SOUTH AFRICA HIKING THE WILDCOAST
Spring Break was coming up and we knew 2 things - we wanted to go hiking or biking and we were missing the ocean. Putting those 2 thoughts together, we searched the internet and found the “Strandloper Hiking Trail” on the Eastern Cape Coast of South Africa. It looked beautiful, sounded great, was reasonably priced and we found that there were 2 options - carry your own gear and food and camp - or hike from hotel to hotel - hmmm... sounding even better. Corresponding with the reservation manager, we worked out details and were lucky as the Easter timeframe is very busy and hotels don’t like to book one-night stays for hikers during that time, but they managed to work us in. The company was first-rate from start to finish. They took care of all the details - hotels, transportation, meals and everything was perfect. Each hotel served us a wonderful dinner, great breakfast and packed a lunch for us to take along our walk. Each night our room overlooked the ocean and we slept with the sound of the surf.
Our adventure starts... We fly down to South Africa and are met at the East London airport by Ken from the shuttle service. We are astounded at the modernity and infrastructure of South Africa - this is another part of Africa that is totally different from Zambia. We go to the small town of Gonubie and instantly feel as if we are in the Gold Coast of Australia - this can’t be Africa??
The next day after an early morning beach walk and good breakfast, Ken transports us to the place where we will start our hike the next day. The 3 hour journey, the last 60 km potholed dirt road, ends at the Mazzepa Bay Hotel. This lovely hotel on the ocean is a getaway for fishermen and people who truly want to be away from the hubbub of town/city life.
Morning arrives and we are ready to hike!! Our luggage consists of 2 day-packs and one large backpack. We are encouraged to hire a porter from the local village to carry the large pack as it helps the local economy. The personalized greeting note in our room wisely warns us not to be surprised that the porter will be a woman, as in this culture it is the women who do all the hard work! We also are required to have a guide on this segment of the trip. And right they are, we leave with our male guide who carries nothing, our female porter who carries our large pack and we carry our smaller packs. She starts by strapping the large pack on her back as it is designed to be carried, but it is not long until she has shifted it to her head! The African women, both here and in Zambia, carry enormous loads on their heads with balance and grace.
Today is our longest walk - 21 km (13 miles) - the day is bright with the blue of the sky melting into the blue of the sea. We walk the white sands, hike over small hills, scramble over rocks and have a great time. We pass no one save for a few local herdsmen or local women gathering muscles from the rocks. Because of the terrain and access problems from the interior, most of this coastline can only be seen by those who hike it. We can’t understand why there are cattle on the beach but the guide tells us that the cattle need the salt, they stand in the sea and then lick their legs - of course - duh! we should have been able to figure that out! It’s been a warm day and we finally can see our destination up ahead. We are very ready to reach the hotel and have a cold drink.
Wavecrest Hotel, voted our favorite, is located across an inlet and faces the sea. The owner takes us for a short boat ride out into the ocean looking for dolphins or whales - oh my! - over the surf, running up the down the swells - knuckles tight on the bow rail - feeling the power of the sea - please don’t either of the 60 horsepower engines quit now! No dolphins or whales to be seen and we return back over the breakers (much easier than getting out over them) into the inlet. That was a ‘five ticket’ ride!
And the days continue in a mellow succession as we slow down from the hurriedness of school-life and get in tune with the rhythm of the wind and the waves. It’s breakfast at 8:00, begin hiking at 9:00, lunch along the way, arrive at the next hotel in the afternoon, tea & scones in the late afternoon and dinner at 7:00 - what a life! It’s down to Seagulls Hotel, then Morgan Bay Hotel, then Haga Haga Hotel and ending at Cintsa West. About 80 km (50 miles) over the 5 days of hiking. There has been blue sky, fog, mist, wind, rain and even one scary thunder and lightening storm. We walked sandy beaches, climbed hills, scrambled over rocks, explored tide pools, waded through inlets, saw an old shipwreck, breathed the sea air, watched the sea birds, collected seashells (so hard to resist - this one is so beautiful, do we have one like this?, wow, look at this color, just one more, this one is small, we can take it with us and each day ends with pockets full of goodies from the shore) and enjoyed all of it.
The official hiking ends and we stay for another 3 days in Gonubie near East London before returning to Zambia.
If you are looking for a beach hiking adventure, this is a great way to go, and we give our highest recommendation to Erica and Bryan Church, the reservation managers for the Strandloper Trail and Ken Black from the East Coast Shuttle Service. Our thanks to them for putting together a wonderful holiday. Here is the address for the Strandloper Trail: http://www.strandlopertrails.org.za/ and email for the East Coast Shuttle Service: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo Gallery: click each to see a larger image.