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The Wild Coast: Where time stops ticking and adventure awaits

The Wild Coast of South Africa is a 300km stretch between East London in the Eastern Cape and the KwaZulu-Natal border.

Previously known as the Transkei, the Wild Coast is one of the most remote and difficult places to access in the country. As such, the region has remained virtually untouched by modernity and is an amazing place to truly escape the hustle and bustle of urban life.

With its wild seas, towering cliffs, rolling hills and endless empty beaches, the Wild Coast has certainly earned its reputation as the most rugged place in South Africa.

If you’re an outdoor and adventure enthusiast, then your ears should be pricking up about now, so let’s leave behind the stresses and pressures of modern living and explore a place where time stands still.

The view of Lwandile and Presley Bay on the Wild Coast.
This pretty much sums up the Wild Coast: Lwandile.

Wild Coast Highlights

  • Annual Sardine Run.
  • Multi-day hiking trails along the coast.
  • Untouched beaches.
  • Untamed wilderness.
  • Traditional culture.
  • Remote, rural beauty.
  • Countless waterfalls.
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Wild Coast Map

As with any part of a big country like South Africa, there are places on the Wild Coast we’ve been, and places we haven’t. So, in this post, we’re highlighting some of our favourite things to see and do in each region.

The beauty of the Wild Coast is that it’s quite literally there for you to explore and discover on your own. So, while this won’t be an exhaustive guide, it will be enough to get you started…

Wild Coast Region 1: Pondoland

Pondoland (traditionally known as EmaMpondweni) is named after the people who have been living in this area for hundreds of years. Previously a kingdom that was separate from the state of South Africa during the apartheid years, today, Pondoland is mostly rural and agrarian.

The people here live much as they have done for generations in villages and homesteads governed by a system of tribal eldership and closely guarded traditions.

A Xhosa homestead on the Wild Coast hike.
One of the dozens of Xhosa homesteads that litter the Wild Coast.

Pondoland stretches all the way from the Mthatha River near Coffee Bay to the Mtamvuna River, which forms the border between the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

Port St Johns is one of the largest coastal towns in Pondoland and as such is a popular holiday destination. It has everything you’d expect from a Wild Coast town complete with dirt roads, animals in the streets and the slow meanderings of people with nowhere to go and all day to get there.

For the adventurer, Pondoland is one of the best hiking destinations in South Africa. The immensely popular Pondo Hopper Slackpacking trail is a multi-day route that traces the edge of the coastline across rocky shores, undulating, grassy hills and quiet, sandy bays . The trail includes such Wild Coast attractions as: Waterfall Bluff (one of the only waterfalls in South Africa that empties into the ocean), Cathedral Rock and Luphuthana – not to mention the myriad views over the sea and countryside along the way.

Hikers looking out over Cathedral Rock in Pondoland.
Cathedral Rock is a real icon on the Wild Coast.

Pondoland is also home to some incredibly beautiful beaches. Large rivers ferry fine sand to the coast and create the soft sandy stretches that punctuate an otherwise rocky shoreline. It’s worth noting that most of the beaches along this stretch are not protected by shark nets or lifeguards, so swimming and surfing should be done with the utmost vigilance and as far away from any flowing river mouths as possible.

Speaking of river mouths, many of the lagoons and estuaries along the Pondoland coast offer a great opportunity for kayaking, canoeing, fishing, swimming and any number of water activities.

Be sure to keep a lookout for the abundance of birds in this region, including the Cape Vulture, which can be seen roosting in the gorges around Msikaba.

Our favourite things to do in Pondoland:

If you’re looking for accommodation in the northern parts of Pondoland, we can highly recommend the Mtentu Lodge, otherwise, check out the link to find available accommodation around Port St Johns.

Early morning at Msikaba on the  Wild Coast.
You can expect a lot of this on the Wild Coast.
Msikaba beach at sunrise.
Msikaba: Starting point of the 5 day Pondo Hopper Wild Coast hike.

Wild Coast Region 2: Coffee Bay

Legend has it that in the late 19th century, a cargo ship carrying coffee beans sank just offshore, spilling it’s aromatic payload onto the coastline. Since then, this little spot at the mouth of the Nenga River has been called Coffee Bay.

