In an earlier post I shared our 8-hour adventure with, led by Caine our guide, to see one of apparently only two waterfalls in Africa that plunge directly into the sea (the other thousands of kilometers north). However what he shows us is not what we expect at all, it blows us away, as we explore the unsigned, unnamed, and unexpected places of the Wild Coast of South Africa. Click here to read about this adventure and our surprising discovery...or join us on a short video experience by watching the video below.
If you did not read the blog on our experience of the Shipwreck Trail, because words are too exhausting in our modern visual age, then below is a video experience of the 6 day trail. Come along and join the experience from crackling fires, to beautiful beach walks, to outdoor toilets, to blasting rain...it's all here...
The early morning sun glints off a dewdrop hanging from my weave. I've waited patiently for a catch, and the prospect of getting one is increasing as the warm sun wakes the forest. I can see a buzz of activity as small creatures dance in the rays and crawl along the dew laden grass below. I wait. Patient. A light breeze ripples up from the stream alongside the forest bringing a refreshing cool to the quickly warming day. My weave responds by dancing in the breeze releasing a thousand diamond drops. I catch sight of something. It’s very close and so I sit still knowing that it will not see me. It flies nearer, heedless of what is just before it as it darts back and forth on its random flight. Any second now…All of a sudden something large looms before me. My weave is torn as though it is nothing as I quickly scramble to take it back while I cling swaying on a single strand.
Shipwreck Trail - Day 1 - Milkwood Hut (9km)
Behind us there is nothing, besides miles of empty beach. Before us there is a journey of 6 days along the coast from Port Alfred to the Fish River mouth and the prospect of adventure. We’ve just left Dave, who runs this trail, and his words of encouragement are still ringing in our ears. Yet as a family of five with little multi-day hike experience we are a little unsure. Will we get lost? Will we handle living in the rustic accommodation? Will we enjoy this? Yet that is exactly why we are on this year long adventure of southern Africa. We want to experience new things, and especially learn new things by stepping out of our comfort zone. Big tick for that…we are right out of it now with the prospect of 6 days and 5 nights in the wild before us. I hope we can remember what we learnt from all those Bear Grylls shows!
Walking along the beach with nothing but a small backpack and not a person in sight, and knowing you will see very few people for the next 6 days is extremely cathartic. The burdens, “important” things and general concerns of life seem to slip away into the sand as we walk further away from civilisation. The beach is wide and strewn with shells and as the first day is only 9km we know we have time to stop and look at the shells. This trail is not the Amazing Race, although we feel our getting lost may result in some similarities, it is rather about exploring, seeing, experiencing, and living life to the full.
Our efforts are soon rewarded as within a short time we have collected over 300 cowrie shells! We love searching for these beautiful shells, which in ancient times were even used as currency. Never before have we ever seen so many - we’re like kids in a sweet shop where the sweets are free. If we had lived in ancient times we would be rich…but then we are rich, rich in the most wonderful of ways.
We see it! What a relief, we have spotted our first marker, a tyre on a pole that indicates the point where we should exit the beach. After clambering up a giant dune we are soon in stunning coastal forest that soon gives way to grasslands. The route markers positioned on trees and various other (so far) conspicuous spots lead us all the way to our first night’s accommodation, Milkwood Cottage. We are pleasantly surprised. The rustic hut with bunk beds looks comfortable and welcoming as early evening begins to settle over the Milkwood canopy of trees. In fact this seems quite sophisticated with an open air (cold) shower and a flushing loo-with-a-view toilet.
Soon we have a roaring fire on the go courtesy of some logs the farmer, who stopped by to say “hi”, dropped off. Three joggers who run trails through this area also stop by to chat briefly to us. We feel very welcomed and these are the only people we’ve seen all day. As the fire crackles its warm melody, the smoke rises to mingle tantalisingly with our chicken pasta cooking on the flames. A canopy of stars, a crackling fire, a glass of wine and smokey pasta weave into a blend that no Michelin restaurant could ever match. Maybe we will enjoy this experience…what will tomorrow bring?
Shipwreck Trail - Day 2 - Treehouse (14km)
It’s not flick the switch and get your morning coffee. it’s start the fire, hang the iron kettle in the flames, wait patiently and then when boiling, prepare that vital morning cup of coffee. Despite it not being fresh espresso beans, the coffee somehow tastes amazing as the morning sun glints off the dew laden grass. We’re excited about today, because today we are hiking to a treehouse. So if we don’t get lost we should be sleeping in something totally unique tonight.
