The Wild Coast, also known as the Transkei, is one of the most remarkable and spectacular coastlines in the world. Stretching between the Great Kei River to the south and the Umtamvuna River to the north, this rugged, ~320 km long collection of sweeping bays, pristine estuaries, rocky headlands, desolate footprint-free beaches, lazy lagoons, and rolling green hills dotted with thatched vividly painted rondavels is rural South Africa at its best.
Transkei is the stronghold for the Xhosa, but since the early 2nd millennium CE, it’s been home to many other peoples, from the ancestors of the present-day Cape Nguni, to speakers of Thembu (Tembu), Mpondo (Pondo), and Mpondomse (Mpondomise) dialects, to the Mfengu “Homeless Wanderers”, and to refugees from other ancient chiefdoms that are today part of the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal. As it happens often into the heartland of the Rainbow Nation, such a complex ethnic and cultural makeup suggests a complicated history. The Transkei was shaped by wars – either led by Shaka, the Zulu chief, or by the Cape Dutch Boers. After the land between the Great Fish and Great Kei rivers was finally fixed under the name “Ciskei” as a boundary of Xhosa westward expansion, what was lying east of the Great Kei became “Transkei” . Under the apartheid system, the Transkei functioned as an independent Bantustan for the Xhosa-speaking blacks. Today, this fertile land is largely integrated into the Eastern Cape province.
We are exploring the Wild Coast 4×4 Eco Trail, a route put together by the Tracks4Africa community. We would drive in a northeasterly direction, starting at Kei Mouth and ending more or less at Port St Johns. As the buffalo grass-carpeted 1km coastal strip area of the Wild Coast is a sensitive eco-system, currently threatened by the planned infrastructure and mining projects, we must avoid track pollution and get the proper permits from the DEAET (Department of Economic Affairs, Environment and Tourism of Eastern Cape). To get your permit for the Southern Section (Amathole Region, Kei Mouth to Mbolompo Point) fill out this form and email it to Edwina Oates and for the Northern Section (from Mbolombo Point to Port Edward) fill out this form and email it to Bongeka Mvakade.
Wild Coast Section 1: Kei – Dwesa
By now, Jon’s injuries have started to heal. We restock in East London, confident of awesome days ahead on the Wild Coast.
The fun begins right away with the ferry ride over the Kei, which reminds me of how we cross the Danube from Galati into Dobrogea country.
R90 and 25 minutes later, it is time to put the Toyo in 4×4 mode for the next couple of days. Within a couple of kilometres, the trail turns off the gravel road and onto tracks down to the Gxara River crossing, at the bottom of the valley. After crossing the Qolora River we need to take another sharp turn inland though the Kwa Debese swamp for a while, before reaching the next river crossing: the Nxaxo.
At last, our first wild beach on the Wild Coast! But we are not alone: while subsistence farmers are busy eking out a living from their tiny backyard plots, the livestock roams freely. Even though Transkeian beaches have no grass or drinking water, the indigenous Nguni cattle, long the mainstay of traditional Zulu culture, love coming down to the beaches to sleep, relax and chew the cud.
After we leave behind the junction with a track that leads to Mazeppa Bay, we are about to encounter a rather tricky series of hill climbs.
Sometimes we have to walk the river banks before driving across, trying to figure the safest route forward – that is the case with Sebe and Gqunge rivers. Other times we must dodge inside the car when young kids start screaming “sweeets!”. Cannot fathom who is still giving candy to vulnerable children in 2019, when the evidence that this is an irresponsible gesture is readily available in your phone!?!
This section of the Wild Coast 4×4 Eco Trail, must be hair-raising in wet weather. Luckily Mazeppa Gorge is now dry, and we can stop often to gasp at the breathtaking views from the top of each hill.
After a whole day of adrenaline rush and crazy river crossings, with a final push across the Shixini River and up to the Beecham Woods gravel road, we scour the map, and decide that Dwesa Nature Reserve would be a great spot to finish off the first stage of our trip through the Wild Coast. To be continued!