“Molo, it's Caine here. We will be there tomorrow. There are 16 people in the party. Yes. We will arrive just before sunset. Yebo. That's sounds good.” I put the phone down. Tomorrow the group arrives. I hope they enjoy this hike. It's important that they do because tourism is important to me and my family.
Day 1 - Port Edward to Mnyameni
What a way to celebrate my birthday - a five-day hike along the beautiful Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape. We pack our rucksacks into the car and head off to meet Caine, our guide and the rest of the gang at the Wild Coast Sun for the start of our five day Wild Coast Hike to Mbotyi.
By 11am our family, the Brockwell Blues and Gender family are all loaded and ready to roll. Caine and three porters arrive at the Wild Coast Sun where our hike begins and gives us a short briefing. The weather is cool and we hope that it will not rain as the trail of 16 hikers head off along the beach towards whatever adventures lie ahead.
The hike is easy going as we go along the beach and soon the party is stretched out although Caine keeps and eye on everyone and posts a porter at the rear. We walk past beautiful cliff formations and stop several times to relax until finally at 1pm we stop for lunch.
Shortly after lunch we reach the Mnyameni River and from here the hike turns up towards the hills where our village is located. We cross stunning red sands and dunes that make us feel like we are in Namibia with the rich desert colours.
Soon we come to a halt outside three huts where a semi circle of plastic chairs has been set up to welcome us. We're glad to dump our packs and are warmly welcomed by the owner.
She shows us inside the hut where ten mattresses and blankets are neatly laid out on the floor, with another five in the adjoining hut. Tea and Milo are available with biscuits - a five star welcome.
As the sun begins to set we clamber onto a rocky outcrop behind the village and enjoy a beer we've bough at the local spaza shop toasting my birthday and an amazing setting. The village kids have setup a log fire that crackles below us calling us down from our perch to its inviting warmth as the night's darkness is drawn across the sky.
Chatting and laughter fill the evening air mingling with the woody smell of a camp fire and the distant flicker of lightening in the sky. “Dinner is ready,” says Caine and we enter the hut to see a huge selection of food - sweet potatoes, spinach, pumpkin, samp and beans, rice, chicken, gravy, and dumbees. Wow. We eat like kings and are treated to a dance show too as part of the live entertainment.
As the wind picks up and it gets cold we head to our hut and are soon drawn into sleep as outside the elements make us glad we're in our warm little hut. Just hoping the roof stays on.
Day 2 - Mnyameni to Mtentu
“Nicky, are you awake, Caine is looking for you?” I open my eyes and it still looks dark in our hut. “Ja…I'm coming,” Nicky replies as I hide my head under my sleeping bag. I've slept well on the thin mattress on the floor of the hut. The wind roared all night but seems to have calmed as the new day dawns.
As Nicky walks out to talk to Caine a fresh breeze rushes in chasing away the last fibers of sleep. Soon I'm clutching a filter coffee and watching a ball of fiery lava rise from the sea in the distance. What an amazing way to begin the day.
“The breakfast is ready,” Caine informs us and we head to the hut where eggs, mealie meal, tea, coffee and cereal are waiting. It's strange being out in the middle of nowhere and being treated to such delicious food. Soon we have eaten and all the packs are ready, including a packed lunch of an egg sandwich, juice and apple.
The hike winds down towards the coast and once more it passes through a stunning red desert. The contrast between the rusted earth and the deep blue sky is spectacular as we drop down towards the beach. The sea is silky smooth and whales are constantly spotted as they cause a huge splash as the breach the water.
We wander along the beach and take time out to swim at our teatime break before stopping at noon for a swim in the estuary. We are totally alone and it's incredible that this beauty is so unexplored. Up ahead the path leaves the beach as the next part of our journey beckons.
It's a brisk climb and once again the vista changes as we walk across the rolling hills of this beautiful area. We soon arrive at Mthenthu lodge. It's a little wooden lodge nestled near the edge of the cliff with rooms joined by a wooden walkway. This is our one "luxury" night, where we aren't staying in a rural village. However like the villages the lodge is OTG (Off The Grid) - it's water is heated by gas or solar and all power is from solar. It's bliss. We start with a cold beer.