The Shipwreck trail has two options - suffer or enjoy. We have chosen the latter. Suffer means that you carry all your food and gear for the full 6 days. This is vital for those still trying to prove their manhood. Enjoy means you pay a bit extra and you get the slack packing option. This is a no brainer, as Charlie the slackpack expert takes all your gear and food from one place to the next. In fact it’s even better than this, we soon discovered. Charlie will even accept text message orders from you during the trail and will deliver cold beer, braai meat and fresh rolls to your next stop. Now this moves the whole experience from wonderful to epic wonderful! I’m looking forward to that cold beer at the end of today.
We leave Milkwood and are soon back on the endless, white, open beaches. The wind has come up so we walk closer to the sea to avoid the sandblasting effect, but the wind also gives Josh the opportunity to do some amazing power kiting. He’s decided to bring his kite with on the trail for just such a moment. Soon he is doing superhuman leaps in the air or doing “sandslug" down the dunes as the kite pulls him along.
Today’s hike is a bit longer so after a quick swim in a cool river - we have found the next marker - we head inland. We’ve been warned about this part of the hike that it takes longer than expected. And there are two other dangers we’ve been warned about - the electric fences and the angry bulls which the fences keep in. Our route takes us over the fences into the angry bulls’ territory.
Before long we are winding through coastal forest once again, past beautiful streams, onto open grasslands and then back into the forests once more. We reach the first of the electric fence. Warnings tell us to be careful, but strategically placed logs help us to get over without getting a free perm. On the other side we keep our eyes peeled for the angry bulls. In the distance we hear what sounds like the mooing of angry bulls, but we never, thankfully, get to meet them.
After what does seem like forever, and the family is sure that Dave has his distances wrong for this part of the hike, we arrive at the treehouse. The treehouse has been built 6m up in some huge, ancient Yellowwood trees. Two large decks connected by a walkway have three wooden cabins built on them that provide ample accommodation.
Nearby there is a large swimming area which we dive into the refreshing water to wash away the heat of the day. What a way to enjoy your evening bath, before starting our camp fire, tossing back that cold beer I’ve been dreaming of, and watching the braai meat sizzle its delectable song.
We forego sleeping in the cabins and set up our sleeping bags on the open deck. Lying there I look up, all I can see is the cloudless splendour of a starry night stretched above me, disrupted only by the gently dancing canopy of of the trees and the rising moon. I’ve slept in five star accommodation, in amazing rooms around the world, but once more I’m awed by the beauty of simply sleeping under the stars, high up in a tree, listening to the night sounds all around me. I wonder how long it will take me to fall aslee…
Shipwreck Trail - Day 3 - Three Sisters (7km)
You can be slapped in the face with a wet fish or leap into a cool forest stream - either way will sure wake you up quickly, although the latter, which we chose is far more refreshing and less smelly too! So after a quick dip in the river we are ready to face what looks like a warm day ahead.
We wend our way back through the lush coastal forest and it’s not long before I round a corner an yet another spider’s web is strung across the path. Even though I must have dispatched over a hundred webs on yesterday’s walk, the “batman” spiders, as Hannah has named them, because of how they look (actually Kite spiders), have regrouped and restrung their webs in their counterstrike attack. The early morning dew hangs from the spider’s web, but I have become deft at dispatching them with my trusty stick. In moments I’ve sliced through two supporting webs causing the web to spring to the side of the path and the spider to frantically scramble up the remaining web, collecting it in a flurry of activity. I’ll need to keep my eyes peeled as I’ve had many close encounters, despite my deft sword-like action, where I’ve had to stop and shout, “It’s on me…get it off” only to find it’s just the web that’s on me and the spider has long since decided this is a meal above it’s pay grade, and moved on.
After the forest our route takes us back onto open farm fields, we are still looking out for the angry bulls and avoiding the electric fences. We finally walk through an underground tunnel, used to move cattle under a road, and emerge at our next destination - Three Sisters. Three Sisters, lacks the charm of the other places as it is a disused Marine research facility, with the emphasis on “disused” - meaning just longdrops, limited water, and wood = stove. As it is early afternoon we decide to take a walk and see the three rocks that this area is named after. However, in our eagerness we did not read the instructions and soon find ourselves way off track and heading along the trail that would bring us to the start of day 4.
Reaching the beach we are met by a hurricane force wind which causes the girls to beat a hasty retreat behind the dune while Josh sees an opportunity for some epic “airtime” with his kite. My arms are nearly wrenched from their sockets as the wind snatches the kite literally ripping me out of my slipslops. Soon Josh has the kite and is getting some serious airtime as he jumps olympic length distances along the beach.
