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Visiting South Africa’s Wild Coast
The best beach is an empty beach and is usually hard to get to. That’s how you weed out the masses. Let the masses stay in town, on towels separated by mere inches on the sand. If you’re willing to spend a few (or ten) hours on the road you’ll be well rewarded on the Wild Coast. It’s home to Xhosa people and I felt very welcomed everywhere we stopped. The area is also famous for being home to the one and only Nelson Mandela.
On The Road
We spent the night before in Durban, to the north, so we had a long drive ahead of us. It took us ten hours to get to the hostel. That’s a lie, it took us 12, but it’s because I missed a turn. It should take ten. If you’re coming from Chintsa or East London in the south it should take around 4-5 hours.
The Wild Coast, or Transkei, stretches from East London northwards along the coast to the Kwa-Zulu Natal province (towards Durban). The N2 highway crosses the region and is easy to drive and very well-maintained. The bulk of the drive is on this smooth highway and is an easy drive.
When you turn off the highway towards the coast is when it gets a bit dicey, read: potholes and the Transkei Big 5. You need to budget your time to make sure you’re driving with daylight. The smaller roads aren’t lit and there is livestock freely roaming the roads.
Sustainable Travel at Mdumbi Backpackers
We chose to stay near Coffee Bay at the Mdumbi Backpackers hostel. I chose it because it is very focused on involvement with local community and sustainable tourism. There’s a kindergarten for the community built on the hostel grounds, local Xhosa Mama’s cook food for the guests, locals offer tours around the village; staying here you can be sure your money is going to the right place. And speaking of money, it’s very affordable. We rented a private Rondavel for three nights and ate three meals a day, spending a total of U$125. If you’re looking for an even smaller budget you can rent a bed in one of the dorms and bring your own food to cook or grill.
Relax and Disconnect
We spent three days doing absolutely nothing. We spent our time either walking along the beach or asleep in a hammock. It’s the Indian Ocean but the water was freezing, so we didn’t swim. However, the water is perfect for surfers and there were a lot staying at the hostel.
South Africa is friendly to early risers and one morning we even walked down to the beach at 6:30 and weren’t the first ones there. There were surfers, someone was going on a run along the beach, and there were moms walking their children down the beach to the kindergarten. It may sound crazy to wake up so early on vacation, and I suppose it is, but we just woke up naturally with the sun for most of our trip.
A Tour of the Local Village
The only time we ventured further afield was on a tour of the village with two local guys. They took us to the local shebeen (licensed bar) and into their homes. We spent a few hours with them just wandering the paths worn in among the rondavels. They showed us how the women cook and prepare the traditional Xhosa bread over the fire outside and introduced us to their families. The hostel works with people from the village and trains them to give tours and excursions. Choosing to go on a tour is a great way to support the local community while also getting see the village or other points of interest that you wouldn’t see without a guide.
Cool Bananas is the only store nearby. You can grab chips, snacks and some produce, but the stock is limited so you should bring your groceries with you if you want to cook.
We chose to eat at the hostel. The dinners were whatever the Xhosa mama’s cooked that night and they never disappointed. For breakfast and lunch, there was a small but delicious menu to choose from. For one meal Martin bought a dozen fresh from the sea oysters from a local girl for $2 US. Fishermen are eager to sell you their catch, but the hostel warns you about what is in season and legal to catch so make sure to check before you buy.
If you’re a beer aficionado you can go to the local shebeen and try Xhosa beer (above in milk cartons).
Go Off the Beaten Track to the Wild Coast!
It may not be easy to get to but it is absolutely worth it. The Wild Coast was one of the highlights of our month in South Africa. There’s nothing like the breathtaking, rolling green hills and cliffs dropping off over seemingly endless beaches. If you can make this destination fit into your itinerary then don’t think twice.
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