First it's time for a warm solar shower. The shower has beautiful views of the sea and it feels good to be clean again. Next it's time to explore the river by canoe. The kids decide this is a great opportunity to leap off a high rock into the river below. Crazy. Canoeing up the river we arrive at a cove where a waterfall is spitting a few drops - testimony to the drought in the area. It feels like a scene from Lost World.
Back home we enjoy a glass or two of wine sitting on our deck, which of course is the perfect segue to a snooze. It must have been two! As the sun melts away we go and sit near the log fire they've set up and enjoy some time playing games and chatting. Dinner is Vetkoek and curried mince and the owner is a bit blown away as our gang wipes out all the food. The hunger of a hiker. A good snooze beckons on a real bed. This should be good.
Day 3 - Mtentu to Port Grosvenor
What a blissful place to wake up in. The sun is not yet up but we rise to get ready for a long day. The sun breaks the horizon in a beautiful fiery orb and it's a great way to start the day. With bacon and egg in the belly we are ready for the trail at 8am.
The first challenge is crossing the river which requires a combo of ferrying some on the canoe while others wade. The route leaves the area and enters a stunning nature reserve. It's first stop is a beautiful waterfall that drops down into the sea. It's rather dry so the water is trickling more than plummeting. We venture upstream where a huge jutting rock provides a perfect spot for the crazy kids to leap into the water. We all swim knowing this is most likely our bath.
The route continues on through forest areas, canyons and along the coastline. Words and photos just cannot capture the stunning vista of the area. It's constantly changing and incredibly beautiful. We finally stop for lunch at a lovely beach at Msikaba.The party is looking tired and this is the 12km mark - halfway! A huge dune rises up behind the beach and the kids have lots of fun racing down it and face planting. I hope they are keeping some energy for the second part of our hike today.
Eventually we must carry on however now the group is getting tired and soon spreads out. We finally stop at Port Nolloth where everyone collapses on the heather asking, “how much longer?” Caine has been setting a fast pace and the group is feeling it. It's getting near to 4pm and we still have a way to go.
It's a final push of another hour before we finally arrive at the huts we are staying at. The sun has already dipped below the horizon when we arrive in the village. Our hut is prepared and ready. A large rondavel has been set up with beds all around it and a table in the middle and even a small lounge area. We are welcomed with a delicious huge fresh loaf of hot bread. Smeared with peanut butter this is a delicious way to end the day. Next door the shebeen is already partying and we go there to pick up some huge beers. Why not?
We sit enjoying our beer and bread as the wind which has been increasing in fury has turned things cold. We are glad we are indoors. Dinner is another feast of veggies accompanied by fresh shad. It's delicious.
Our bath is hot water in buckets and we are soon clean and in bed by 8:30. Outside the weather is sounding wild and cold but the shebeen party is sounding wilder. It should be an interesting night.
Day 4 - Port Grosvenor to Mbotyi
Despite having an industrial saw mill blasting out an unequal cadence of snoring sounds, the night was perfect. I did literally sleep like a log - on the floor dreaming about when the saw cutting machines would get me.
“What's that sound?” Nicky says in the early morning pitch dark. I listen for a moment and it's obvious. “It's rain!” Eish! Soon it hits with force and the sound of dripping water leaking through our thatch roof welcomes us to the new day. The prospect looks intimidating.
The door opens ushering in a blast of cold wind and a lady enters with a bowl of warm water to wash our faces. Soon it's followed by an endless stream of food. Pink coconut balls with coffee, then chips, sausage, eggs and more. Finally vetkoeks arrive with tinfoil for our lunch pack. One thing is certain we will not starve.
The weather is still ominous but at least the rain has eased to a spittle. We set off all in rain gear wending our way down the hill towards the coast. Huge waves smash into the rock landscape sending a spray meters up into the sky in dramatic displays.
Our first stop is at a beach where we settle down for our tea break. The hike today is a little shorter so hopefully the pace won't be as hectic.
The climb up the cliffs is steep but we stop at the top to let the party get back together. Sitting atop a rock jutting out over the sea below we watch the real iMax show, “Whales” as they put on a spectacular display.
