Cape Town - The Wild Coast – stretching from East London to Port Edward – is one of South Africa’s most remote coastal routes and known for its rolling green hills, rocky cliffs, dirt paths, shipwrecks, a geological phenomenon or two, hiking trails, sunbathing Nguni cows, incredible landscapes and villages dotting the route with green-blue huts, pigs, goats, chickens and friendly faces along the way. And of course there are beaches; big and small, rocky and sandy, some reachable by car and others only by foot.
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But unlike South Africa’s popular beach destinations, you won’t find a cocktail bar, blaring music and a Pina Colada umbrella easily on the shoreline of the Wild Coast’s salty stretches.
Instead you’ll find monkeys playing and cows sleeping on the sand, you’ll find uncovered secrets, hidden paths, adventures, treasures and an empty paradise with palm trees on one side and dramatic cliffs on the other side.
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Here are a 5 Eastern Cape beaches where you can go wild and escape the crowds.
From all the Wild Coast beaches, Morgan Bay beach with its sandy shores, lagoon and sea cliffs might be the tamest of them all. The fact that it is so easy to access makes it popular with holiday-goers from near and far. You’ll find body boards, stand ups, surfboards and sand boards for hire in Morgan Bay.
Where to stay? Mitford Hotel offers a variety of rooms (some with a small kitchenette), and if you want to pitch your tent you can camp at Double Mouth Reserve.
Are we there yet? Morgan Bay can be reached via a well-maintained tarred road that is suitable for all vehicles. Morgan Bay is situated 90 km from East London and 225 km from Mthatha.
What’s beyond the beach? Have a picnic at the Morgan Bay cliffs, go treasure hunting at Double Mouth Reserve, visit Billy Nel’s Motorcycle Museum, experience a cultural tour and go golfing, horse riding, fishing, surfing and birdwatching.
If you’re after isolated beaches then a trip to Dwesa should be on your beach list. It’s clean, safe for swimming and has a beautiful sandy stretch perfect for relaxing.
Where to stay? Dwesa Nature Reserve has campsites (no electricity) and 2- and 4-sleeper chalets.
Are we there yet? The road to Dwesa is in a fair condition, it is advisable to use a vehicle with a higher clearance and take caution in rainy weather. Dwesa is 110 km from Mthatha and 235 km from East London.
What’s beyond the beach? The 3500ha Dwesa Nature Reserve offers visitors a range of forest trails and to date 290 bird species has been recorded and there are a number of game species. It is also possible to spot whales and since it is a marine protected area fishing is only allowed in demarcated areas.
Coffee Bay is probably one of the most visited spots on the Wild Coast and the Hole in the Wall plays a role in the number of visitors this destination receives each year. Coffee Bay Beach is set against a backdrop of black-faced cliffs, green hills and the warm Indian Ocean where white sand and surfing opportunities await visitors.
Where to stay? Hotel in the Wall Resort offers an array of accommodation options from a studio room for two, to backpacker facilities, self-catering apartments and chalets.
Are we there yet? The gravel road to Coffee Bay is well-maintained and suitable for all types of vehicles. Coffee Bay is 290 km from East London and 95 km from Mthatha.
What’s beyond the beach? It is impossible to visit Coffee Bay without making a trip to Hole in the Wall, either view this geological phenomenon from the hilltops or get eye-level with the Hole and have a dip in the Indian Ocean or the Mpako River. You can also learn to surf, take a drumming lesson, hike to Mapuzi Caves, go fishing or diving.
The beach at Hluleka Nature Reserve is completely hidden from the crowds and if you find yourself on this cove with its large sandy stretch, cliffs, meandering paths and milkwood forest, it feels like you’ve just stumbled upon a private beach.
Where to stay? Settle in at one of Hluleka Nature Reserve’s cosy 4-sleeper wooden chalets.
Are we there yet? Hluleka can only be reached via a dirt road and it is best to tackle it with a vehicle with a bit of a higher clearance (4x4 not necessary but caution should be taken in wet conditions). Hluleka is 86 km from Mthatha and 430 km from Durban.
What’s beyond the beach? Hluleka Nature Reserve works closely with the community and they offer cultural tours; you can also go hiking through the forest, do a bit of birdwatching and try to spot the elusive Narina trogon and go fishing (not allowed in the reserve and a permit needs to be obtained).
Mkhambathi is often referred to as the Wild Coast best kept secret and its 10 km coastline covers rocky, rugged beaches set against the backdrop of an indigenous forest, two famous shipwrecks and a waterfall that plunges into the ocean.
Where to stay? Overnight at the Gwe Gwe Rondavels of Mkhambathi Nature Reserve or at Mtentu Lodge which offers affordable cabins and dorm beds.
Are we there yet? The road to Mkhambathi is a typical Wild Coast one, a bit rough around the edges (hair-raising some would say), so a higher clearance vehicle is required. Mkhambathi is between Port Edward (30km north east) and Port St Johns, (59 km south west) and about 280 km from Mthatha. Mtentu Lodge, on the edge of the reserve, has a shuttle service and there is also great directions on their website that will help you with photos and kilometer markers.
What’s beyond the beach? The 7720 ha reserve offers visitors the chance to go on self-guided game drives, and there is also birdwatching, canoeing, cycling, fishing, horse riding and hiking. Besides the rugged coastline, forest ravines and swamps you can also visit Waterfall Bluff which is one of only 19 waterfalls in the world that fall directly into the sea.
Heading to the Wild Coast’s beaches?
Always be aware of the current and tides when you’re swimming, visiting caves and crossing river mouths. They don’t call it the Wild Coast for nothing.
When you go to the Wild Coast it is best to enquire about the road before your trip because the weather can play a big role on the condition of the road.
There are numerous spots on the Wild Coast that you can visit with a normal sedan while other spots will require something with a bit of a higher clearance, but not necessarily, and always, a 4x4.
For backpackers or those who prefer not to self-drive, there is also the option of taking the Baz Bus which stops at Chintsa and offers shuttles from Umtata to Coffee Bay, Mdumbi, Bulungula, Port St. Johns and Mpande.
To find out more information about the Eastern Cape reserves situated along the Wild Coast, go to www.visiteasterncape.co.za.
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