South Africa is known as a world in one country. We have everything from the tropical Durban to the dry and dusty Karoo. We have Cape Town, a Mediterranean climate delight and the West Coast an arid coastal combination that is like nothing else I’ve ever encountered.
My wife and I are born and bred Capetonians, we’ve grown up eating fish ‘n chips at Kalk Bay, hiking up the mountains and surfing in the sea. With so much to do in one city, family holidays rarely extended to far beyond the magic of the Garden Route. Which is why we decided to get away from it all, we’d seen pictures and heard the stories about the magical Wild Coast our whole lives & yet we’d never truly taken the time out to explore it, to witness the magic of rural South Africa first-hand and so we decided the best way to see SA is to drive through it.
We scheduled an entire month for our journey (which sounds a lot, but is actually hopelessly too little time) and started out via rail. This journey took us through the barren but exceptionally beautiful Karoo & we had an outrageous time in the Kruger & the Drakensberg before heading down to Durban.
The Journey Begins
We had barely arrived in Durban before it was time to set out, two nights in the city of bunny-chows were just not enough but we had other priorities that lay South of us and the feeling of anticipation that crept over us proved to be stronger than the calls of Durban’s warm waters and epic waves.
We got an early start as I wanted to be sure our rental car was in top shape for the roads and hours that lay before us. We left Durban on the N2 southbound and filled up at the Total service station (be sure not to miss this one otherwise you’ll either wait a very long time until the next service station or have to turn off the N2 in search of one) and inspected the tyre pressure etc. before heading off.
We followed the N2 through Port Shepstone until we got to a toll plaza – NB – if you are headed south on the N2 get into the far left lane at the toll plaza as any other lane carries on straight and the N2 does not. To carry on you must go into the far left and turn right over the bridge otherwise you’ll end up taking a long detour to get back on it. This happened to us! We saw the fun in it however and explored some interesting areas whilst off-track.
A lunch stop in the Wimpy outside Kokstad and a quick top-up at the accompanying Engen saw us back on the road and we entered the Eastern Cape.
The roads immediately worsened in condition. The Eastern Cape is notorious for its bad road conditions, so please be cautious as pot holes and animals appear out of absolutely nowhere. The lush rolling hills and mountains & sugar cane plantations almost immediately shifted to dryer brown ones, even larger in size, and mud huts replaced square houses.
The further we went the more foreign the country began to look to us. It was a magical transformation that we were blessed to witness. We passed through Umtata and filled up yet again at its Shell Ultra-City before taking the Coffee Bay turn off down to the coast.
The Wild Coast
I’ve already told you that the Eastern Cape’s roads are poor, in fact they are probably the worst in the country and this was something that was about to be further cemented in our minds, so please be cautious when headed here and take out extra tyre cover!
The roads flourished in both livestock and potholes, and not the kind you can easily avoid, in places they are so numerous it’s hard to believe that cars use this road daily – but they do, and if you pay attention to them – so can you.
A magical feeling comes over you as you near the Wild Coast, I had never been this far up and we were excited at the prospect of surfing in warm water, visiting Hole-In-The-Wall and living among the Xhosa people. The scenery was astonishing and mud huts began to appear in all sorts of colours on the hill tops around us. On some hills I marveled at the view the people living here get to enjoy, some homes get the best of the sunrise and sunset and what would go for millions in the cities is enjoyed by everyone here.
We stayed at Coffee Shack Backpackers for a few days and got to surf, go on coastal hikes, eat amazing food and make friendships with people from all around the world. It was an unreal time.
Our next destination was Bulungula, a place so remote that you are instructed to ignore all forms of GPS and use a hand drawn map. I love this sort of thing, don’t get me wrong – I love technology but loved that we were off to an area so remote that it was rendered completely useless.
Speaking of completely useless, this describes the state of the roads between Coffee Bay and Bulungula. Mostly there are none. No tar at least and more often than not, you’re driving on the bedrock so careful and precise navigation is needed – we successfully completed the 80km (Three hour) journey in our little 1.1 Litre Hyundai but a 4 x 4 is recommended.
We finally arrived at the parking site, a 500m walk from the Bulungula lodge, and were greeted by some young Xhosa boys who just happened to be there and wanted to help carry our luggage (which was almost bigger than they were!). Totally innocent, honest and kind, I assigned two to help “push” my wife’s bag and the third I put on top of mine and dragged him along.
This set the tone of our time at Bulungula, everything about this special place just blew my mind from the kindness of the people to the unspoilt coastline and the shooting stars at night. Everything was magic and is remembered as though a dream. There wasn’t a moment I remember feeling restless. It was like a perfect peace, difficult to describe.
We enjoyed relaxing and unwinding with locally guided activities such as sunrise pancakes, canoeing down the Xhora River and village tours. The warmth of the people that greet you, the abundance of animals and the children that wave and shout to you from their hilltop homes or while they’re herding sheep burn a hole into your heart and leave you with everlasting memories.
After leaving Bulungula we headed further South along the ever improving N2 to Chintsa West, and stayed at Buccaneers Backpackers for two wonderful nights overlooking the Chintsa River Mouth. Chintsa was jam packed with cool things to do so we enjoyed activities such as morning beach walks, fish eagle canoe rides, horse riding and cultural tours here.
Our time along the Wild Coast had finally come to an end though our holiday had not. We next headed inland to Hogsback and though we were torn at having to leave the incredible Wild Coast our car was certainly not. I swear I heard an audible sigh of relief from it!