“As spectacular as last time.” That's what I think as we round the corner and see Waterfall Bluff. The waves roar up towards the cliff and smash into it meeting the water plummeting from up high. We stop and enjoy this unbeatable lunch venue and eat yet again. Wow.
After a tasty lunch stop we resume our walk up the side of the cliff and off along the rolling hills. Before long we reach D-point. This is decision point for those who want to go straight to the hut or those who want to visit the other sights. Most of the adults decide to do the extended full package while the kids opt for the direct route to camp. Not much further and we are rewarded with the beauty of Cathedral - an amazing rock structure jutting up from the sea. From there we continue until we arrive at Secret Falls. Despite the water being less than when we saw it last time, it is still an amazing sight seeing the water plunge so far into the sea below.
Now it's the final push. “Do you see that tower up on the hill?” Caine says pointing at a tower miles away. Eish! “Over that hill is the village.” Before us a huge hill rises and we can see the other party at the top. They must be happy to be there. For us resting at the bottom of the hill at a stream we have the prospect of the climb and final push before us. What will the village be like for our final night?
The climb up the hill is not too bad and after about another thirty minutes we arrive at the village. As usual the welcome is friendly and we are treated to tea and coffee as we arrive. A little later after we've enjoyed some sundowners seated in a garage area we are treated to another veggie laden dinner. It's really chilly and the prospect of leaping into bed in the hut seems inviting.
One thing we have had to get used to is the lack of water. This means long drop toilets and no showers. Typically you get invited to use a bucket with some warm water in which is enough water to splash wash yourself. Tonight is no different. Standing in a little room with a flickering candle for light I stoop and splash warm water on my legs and arms to wash away as much of the trail sweat and dust as I can. Brrr…it's cold...but what a unique experience that I will never forget. I make a mad dash back to the room and am soon ensconced within my sleeping bag. It's 6:30pm. A crazy time to sleep. But soon all games have ended and our hut full of 13 people is happily snoring by 7pm. Life in a rural village.
Day 5 - The final stretch
Creeeeakkk….goes the door for the hundredth time. It's 6am, pitch dark and yet another person is opening the hut door to go out to the toilet, waking me up. Oh well, we were in bed early so getting up now is OK.
Soon we are packed and sitting on plastic chairs while Mike, our host, and his family serve us breakfast - coffee, eggs, sausage, mealie meal. There is no end to the food. We sit and watch the sun rise over the village while a clutch of small chickens pecks the ground in front of us. Our view stretches over the long drop toilet across the dry forlorn mealies to the distant hills. The smell of smoke mixes with cooking and I know now what village life is like. So different from what we have in our privileged life - yet everyone is so content and so sharing.
Soon we are off on the final stretch. We bid farewell to our host and set off along the road towards the beach. We dip down the hill passing through amazing thick forests. Yet even now there are continual surprises. A lone trees stands on the edge of a cliff that in America would be named and commercialized. Waterfalls and spectacular swimming spots surrounded by tropical jungles that should be out of movie sets - yet all are just part of the continual wonder of the Wild Coast.
The last part of the hike is an easy stroll along the beach. The sea is perfect and we soon see dolphins dancing in the waves like a welcome party especially prepared for us. It's sad to finally arrive at Mbotyi beach and we sit there for a while enjoying the last vestiges of our hike.
Our taxi is booked for 10:30 so we eventually need to get going. We head off the beach and up towards Mboyti. It feels strange being back here again. We all decide to have a shower in the Community Village - Aah, hot running water, what a treat.
Ace, the taxi driver is there and we have to somehow get all our luggage and 16 people plus the driver in a taxi that really seats 12. Eish! But this is Africa and we all squeeze in. And so begins the long three hour drive back. Ace drives carefully and we arrive back, if somewhat squished, in one piece. We pass thousands of Pondo huts on the way back and looking at them I now have a sense of how they live. No electricity. No running water. One large room for everyone to live and cook in. A long drop toilet. Lots of mealie meal, samp and beans. Lots of family time.
It's been an incredible experience. Incredibly beautiful. Incredibly Wild. Incredibly Wild Coast.
This hike was organised by local guide Bheki Caine. If you would like to find out more go here.
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