Dwesa Cwebe Nature Reserve is one of the best kept secrets on the Wild Coast. After spending the first part of our Wild Coast adventure navigating mountain gorges and crossing rocky riverbeds, we plan to take a day or two wandering the southern part of the reserve, which is cut in two by the Mbashe River (FIY, driving from one side of the Reserve to another requires a 60km or so detour to find the inland bridge). A quirky character welcomes us at the gate, big checkbook in hand, wide smile showing his unusually white teeth. I’m Doc, he says. OK, so Dwesa Nature Reserve, the famous Transkeian Paradise, has a Cerber.
After filling in a wad of paperwork which includes among others separate receipts for camping and park fees and some sort of personal fiche identifying each of us by name, body mass index and birth marks (just kidding…), Doc is finally ready to release us. He says we can pitch anywhere we want. Summer should be full season on the always sunny Wild Coast, but the New Year crowds are gone, schools are back on, and the European tourists don’t really flock here. So we have the supremely beautiful Dwesa National Reserve almost all to ourselves. Our spot is so close to the sea, that while we braai we can hear the surf pounding the shores. The next morning we wake up very early to cross the suspension bridge and explore.
The crisp sand, the roaring ocean, and the salty smell of the wild create a great background for our Wild Coast Date Night (… which takes place mostly by day, to be frank).
To break the romanticism of the story a bit, let’s note that this stunning coastline is actually the product of climate and sea-level changes that took place during the Holocene epoch of the Quaternary (which is the 2.6 million years long geologic time period that includes the present time and that saw the rise of a new predator: man; the Holocene epoch began about 12,000 years ago). However, I don’t think that early man was able to enjoy the beaches and bays created by tides into bedrock and other unconsolidated sediments, because they were too busy surviving an ice age.
Pristine beaches means that instead of sunbeds and umbrellas and people slathered in tanning product, you’re bound to see only your own footprints and the remains of other lifeform that lives or dies by these shores. We stumble upon the rotting carcass of a whale (don’t know what species though, can you identify it?) and what looks like a dolphin. We can’t help but daydream of the many extraordinary natural events this beach must had witnessed throughout its life!
Most of the Wild Coast has steep nearshore gradients and deep water close to the shore, but as we keep exploring farther, we find isolated, shallow micro-estuaries and lagoons, carved by river channels and sometimes barred by shimmering white dunes carpeted in mangroves.
Many ships are said to have ended their voyages in tragic fashion on these shores, and we do linger at Mendu Point, searching in vain for traces of the O’Bell wreck, which has been decaying here since 1916!
All this driving and dune hiking makes us stomachs growl, so at lunch we start searching for a shady picnic spot. We find our beach just before Mbashe River mouth, in another glorious Wild Coast cove. Tacos, coffee, and a nap. Sometimes, life can be this good!
But while Dwesa Nature Reserve appears to exist deceptively within a time of itself, it is actually very much set within these times of man, and changing… like all wild and fragile places. It is heartening to see all the plastic debris brought in by the Indian Ocean and entangled deep into the mangroves. It is appalling that one can hardly take one step without being forced to avoid a piece of metal, plastic or glass sticking out from the sand… What are we doing people? Wild places need more than our admiring gaze! They also need our resolve to clean, protect and preserve.
Despite the garbage that sits on its beautiful face, Dwesa Nature Reserve remains one of the most pristine and incredible habitats we have ever visited. There are countless trails to walk on, stunning lookouts towards the sea, and superb birdlife to observe inside the coastal forests, from lesser striped and wire tailed swallows competing for insects, to black headed herons breeding on cliff faces, to Cape Rock Thrushes, Paradise Fly Catchers, Forest Weavers and the ubiquitous noisy Common Weavers. After a couple of days of roaming this little paradise, it’s time to continue our trek along the Wild Coast. To be continued!