Hiking for treasure in the Double Mouth Nature Reserve
The South African coastline is incredibly varied and has much to offer. From East London eastwards, and across the mighty Kei River into the Wild Coast, grassy hills and rocky cliffs shelter enclosed sandy bays or give rise to wild, exposed and wave-battered points. Herders’ paths follow the bend of the coastline through grassy slopes, patches of indigenous forest and along untouched river banks. The cries of fish eagles, salt-laden wind, wild seas and unspoiled beaches wait to be explored. One such stretch, the Double Mouth Nature Reserve, is a unforgettable experience and a chance to get your spirit re-tuned.
The Wild Coast was a notoriously difficult region for seafarers. The wild seas, sudden storms and unchartered coastline of this stretch claimed many a vessel, and the Wild Coast is littered with shipwrecks as well as tales of survivors and lost treasure. The Portuguese Santo Espirito ran aground in 1608, and although its exact location was not recorded in the literature of the time, it is thought to lie offshore of the Double Mouth Nature Reserve between Morgan Bay and Haga Haga just north of East London. Today, Carnelian beads and pieces of Ming porcelain dated to the end of the 16th century wash up on Bead Beach just to the west of the Quko River. Double Mouth’s proximity to Morgan Bay, the easy hike to Bead Beach and the chance for beachcombers to find their own souvenir of this vessel’s cargo make this highly recommended for visitors to the area.
Bead Beach is an easy 20 minute walk along the beach to the south from the camp site reception at Double Mouth Nature Reserve. The pathway begins at the camp site and quickly joins the beach. After following a rocky platform, hikers round the first point and find themselves at the mouth of the Quko River. It is worth exploring the river to enjoy the natural beauty of this area. The Quko and Kumqotwane Rivers share a common mouth which is how Double Mouth derives its name. Take some time to look through the water for fish swimming below, and appreciate the aloes and Bird of paradise (Strelitzia) flowers growing on the rocky cliffs above.
Hikers must cross the river mouth to get to Bead Beach. At low tide the mouth is barely ankle deep and the crossing simply means getting your feet wet. From here it is an easy walk along the wide sandy beach towards the next point.
Because of the dynamics of water circulating in the bay, the largest shell fragments collect against the rocks in the furthest south corner of this beach. This is where the Carnelian beads and pieces of Ming porcelain can also be found. Now it is time to apply an extra covering of sun cream, roll up your sleeves and take off your shoes and get searching! Each low tide reveals the beads and porcelain fragments that have been deposited by the waves, and is an opportunity for hikers to find new treasures from the ocean. What a humbling experience to be the first person to hold an artefact that has been buried in the sea for over 400 years.
Important information for Double Mouth Nature Reserve
Double Mouth is part of the East London Coast Nature Reserve, managed by Eastern Cape Parks. Day visitors are charged a small entry fee to the campsite, payable with card or cash.
A hike to Bead Beach is best at low tide because of the river crossing as well as needing to search for artifacts below the high tide mark. Consult a tide chart and time your visit for low tide.
The coastal path continues south from Bead Beach towards Haga Haga for hikers wishing to explore further, either as a return hike or by arranging a pickup from Haga Haga.
Map of the Double Mouth Nature Reserve
What to pack
Because of the exposed nature of the hike visitors must be prepared for the weather conditions. Cool comfortable clothing, a swimming costume and towel are advisable for hot days and a jersey for cool or windy weather. Don’t forget the sunblock and drinking water! The path covers easy terrain and can even be done barefoot although comfortable or closed shoes are recommended over the rocky sections.
Because of the beautiful scenery this hike shouldn’t be rushed. We would recommend packing a picnic and making a day of it (but keep an eye on the tides for your return river crossing).
Check out our full post on all the day hike essentials we pack.
When to go
Hikers must time their walk with the daily low tide.
The summer months (November-February) are generally hot with a chance of rain while the winter (May-August) has cooler days. There is also the chance to spot migratory whales from the beach during the winter months.
Getting there and contact information
From East London, follow the N2 north towards Mthatha. The R349 (signposted Haga Haga/Kei Mouth) takes you to Morgan Bay, from which Beach Road leads to Double Mouth Nature Reserve.
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Find a place to stay
There are a variety of accommodation options in Morgan Bay, which is 5 km north of Double Mouth along a scenic coastal road. We would recommend the sea-facing Mitford Hotel with its variety of comfortable catered or self-catering rooms.
Visitors wishing to rough it a little more can camp at the camp site in the Double Mouth Nature Reserve.