The prospect of civilisation, and a shop lie along this route, so as we have made it this far we decide to see if we can find a real shop and buy a drink. Water and liquids are a continual issue on the trail, and so it is that 10km and 2 hours later we have purchased a small coke and returned back to our hut. It really makes us appreciate the effort some people have to go to just to get to a shop.
Day 4 - Lily Pad Hut (15km hike and canoe)
We are off with the roosters, as we need to get going early for the big day ahead. We retrace our walk of yesterday, the wind is less today and we hope it stays that way otherwise our canoe journey will be a problem. Arriving at the Kleimemonde river we meet Dave who gives us the choice - paddle in the potentially difficult conditions against the wind, or leap into his car and he will bring us to the hut. Of course if we choose to paddle then we must also paddle back, whatever the conditions are like the next day. It’s an easy choice - paddle! We are here for the adventure, although some of the children are putting in not too silent arguments for the warm and easy car journey.
After only about 100 meters in the canoe we are rethinking our decision and the children’s suggestion is sounding increasingly more tempting. The wind is getting stronger against us and we have to use a lot of energy to get the two canoes moving. Dave runs ahead to stand on a bridge we are passing under to give us a final “back out” option…it is not too late to take the warm car. We do not need to suffer this for 9km! So of course we chose to…continue paddling! After about 45 mins, as the river narrows, the rowing becomes easier and despite sprinkles of rain we can sit back and soak in the stunning vista - just us, the river and the birds…not a person in sight!
Pulling our canoes up the bank after the 9km paddle we set out on the 3km hike to Lily Pad hut. We are greeted by a hut that feels positively first world, with an undercover cooking area and the winner - a donkey boiler to heat the outdoor shower water! Wow! With the cooler weather and the warm shower we are keen to enjoy an early night in the bamboo hut, but not before we take a short stroll around the game farm that our accommodation is situated on. We are treated to sightings of giraffe, nyala and zebra.
“Aah, warm showers are the best…” is the lingering thought as I dose off with the smell of the nearby camp fire wafting through the bamboo poles of our hut. “But outside toilets really need a roof…especially when it rains.”
Day 5 - Stone cottage (22km hike and canoe)
While the canoe to Lily Pad Hut tested our resolve a little, the canoe back is a lot easier. The wind dies down considerably but a random spitting rain reminds us we are still at the mercy of the elements. We delay setting off firstly so we can enjoy a tasty bacon and egg roll breakfast and secondly to let the rain ease up. With a break in the weather - but the odd rumble in the sky - we head off. Once more we are treated to seeing giraffe and zebra on the hike back to our canoes.
Dave meets us at the end of the canoe and gives us keys for our final destination - Stone Cottage. The canoeing has been amazing but we are keen to use our legs again as they seem more equipped to motion than our underused arms…maybe if the canoe could be controlled by just two thumbs, our most exercised digits, it would be easy.
The walk to Stone Cottage meanders along the beach and then through coastal bush and open fields. What a beautiful sight awaits us as we turn the corner to arrive at Stone Cottage. Built in the early 1800s, a barn-style stone cottage on the edge of a green field welcomes us with open shutters revealing the warm light spilling out of her windows. Yet her gifts are only just beginning. Stone Cottage contains all the modern conveniences we’ve grown to love and expect - running water, flushing toilets, electricity and the bonus of a beautiful claw bath. This is certainly paradise - what a way to spend our final night.
The sun paints the cottage and fields in a beautiful golden hue giving us the perfect spot to enjoy our final evening before retreating indoors. After a luxurious warm bath in the old style claw bath, and red wine next to a roaring log fire we climb into bed for the final night’s rest. Looking through my bedroom window, through a thick stone portal I see that outside the moonlight is bathing the field in a magical silvery blanket - a magic that we have felt the entire hike. One day left!
Day 6 - The End…or maybe the beginning (15km)
Like babies…that’s how we slept in this luxury. After a quick breakfast of leftover mince we set out for the final leg of our adventure. While the sun is peeking through the clouds, the dark clouds on the horizon look somewhat menacing. So we don our warm wear and head out for the final leg of our adventure.
We decide not to do the same route back to the beach but rather walk along the farm road to the lighthouse and then back to the beach. The road is muddy so we walk barefoot getting enjoying the sloshy mud oozing between our toes. As we reach the lighthouse the menacing clouds that have been following us unleash their load, as the rain pours down on us, while the wind tears furiously at our clothes. Our lighthouse viewing experience is short lived as we quickly scuttle into the protection of the coastal bush heading down to the beach.
