Lazily I turn my head and lick the salt off my back. The sun is warm and the beach sand soft beneath where I am lying. A cool breeze carries a fine spray onto the beach as the waves tumble up the shore in their endless quest to gain higher ground. Just ahead I catch sight of a man coming out of the trees that hug the beach. Soon he is followed by more people, trailing behind him in a line like chickens following a hen. They pause momentarily before heading towards where I'm lying. As they come closer I watch them. A few of the other cows on the beach clamber to their feet and move away. But soon they have passed and are heading away down the beach towards the green hill that rises to touch the blue sky above. Lazily I turn my head and lick the salt off my back.
"28 kilometers! Are you crazy!" The kids are not exactly enamored about the idea of an 8 hour hike to see some waterfalls. However, we persist. As a family we are on a year tour of Africa - two daughters who have just completed school and a son who will need to be home/hut/car-schooled, plus two parents intent on experiencing it all. "One of our Africa Tour mottos is to Experience new things, so we are doing this," I say. Of course the teen girls are quick to retort, "But we have seen waterfalls before, it's not new." "You're right," I reply, "but walking 28 kilometers will be!"
Our guide, Caine arrives spot on time at 7am - Africa will always surprise you just when you think you have it figured out. After a brief explanation of the route we head on down the dirt road from the Pondo Hut where we're staying at the community run campsite in Mbotyi. The road winds down the hill and crosses a low bridge where the local women and young children washing their clothes in the river below call out greetings to us.
Shortly thereafter Caine leads us to a small local Spaza store, giving us an opportunity to buy some cold drinks for the walk ahead. The shopkeeper smiles and greets us as his two small children look curiously at the strange visitors. Soon we are stocked and on our way.
The path winds its way up a small hill and quickly enters a thick, dark forest. Huge trees frame the path like a tunnel. This incredible forest that stretches for miles in all directions is impenetrable and largely unexplored except for a few paths the locals use to traverse between villages. We feel like we are explorers deep within the Amazon jungle as we listen to the haunting sound of a crying baby coming from deep within the forest. "That's a Hornbill," our guide informs us, dispelling the mounting sense of trepidation. Long, tangled vines hang from the trees and butterflies dance in rays of light that occasionally penetrate the thick canopy above.
The path emerges from the dense forest into a new world. Hills carpeted with lush green grass roll out before us, dotted with colorful huts, all spread beneath a cloudless blue sky. We walk past lone huts with views that most of us would pay a fortune to own and finally emerge on the beach. We take off our shoes and our feet relish the soft powder white sand stretching down towards a tranquil azure sea.
A herd of cows lounge lazily on the warm sand of the beach - a familiar sight all along the Wild Coast. As we move towards them some clamber lazily to their feet and amble away. A large bull boasting huge curving horns watches us as we move towards him, but as we move on he flicks his head and turns to lick his hide, quickly returning to his restful somnolence.
Our path continues up from the beach across rolling green hills, over streams, and through stunning hidden valleys. Reaching the halfway mark towards our destination, we stop to swim in a cool river that cascades down a series of small waterfalls. It's a welcome break as the warm African sun begins to take its toll. It's a short break and soon Caine is leading us on - our destination, Waterfall Bluff beckons like a siren's irresistible call.
After 4 hours of brisk walking we arrive at the edge of a cliff with a steep path winding its way down. "Be careful here," Caine says, "it's far down there." The anticipation is mounting, we've walked far to see this spectacle. Yet we are careful as we descend as quickly as we can. The moment we have been looking forward to is near. And then we round the corner and the sight is spectacular, awe inspiring. There it is, one of only 19 in the world, one of only two in Africa, the only one in South Africa - a waterfall that falls directly into the sea,
A huge overhanging rock forms a cave at Waterfall Bluff where we settle down to have a picnic in one of the world's ultimate picnic spots. The giant waves roar in from the sea and smash against the towering cliff as if seeking to rise up and meet the water plummeting down from the waterfall. It's like watching a meeting of giants, from the secure, shaded shelter of a cave. We sit there enjoying our rest while staring transfixed at this titanic sight.
About 30 minutes later it's time to move on. "I want to show you more," Caine says in his perfect English, "let's go." We are reluctant to leave this spectacle, and the children who have not complained at all are also keen to stay longer. However we know it's a long hike back so we set off once again.
Just above the falls is Mamba Pool which tantalizingly invites the hot hiker into its cool embrace. It's a huge deep green, Olympic sized pool that refreshes us immediately as we dive into its refreshing depths. A cascading waterfall tumbles into the pool just above the pool before exiting below us to head on down to its final destination - Waterfall Bluff and the sea. It's a little scary swimming in the deep, dark pool as Caine has just informed us of the origin of the pool - "Once a large mamba snake was seen here!"
