a backpackers again: this time it’s the Coffee Shack in Coffee Bay. The couples in the party can have their own rooms, while the rest of you bunk down in the dorm.
Do you want to go home and tell everyone you’re a surfer now? Well here in Coffee Bay, they’ll teach you to surf. The rest of you can take free lessons in something called ‘hammock-riding’.
Finally, you chug into Port St Johns, where you meet up with historian-hotelier-photographer John Costello at the Safari Inn, who will reveal the Wild Coast to you like no one else.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Emfuleni Corridor Tourism
Eastern Cape Parks & Tourism Agency
Tel: +27 (0)43 492 0881
Tel: +27 (0)43 734 3012
Wild Coast Jikeleza Festival
Tel: +27 (0)43 737 0005
How to get here
Fly to East London, hire a car and travel north on the N2 to the Wild Coast.
Best time to visit
The Wild Coast is a year-round destination.
Hire a car in East London, buy a good map and guidebook – or download them as apps on your phone – and head into the Wild Coast.
Around the area
Visit Qunu, the village in which Nelson Mandela grew up, approximately 40km south of Mthatha.
Tours to do
There are many Wild Coast tours available – check the listed websites.
What will it cost?
The family hotels and backpacker establishments along the Wild Coast offer very reasonable rates – although there is also the odd 5-star establishment tucked away, if budget allows.
Length of stay
Set aside at least 7 days and nights for this journey, and add another 3 to do justice to Port St Johns.
What to pack
Pack informally: beachwear, bar-wear and walk-wear. Kikois (African cloths that double as skirts, scarves or towels) and strong hiking boots are recommended – and don’t forget hats and sunscreen.
Where to stay
Besides the places mentioned above, the Wild Coast has a wide range of accommodation. Check the listed websites for options.
What to eat
Check with the hotels and local fishermen for their catch of the day – there’s nothing quite so good.
Cultural events and village festivals take place from time to time – check the listed websites for details.
Art and crafts sold along the roadside between Port St Johns and Lusikisiki.