The walk on the beach is a mixture of rain, sun and a bit of wind tossed in for good measure yet none of these seem to matter as we enjoy the beauty of our surroundings and the constant abundance of fascinating shells. Yet there comes a time in the city dwellers life, when you can sense the end is nigh, that you start to long for warmth, electricity, hot food and a comfy chair. That time has arrived. Our final destination is a diner next to the Fish River, it isn’t far now.
We can smell the food, taste the warm Milo…however our adventure has one more treat in stall for us. As we head up the river towards the Fish River bridge the clouds unleash their final assault - driving wind and rain like we have not experienced on the entire hike. It is so furious that we are forced to lean into the wind and rain that lashes at us in an attempt to keep us from civilisation. The sand whips up from the beach stinging us. The rain completely drenches us despite our wet weather gear. We are cold, tired…and we laugh. We laugh as we have not done for a long time, as we savour the feeling of being so alive, of being so blessed to enjoy such an amazing adventure.
The sun, the rain, the wind, the heat made us all catch something, something contagious…an irrepressible desire to do this type of thing again…after our warm milo, that is!
The pain is searing as it lances up my leg and explodes through my entire body like the blazing sun. I slow in an attempt to reduce it as the hill rises relentlessly before me. Yet immediately a sharp pain burns across my side as he brings down the thin stick. I have no energy. I feel weak. I want to stop. I remember a time when I lived in a warm place, where I was brushed every day. There was a time when I was fed sweet apples and would trot around a ring, where I would jump and people would cheer. A time when my hair was soft, as was the touch of those who cared for me. The whip strikes me again, this time curling around and cutting me beneath my stomach. The fiery burn sears. The pain of the whip is matched by the pain of my sore leg. Yet, if I continue, at least the pain of the whip will leave me. I move on, limping to try and stop the lancing pain. I know this route, this hill. It is only the first of many, and this journey will take several hours. The whip comes down again. I shudder but I move forward…
As a family of five traveling for a year through southern Africa we are blessed to see some of the most incredible sights possible. The beauty is beyond words – a huge walking grey giant, gently caring for its small calf with a tenderness that belies the power of the elephant – a waterfall that plunges into the ocean that is unknown to the modern world – a majestic hole in a huge mountain dropped in the middle of the sea. These and many other sights are the weave of wonder that forms the beauty of South Africa. Yet our journey is not just about relishing this beauty, it’s also about meeting the locals who live in these “wish you were here” spots, who are truly making a difference, and who in many ways are the true beauty of this land.
Too often as tourists we arrive, grab the glossy brochure, book on the organized event, enjoy the 10am scones and rest by the pool waiting for dinner. I will be the first to admit – I love the glossy brochure, as it gives us great ideas of what to do - I enjoy organized events, especially a seafood braai – and as for the 10am scones, we are not missing that!
Arriving at Hole in the Wall hotel after a long and bouncy ride along the 18km rutted dirt road – which is actually a paved freeway compared to the potholed road prior to it – we dive fully into tourist mode. The 10am teatime treat is a real winner; we even have to race back from an early morning hike to be there in time for this. The seafood braai is fantastic – there is nothing quite like eating mussels, prawns and fresh fish while watching the waves roll in across a tranquil sea.
The main reason, however, for being at Hole in the Wall is the stunning backdrop of the Hole in the Wall beach. Huge waves surge proudly towards a towering mountain that seems to have grown out of the sea, only to be dispatched with little regard for their foaming fury. A small section of the wave explodes through the hole and reforms into a perfect wave that rises and travels on towards the river that enters the sea at this picturesque point. The girls are surfing, as this is the spot made famous by the movie Blue Crush 2, and reenacting those surf scenes is a must on every young surfer girl’s agenda.
For me, I’m relishing one of the best braai spots in the world. Nothing beats braaing with this spectacular backdrop, a beer in hand, and the smell of wors mixing with the salty sea spray rising tantalizingly into the air. Days can easily be spent lazing on the beach, surfing, braaing, walking the stunning hills, or even negotiating the not-for-CLKs road to Coffee Bay. This is the ideal spot to just get away from it all.
“I love it here,” Mervin, one of the hotel guests says to us, as we meet him while loading our plate with fresh scones. "I have been here for nearly a week and I have not driven once in my car," he explains. That’s what Hole in the Wall is all about – arrive and enjoy until you leave. However if this is only what we do we are missing out on some of the most amazing wonders of the area. I am not referring to the Hole in the Wall, or the mini Hole in the Wall, or any of the other incredible view sights or hikes. I’m referring to a woman who is one of the most amazing natural wonders of the area – Marlene.
