Whilst many people come to South Africa to tick Cape Town, safaris and other pressing tourist attractions off their list, most leave too soon to discover the magic beyond the borders of our cities. The true escape lies in the quiet hills of the Transkei where cows are the only form of traffic and families live off the land. We backpacked along the Wild Coast stopping in Coffee Bay, Bulungula and Chintsa and became totally hooking on this rural paradise.
We begin this three part Wild Coast Backpacking series with Coffee Bay.
As an avid coffee lover, this region always conjured up images of roasting coffee beans, secluded bays and simply living. Over nine hours drive from Durban and countless more from Cape Town; it was just always seemed too far. But on this road trip, once we’d survived the gigantic potholes (scary enough to take a tyre off), we realised we’d missed one of the best parts of this country.
Once we followed the sign reading “Coffee Bay”, thatched huts replaced brick houses, cows and goats replaced cars and little children played outside before the rain came. We waited for a few cows to slowly meander across the road before moving forward. Our tiny rental car climbed a muddy hill and there on the other side lay Coffee Bay. Tucked away between green hills on the ocean and flanking a river. We crossed a newly-constructed bridge, a few backpackers, lodges and locals until we reached the end of the land.
Staying at Coffee Shack
Music greeted us at the door of this pumping hostel. Even during the day, it was a place abuzz with vibey staff, local food on the pot and backpackers mingling outside their dorms beneath the trees. And of course…the espresso machine who gave life to the name Coffee Bay. Our hut was just a hop, skip and a jump across the river. From our bed we could see the waves, the aloe trees and goats walking down the stream. Cows chewed the grass outside our hut and horses freely roamed beyond our farm gate in the evenings. Between the cappuccinos, wholesome homemade meals and nights around the fire, I was quite satisfied with the reality of this Coffee Bay.
Aside from the locals selling drugs by the river from 9am and the bead ladies begging us to buy from them all day, it was one of my greatest hostel experiences. One night was spent dancing to the drum beats of Coffee Bay locals; the next barmen Lazarus held a pool tournament in the bar. Squashed into the tiny room, we held our drinks in our left hands (to avoid being penalized) and tried to sink balls. We said goodnight to our new German, Dutch, American and South African friends and carefully found the rocks leading across the river to our hut on the hill.
Even though we surf in Cape Town, we decided to take a refresher swimming lesson with Coffee Shack’s surf guru, Niel. Zipping my wetsuit up and grabbing a mini-mile, we along a muddy road across a shallow lagoon onto the beach. Niel guided us in effective paddling and also what I like to call a ‘yoga-plank method’ of standing up on the board. It started to drizzle but German Vera and I continued to practise and surf some lovely waves.
The weather was not on our side when we planned to hike to Hole in the Wall. The continuous downpour ensured that we would not see Hole in the Wall this time as the pathways would be way too slippery and muddy. Americans Chase and Brian joined us on a Coastal Hike with Lazarus, who turned out to be a guide too. He took past countless emerald huts, pointed out his village and explained the initiation process for a Xhosa boy.
We walked past barking dogs, a mom feeding her young son at the entrance of their mud hut and little boys playing on the grass. Lazarus pointed out the river mouth where tribal battles were fought and took us along the edge of cliffs dropping down to the tumultuous ocean below. We passed dotted, grey, brown and black cattle grazing beside a river and stood upon the rocks high above its surface.
Keep your eyes peeled for the next installments of this Wild Coast Backpacking Series on Bulungula and Chintsa.
For more information on hiking gear, click here.