South Africa's Wild Coast is one of those few remaining places where it's possible to truly escape. The rhythm of life here is metered by the tide, or the crunch of a cow's hooves over beach sand or grassy slopes. Visitors to this stretch of coastline find a simple way of life set in the unparalleled natural beauty of an unspoiled coastline.
Sarah Drew is a Wild Coast specialist. After hiking this coastline herself dozens of times, and now the director of Active Escapes, a company that runs Wild Coast hikes for tourists, we're guessing there's not much about this coastline she doesn't know! We chat to her about her passion for this stretch of coastline and what makes it such a special place.
Give us a brief introduction about yourself: What's your name? Where are you from? And what is it that you do?
My name is Sarah. I was born in Pietermaritzburg and despite traveling quite extensively around the world and country, have settled in the (now not so sleepy) but still misty, village of Hilton. I did an MSC in Geography - studying different models of community-based tourism on the Pondoland Wild Coast - and three years later, after realising I’d rather be doing tourism than analysing and writing about it, I started Active Escapes in 2007.
With few responsibilities back then, I spent weekends getting lost and discovering new mountain bike routes in the KZN Midlands, and of course, the Wild Coast. Having hiked up and down the Pondoland coastline a few times during my first year of Masters doing community surveys, I established a good spring board for setting up a variety of hikes there. Combining a whole spectrum of accommodation experiences (from authentic homestays to laid-back backpackers and upmarket hotels) - we now offer hiking packages which cover the entire stretch of Wild Coast. We’ll take the claim, that we are the specialists when it comes to hiking the Wild Coast 🙂
What do I love about this job: that I still work ‘from home’ in an office shared with my husband Matthew Drew. Ever since meeting (through a shared passion in mountain biking) we have always shared an office... and now we lift-share too - our 2 kids, Sophie (6) and James (4) 🙂
Tell us about your first visit to the Wild Coast. Where did you go and what were your first impressions?
My first real experience of hiking the Wild Coast was back in 1999/2000 whilst I was doing my undergrad at Rhodes University. I headed up the Mountain Club which provided an excellent excuse to 'check-out' of campus most weekends and enjoy varsity-sponsored hiking holidays in and around the Eastern Cape. During one of the shorter vacs a group of us hiked the Port St Johns to Coffee Bay stretch, when there was still some semblance of trail huts as created by the original Wild Coast hiking trail. However, even at that stage most were crumbling, and only some had a local caretaker who still carried keys for the hut. We spent many a night sleeping under the stars on that trip, but clearly it set in motion a journey of discovery.
What is the one thing that the Wild Coast has that no other hiking destination can offer?
Simplicity. Living in the moment. Appreciating the ebb and flow of the tide, and that no path will ever be exactly the same. The ferryman may...or may not…be waiting. Walking through the backyards of people who have lived off the ocean and these lands for generations. That you may still discover a hidden waterfall or a secluded little cove, which only a handful of people have ever visited too. And of course, sheer beauty. Jutting cliffs, rolling green hills peppered by rainbow coloured kraals and happily grazing cattle. And you are also likely to see these cows cooling off in the waves….that’s not something you see every day.
What is the best part about doing a multi-day hike through the Wild Coast?
It takes a couple of days to really remove yourself from our dependence on digital feed. But after a day or two you miss it a lot less. After 3 days, you are happier to do without it. It means you really give yourself a HOLIDAY. An opportunity to reload, reflect, and be thankful for this beautiful world we are privileged enough to enjoy.
What do the people who hike with you on the Wild Coast find the most surprising about the experience?
That whilst it's ‘wild’ - this adjective is returned in a much more positive tone. Its NOT the the Wild West where you need to keep looking back over your shoulder. Ambling along the coast, you’ll meet local fishermen, boys tending their cattle, and women and children collecting mussels off the rock. I’ve only ever been greeted with a broad smile or simple indifference for the traveller I am, sharing and appreciating the bounties of this coastline -transient as it is - for my footsteps are soon washed away by the incoming tide.
And finally, a question we ask everyone: Why should people visit South Africa?
The sheer diversity of South Africa. It means you need time, and a keen sense of adventure, to really discover the less marketed gems that South Africa has to offer. And we can offer comparatively great value! You can wine and dine and treat yourselves to 5 star luxury where the price tag comes with remote exclusivity, but those prepared to do the research and seek out the adventure can find the same here, at a fraction of the price.