“Hi Marlene, I am not sure how we can help but I would love to bring our family to come and see you and your work,” reads the Facebook message I send Marlene. And so it is on Friday morning…just after morning tea (of course)…we jump into our Pajero and bounce the 1 kilometer route to Marlene’s home. We are greeted at the small white home, overlooking the aqua blue sea below, with an enthusiastic rendition of “who the hell are you” by her eager family of dogs.
“Dad, I hope you told her we don’t really know much about horses,” my children had said earlier that morning. And of course they are right – we really don’t know much about horses. However one of our goals on this trip is not just to travel but also to be touched by the lives of others, and to help touch their lives in whatever way we can. In order to do that we will have to go outside of what we “know” or what we are comfortable with. So it is with a little trepidation that we arrive at the Hole in the Wall horse project to meet Marlene.
“Hi Craig,” nice to meet you Marlene says after the enthusiastic cacophony has been stilled. Introductions are made and Marlene is quick to introduce us to her latest two patients, as she refers to the horses she cares for. The time for our lesson, our huge lesson on compassion, cruelty and kindness begins.
The sight is heart wrenching. I've never seen a horse in this condition. It's hair is thin and covered in an oily-like grime. Thousands of ticks, gorged on blood, cling to nearly every part of its emasciated body. It limps painfully on a damged rear leg, making it difficult for it to even move a few steps. It's ears droop. Yet it's none of these that strikes at my heart - it's the look in her eyes. I've never seen such sadness in an animal's eyes. I've never seen such resignation, such pain. I've never seen an animal cry - as a tear rolls down its cheek from its large plaintive eyes, and my daughter attempts to dab it away.
"They rode her here all the way from Coffee Bay?" Marlene informs us. There are tears in her eyes. Her compassion is so visceral, it’s almost as if she is one with the horse and its pain. The route from Coffee Bay to hole in the wall is an arduous 9km route on a rutted, uneven road. The road rises and falls hundreds of meters as it winds over hills and through valleys. "They rode her, in this condition, with her lame leg all that way. And they were planning on riding her back. I refused. I would not let them." She dabs her eyes with the back of her hand as she steps away.
"I'm shaking," Marlene says as she attempts to insert a needle into a vein in the horse's neck. Blood runs down its neck and across Marlene's hand. She pulls away and composes herself. Once more with shaking hands she inserts the needle. This time it's right and the pain medication flows into the horse as she empties the syringe.
"We will try and wash her," Marlene says, "I'm not sure how she will react as she has probably never been washed." Slowly and carefully we rub her oily, thin coat with a medicated soap wash. The horse does not react at all. She simply stands there, favoring her hurt leg and looking at us with sad eyes. We try to remove some of the thousands of ticks as we gently wash her. She just looks at us with those sad eyes.
“Where do all these horses come from?” I ask looking at several horses and mules roaming freely on the hills behind her home. “Do they belong to someone?” Without stopping her gentle, caressing washing she replies, “They all belong to someone. There are people who go and buy ex-race horses and show jumping horses, and then they come and sell them to the locals here for a profit. Some of these may well be those horses. However they do not know how to survive in these conditions. They can’t adapt to the grass as their sole form of nutrition. Quickly they get thin and sickly.” She pauses for a moment as if considering how it is possible that people could ever do this to their animal. “I wonder if those people know what has become of their horses? I wonder if they care?” she says as love and compassion flow from her hands. “How did you ever get like this?” she whispers quietly to the horse.
"Let's allow her to dry in the sun now," Marlene says after we've rinsed the horse. "What should we name her?" she asks. "How about Marmite," Nicky, my wife suggests. The name is perfect - her brown-black, sticky hair looks like marmite. Yet it's more than that. A name somehow imbues her with a little more worth, with a sense of belonging. While she still has those sad eyes she somehow stands a little straighter. She somehow seems to know that she is being loved, as she, for the first time since we have been here, stoops down to eat some grass.
"How long have you been doing this?" I ask. "For about three years. I was not trained for this," Marlene replies. "I just saw so many horses in such a terrible condition, I just couldn't ignore it. I had to do something, anything."
