The Wild Coast of South Africa boasts incredible scenery and solitude, and the villages along the way give an insight into the lives of the Xhosa people. One of the best ways of exploring this part of the world and meeting its inhabitants is on foot.
The hike from Port St John’s to Coffee Bay is a total of 61km and, at a leisurely pace, takes five days. For the most part the trail hugs the coast, occasionally skipping inland to reach overnight village accommodation. The terrain is undulating so be prepared for walking a bit up, up, down then up again. We hired a guide but it is possible to do the hike without a guide. However there are four river crossings where a boat taxi is necessary, so if you don’t have a local guide to pre-book this you may find yourself waiting a while at the shore for someone to come along.
Dinner, breakfast and accommodation were included in our package so all we had to do was sort out our own lunch each day – for us this consisted mainly of nuts, dried fruit and biltong. There are spazas (small local shops) along the way where you are guaranteed to find cold beer and tinned food.
We were well cared for by our local hosts with a variety of quality home-cooked meals, and we met many friendly faces on our journey. Each night was spent in a rondavel in a Xhosa village. Clean bedding was provided and we had a warm shower three out of the four nights.
We walked an average of six to eight hours a day, and we were greeted with spectacular scenery, especially when we walked through both Silaka and Hluleka Nature Reserves. In most villages you can buy shell or seed bracelets to support the locals, and this is more favourable than just giving money or sweets to the children, which creates a begging culture and dental problems.
We did this trip in December at the height of summer, which also happens to be the rainy season in this area. The ocean breeze kept the heat down and we were fortunate to only have a few afternoon downpours when we were safely undercover at our homestay. On one afternoon we shared the kitchen with four local construction workers, who were also seeking shelter from the rain. We spent several hours playing dominos, sharing stories and drinking tea with them, whilst our host cooked fresh crayfish over the stove. This was certainly one of the highlights of the trip.
From Coffee Bay private shuttles can be arranged back to Port St John’s. However, we opted for the more traditional experience and took local taxis with the help of our guide, which was an experience in itself!
The Wild Coast is certainly one of South Africa’s hidden gems and I would highly recommend this hike to anyone who has a love for natural beauty and African culture.
I packed very little and only carried a 25-litre bag, but here is a list of some suggestions of what to bring if you are planning your own hike in the region:
– A small first aid kit
– A waterproof jacket
– A cap, sunglasses and suncream
– Water purifying tablets
– A torch
– A pack of playing cards
– An extra set of clothes
– A travel towel
– Flip-flops to give your feet a rest at the end of a long day hiking
– Your phone and charger
– Cash for buying locally made items, and tipping hosts and your guide