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Try to picture a Wild Coast hike and you'll inevitably conjure up images of half-trodden cattle trails that meander through rural landscapes, precipitous coastlines and undulating hills. These are the scenes that have become synonymous with this incredible region, and they are what hundreds of adventures-seekers from around the world come to find year in and year out.
The Pondo Hopper Wild Coast Hike
The northern Pondoland section of the Wild Coast, stretching from the Mtamvuna River in the north (Port Edward) to the mighty Umzimvubu River in the south (Port St John's), is one of the least accessible, dramatically rugged and breathtakingly pristine sections of the Wild Coast. Grant Christie named it as one of the most challenging stretches of his 6 million steps hike around the South African coastline. It's any adventurer's playground and the setting for the multi-day Pondo Hopper Wild Coast Hike.
Hikers on this iconic trail pass through traditional Xhosa villages, over rolling green hills, rocky headlands and sandy bays. Some of the most amazing waterfalls, freestanding rock stacks and estuaries can be found along the way. The skeletal remains of numerous shipwrecks along the shore bear testimony to this high-energy coastline, whilst whales and dolphins playing in the surf are a familiar sight.
While some hikers are happy to hike this stretch on their own, there is a lot to be said for joining a fully supported slack-packing experience. For one, you'll have access to the various overnight spots that make putting up your feet after a long day in the hills far more comfortable. Plus, travelling with a local guide who can open you up to the nuances of the regions you traverse is invaluable.
One of the best companies we've found for arranging this trip is Active Escapes. On their fully catered 5-night or 3-night Pondo Hopper Wild Coast Hike, your main kit bags will be transferred from camp to camp by vehicle, so you need only hike with a light day-pack.
Wild Coast hike highlights
- The deepest estuary in South Africa (Msikaba).
- The spectacular ocean spray at Luphuthana.
- Waterfalls that plunge directly into the ocean (including the 80 metre high waterfall at Waterfall Bluff).
- Cathedral Rock.
- Friendly Pondo villages.
- Sweeping vistas.
- During the annual sardine run (June-July), the ocean is a-frenzy with game fish, dolphins, sharks and myriad seabirds.
Hikers can opt for either the 3-night or 5-night options.
Day 1: Drive to Port St John’s (5-Night Trail) or Mbotyi River Lodge (3-Night Trail).
First up, you'll leave your vehicles at a secure parking spot in Port St John's or Mbotyi (depending on the length of your trail). From there you will be transferred to the Msikaba Camp and the start of your Pondo Hopper Wild Coast Hike adventure (3hr transfer from Port St John's, or 1.5hr from Mbotyi).
Once in Msikaba you'll be able to relax, explore the Msikaba Estuary on canoes (one of the deepest estuaries in South Africa), or cross over the river to the Mkambati Nature Reserve where the superbowl walk will afford a bird’s eye view onto an impressive colony of Cape Vultures.
Overnight: Msikaba Tented Camp
Day 2: Hike from Msikaba – Luphuthana. 16km.
Starting just after breakfast, the first stretch of the hike will take you the 16km to Luphuthana. The day’s highlights include the beautiful Mkweni Estuary and the awesome ocean-spray display at Luphuthana – always worth getting wet for an epic photo or video!
Overnight: Luphuthana Tented Camp
Day 3: Hike Luphuthana – Mbotyi. 18.5 km.
Waking up on day 3 will certainly be a challenge after your previous day's journey, but there's something about the air on the Wild Coast that revives tired bodies and keeps you wanting to press on. This next stretch of the hike meanders past the Top Hat, Waterfall Bluff (an 80m high waterfall that plunges directly into the ocean), Cathedral Rock, Mfihlelo Waterfall, and the freshwater swimming pools on the Mlambomkulu River. The views from the top of Drew’s Camp looking down towards Mbotyi are stunning and also unveils the final stretch of the day to the Mbotyi River Lodge.
Overnight: Mbotyi River Lodge (End of the 3-night trail).
Day 4: Hike Mbotyi – Manteku. 11km
Day 4 sees some relief with a shorter distance to hike (11km), however the terrain now becomes more undulating. Hikers will pass friendly rural villages where curious folk may wave and stop for a chat, and sweeping vistas from the hilltops are common today. The walk ends in the Manteku area, at the Manteku mangrove estuary with prolific birdlife. Spend the afternoon canoeing up the stunning Manteku Estuary.
Overnight: Manteku Camp
Day 5: Hike Manteku – Ntafufu. 10 km.
With the legs well rested, and feeling in tune with the rhythm of Wild Coast walking, hikers will travel 10km past Black Sands and into the Ntafufu area. After crossing the Ntafufu River, hikers come to rest at Ntafufu Camp, nestled behind a dune.
Overnight: Ntafufu Camp
Day 6: Hike Ntafufu – Port St Johns. 13 km. (4.5 – 5hr hike).
For the last day of the trail, hikers will walk 13km up to Port St Johns, and the walk can take up to five hours. En route, hikers pass Dome Bluff, and miles of golden beaches through to Poenskop. From here, the group can choose to stay over or simply access their vehicles and head home.
End of the 5-night trail
Map of the trail
- Total Trail Distance: 5-day hike 69 km and 3-day hike 34.5km.
- Approximate Time (per day): Shortest day 3 hours, longest day 7-8 hours.
- Guides: Local guides are available and can be arranged through Active Escapes.
- Fully Supported: Overnights are in fully catered lodges and camps, and all luggage is transferred from point to point while you hike.
What to Pack
A trail with Active Escapes is fully supported and catered trail. Bedding and meals are provided for, but please bring your own towel and if you have any special dietary restrictions which require health shop alternatives, you are asked to bring your own, as Lusikisiki and Flagstaff are rather limited in these options! The camps operate off of solar, wind and gas power for hot water showers, but don’t forget your head torch for walking around camp at night.
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When to go
Anytime outside of the peak school holidays (usually mid-Dec to mid-Jan, Easter and late June/early July each year). The Wild Coast has a mild sub-tropical climate so can be hiked all year round with average summer (November-February) temperatures around 27-29°C whilst winter months (May-July) average in the low twenties. If you are interested in the pelagic birds and marine sightings hiking during the winter months, especially over the sardine run, is best.
The start/finish point for the 3-day trail is Mbotyi and Port St Johns for the 5-day hike.
Getting to Port St Johns: either self-drive (approx 5hrs from Durban or East London). The nearest airport is Mtata, but only SAA flies there from Johannesburg. Active Escapes can arrange a private transfer from Mtata down to Port St Johns or Msikaba directly. Otherwise, the alternative airports are in Durban or East London, and it is approx. a 5hr transfer from either airport.
Getting to Mbotyi: self-drive, approx 5hrs from Durban, accessible by sedan vehicles. Alternatively hikers can fly into Durban and Active Escapes can arrange a private transfer to collect and transfer you to the trailhead. For a more cost-effective option, a regular shuttle called the Margate Coach runs between Durban and Port Edward, and Active Escapes can send a private transfer to there.
Almost always you will encounter nothing but friendly rural villagers and fishermen along the trail. However, we do still recommend you opt to take a local guide, primarily so that you don’t need to worry about the navigation and it’s always good for local community members to see employment opportunities coming out of your visit.
The Wild Coast is a malaria free region, but practical precautions like wearing long socks should be taken to prevent tick bites.
Keen to do the Pondo Hopper Slackpacking Trail yourself? Email the guys at Active Escapes: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or visit our Pondo Hopper Slackpacking page for more info: The Pondo Hopper Slackpacking Trail