Nearby in Marlene's small garden another horse is grazing. It has a large, raw wound on its back caused by a saddle. It makes me feel slightly sick just to look at it. "I often start retching when I have to treat the horses,” Marlene says. “Time and again I have to walk away and compose myself. But I tell myself to stop being ridiculous, to pull it together, and I try again and again until I get it done. If I don't help them, who will?”
Outside her garden a horse comes to graze. It walks into a small enclosed paddock that has an open gate and drinks from the water. Several cows also graze contently just outside her fence. They feel it, they know it, this is a place of love. Something many of them, like most living things, are desperately in need of. This is a place were tears are shed, not just in sadness, but in joy, not just in pain but in thanks - for here exists some of the most beautiful wonders you can ever see – compassion, determination and love.
Marlene runs the Hole in the Wall Horse project. Please visit this link to find out more about her and this amazing project and how you can help her with this work. Even if all you do is share her story, you can help her make a difference to the lives of so many helpless animals. Click Share below to help share the word about Marlene and her work.
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!
The water is glassy still as I look down at it from my vantage point on top of a dead tree. It seems as if nothing is alive beneath that glassy surface, but I know different. After a few moments I catch sight of movement just below the surface and launch myself into the air before banking sharply left and diving down towards the water. In seconds my talons break through the water and sink deeply into the soft flesh of my prey. With a mighty thrust of my wings I rise quickly above the water holding my catch as droplets roll off it like silver tears. I cry out my success to my mate as I rise high into the air.
From bush to beach. From north to south. We make our way from northern KZN and the beauty of Phinda's stunning game reserve 5 hours south to a cottage we have just outside the little coastal town of Port Edward (H). And once more God, using a different brush to the one he used to paint the bush in the north, sweeps his divine hand across this area to create an equally stunning, yet vastly different vista.
Gone are the thorn trees and endless bush - before us is a mirror-still estuary, framed by twin hills covered in dense coastal forest that reaches out to kiss the white beach and sea beyond it. Gone is the rich smell of dust and fynbos replaced by the scent of tropical coastal bush blended with salt spray.
One of our goals on our trip is to not only walk Africa but to also run Africa...that means we get to explore on foot the many wonderful places we are visiting.
It's a sticky humid day, the kind of day when the sweat drips off your body with just the slightest exertion - it's summer in KwaZulu-Natal. So if you decide to go for a run, you can expect to return hot and sweaty - and that's what we do. After a few days of inactivity balanced by equally active eating we know that a run is needed to help with the restoration of body and soul. And so despite the heat, already oppressive at 8am, we set off.
Running through the small coastal town of Port Edward on the south coast of South Africa is a real treat. The road wends its way between the sea and small old style homes that have been here for years, sporting interesting signs such as "Likable Local". Soon the paved road gives way to a dirt track framed on both sides by cool, shady trees that almost touch each other above the road. Our 8km run finally ends back on the beautiful white sandy beach where it began - but now there is the added reward, the tantalizing prospect of a cooling swim.
The moods of the Indian Ocean on this south coast of South Africa are as changing and unpredictable as the moods of a male elephant - one moment calm and serene and the next wild and dangerous. Today we are rewarded with a silky smooth sea that looks like God has turned it to glass. Beautifully formed waves grow slowly and perfectly as they approach the beach, rising in grandeur before crashing down in a spray of foam as they reach the shore and roll up the sand.
We need no second invitation and quickly doff our running gear and race towards the cool, silky embrace of the sea. The chilled liquid pleasure envelopes us and instantly washes away the heat of our run. It's invigorating, exhilarating, and what is most amazing - it's just like this nearly all year round.
Port Edward and the beaches nearby are what might be termed "far from the madding crowd". Unlike the busy and popular beaches of Durban and Cape Town, Port Edward and the nearby Ramsgate Blue Flag beach are tranquil and uncrowded - especially if you come out of season. Beautiful walkways and paths wind through the coastal bush and along the beach enabling you to walk many kilometers enjoying the beauty, searching for shells or just relishing in the amazing weather. This is the place of the endless summer!
I sit on the patio of our cottage at The Estuary, and even though we have been here many times over the years, I am overwhelmed by the beauty. The tranquil estuary stretches out to the tree-dressed hill beyond. The air is tinged with the salty smell of the sea air as the early evening sun paints the sky a kaleidoscope of colours. And then I see it - Africa's most magnificent bird, the African Fish Eagle. It rises with graceful ease off a branch and plummets towards the water to grasp a fish. In seconds it is rising again crying its iconic sound - the sound of Africa, the sound of tranquility. I raise my glass of chilled Chardonnay and toast this place of endless summer and endless beauty.