With wet clothes we head on, grateful for our cool clothing as the sun beats down relentlessly upon us. After about 20 minutes Caine once more leads us toward a bluff of rock jabbing out into the ocean. We're following, not sure if this is a view point or just the way back. To our surprise it's the former. A magnificent spire of rock with a huge hole in it, to rival the famed "Hole in the Wall" further down the coast, rises out the sea below us. It is truly stunning and totally unexpected!
"It's called the Cathedral rock," Caine says, as we look on in wonder. From our vantage point high up on the cliff, the Cathedral rock stands immutable like a lone sentinel in a swirling vortex of waves. Like Waterfall bluff there are no signs, no official viewpoints, in fact there is not even a defined path. How is it possible that such natural beauty lies so unacclaimed in this land? In any other country there would be paths, signs, photo spots...but then there would probably be shops selling postcards, guided video tours and a MacDonalds...maybe it's better this way. Undiscovered, and as beautiful as it has been since the dawn of time.
We could spend hours just looking at this sight, but we still have a long hike home. We set out with 5 liters of water, but now we are running low. The sun and the distance are taking their toll on our fluid supply. Everyone is thirsty and there is only a liter left with about 3 hours to go.
Following Caine as we wind back up green hills, marveling how he knows where he is going, we meet two woman carrying huge bags on their heads. "It's muscles," Caine says, "they are carrying them to their village up there," he says pointing to a village in the distance. The village looks to be about 10km away. The round trip must have been at least 25km or more, with half of it carrying 30 or more kilograms on their heads...barefoot, of course.
Our vague concerns about sore legs and thirst vanish as we look on in awe. We continue following our guide as he makes his way over hills and across grassy plains, seemingly following some hidden map. I'm watching the path as Caine had told us to be careful of snakes and so I don't realise where we are until I look up. It seems once more we are walking out onto a rocky outcrop.
"Be careful of the gap and the cliff. Go on your stomach" Caine says as we get close. "Secret falls is there," he says pointing down. We walk carefully over the gap and then lower ourselves and slide towards the edge of the cliff.
"What!" I reply, "that is..." words fail me at this point as I look down at the sight before me. "I don't understand," I begin again. "What is this falls called?" I ask again. "Secret falls," Caine replies. And what a secret it is! Here before us is another magnificent waterfall plunging directly into the churning sea below. This seems even bigger than Waterfall bluff that we saw earlier. The view is truly beyond words. The roar of the sea far below rises up carrying with it the smell of its salty spray. The waterfall cascades down a huge cliff plummeting into the sea far below - what a triumphal way for the river to end its long journey from the hills far away.
"I never knew there were two waterfalls that fall into the sea," I say to Caine, still stunned and transfixed by the sight. And as it turns out nor does the rest of the world. Wikipedia with all its collective knowledge lists just 19 such waterfalls and 2 in Africa. It's wrong! There are 20 waterfalls emptying into an ocean, and 3 in Africa, and 2 right here just kilometers apart! It's called Secret waterfall because that's exactly what it is. No path, no signs, no knowledge of its existence by our modern world. It's plummeted into the sea for millennia upon millennia, yet the world has not known, except for a few locals, like Caine who have enjoyed this sight for many years. Maybe this is the world's best kept "Secret" after all.
The rest of our walk back, despite the heat and thirst is almost euphoric. Finally after 9 hours of sensory indulgence we arrive back at Mbotyi beach. We plunge into the cool waters of the estuary and luxuriate in finally resting. I lie in the water thinking. We have just experienced the most incredible and beautiful walk possible. We have just witnessed the most astounding views and sights imaginable. And all of this was not because of some fancy tour or some signposted walk, it was made possible by our guide. A local, born and raised in this area. A local with a love of his land and a passion to share it. A local who is making a difference. This is how we should experience Africa, because in the experiencing we are also touching lives. And who knows, you may just see something that is such an incredible secret, the world does not yet know about it!
YOU CAN HELP PEOPLE LIKE CAINE: Our goal is to share the stories of "locals" who are making a difference in their communities and touching lives. In doing this we hope that we can help touch their lives too. Our ability to touch their lives is of course up to you. By sharing this story, more people will not only experience these incredible sights, but Caine and the local community will also benefit. Please click Share below to spread the word! If you would like to help Caine or find out more about the amazing activities he offers (horse trails, overnight hikes and more) then visit here for more details on how to contact him. No middleman - just straight to the local - and that makes all the difference!