Today, Coffee Bay is one of the most popular holiday destinations on the Wild Coast. From international backpackers to locals living nearby, everybody comes to Coffee Bay for the same thing – the laid-back, carefree atmosphere and stunning natural beauty.

Beautiful morning clouds over Coffee Bay on the Wild Coast.
Early morning overlooking Coffee Bay.

One of the unique features of this area is the rolling hills that end in sheer cliffs on the coast, as if sliced from top to bottom by a giant cake knife. These jagged crags create an incredible backdrop for the bay, as well as an excellent vantage point from which to find 360 degree views over the ocean and colourful Xhosa villages that dot the grassy landscape.

The famous Coffee Bay cliffs from across the bay.
The sheer cliffs of Coffee Bay that drop down into the sea.
A small Xhosa homestead near Coffee Bay on the Wild Coast.
A colourful Xhosa homestead atop the Mapuzi cliffs.

The locals around here are very welcoming and friendly and you’re almost always guaranteed to get a smile and a wave from passers by.

The main town of Coffee Bay is nothing more than a few accommodation places, some basic restaurants and trading stores that stock the bare essentials – very typical of the Wild Coast.

For nature lovers, Coffee Bay is a veritable paradise with beautiful coastal birds, fish, and indigenous forests that can be explored on foot, or on a river by kayak.

The Nenga River mouth at Coffee Bay.
The Nenga River mouth at Coffee Bay.
Bomvu Bay just next to Coffee Bay.
Bomvu Bay just next to Coffee Bay.

Coffee Bay is also a great surf spot for beginner and intermediate surfers. The point on the southern end of the bay provides gentle, crumbling walls with easy glide-ins, while the middle of the bay is more typical of a shifting sand-bottom beach break.

The wave works best on a south westerly wind during a cold front, or an early morning land breeze during the winter. Experienced surfers will most likely prefer the more challenging waves at Mdumbi which handles bigger swell and offers a much longer ride.

A sunny day at Mdumbi beach on the Wild Coast.
Mdumbi is definitely one of the most beautiful beaches in South Africa.
Bevan checking out the waves on the Wild Coast.
Bevan checking out the waves at Mdumbi.

Another truly unique feature in the area is the rather obviously named Hole-in-the-Wall just a few kilometres south of Coffee Bay. If you’ve ever seen any tourism ads for South Africa, you’ve almost certainly seen pictures of this incredible landmark. However, nothing comes close to seeing it for yourself.

You can drive to Hole-in-the-Wall from Coffee Bay, or you can make a full day of it and hike the coastal trail to take in some more of those Wild Coast scenes.

A view of Hole-in-the-wall from the river bank.
Hole-in-the-Wall.
Jumping into the hole at Hole-in-the-Wall.
Of course, you can jump into the hole.

The trail to the Mapuzi cliffs also offers wonderful views from the hilltops as well as the unique opportunity for some cliff jumping into the ocean.

Hikers taking pictures of the Wild Coast from the Coffee Bay cliffs.
The cliffs surrounding Coffee Bay offer some of the best views of the Wild Coast around.
A man cliff jumping into the sea on the Wild Coast.
One of the cliff jumping spots near Mapuzi.

And if all of this activity seems too much for you, then Coffee Bay is also a great place to just find a spot on the beach, or under a milkwood tree and settle in for the day.

Our favourite things to do in Coffee Bay:

  • Hike to Hole-in-the-Wall.
  • Surf at Mdumbi and a few other secret spots.
  • Check out the Mapuzi caves.
  • Clifftop sundowners overlooking Coffee Bay.

One of our favourite places to stay is at the Coffee Shack, otherwise, check out the link to find more available accommodation around Coffee Bay.

An incredible evening view from the cliffs overlooking Coffee Bay.
The majestic landscape of the Wild Coast.

Wild Coast Region 3: Kei Mouth

The Great Kei River is one of the largest rivers along the Wild Coast and travels for hundreds of kilometres from the confluence of the Swart-Keirivier and Wit-Keirivier to its large mouth about 50km outside East London.

The aptly named town of Kei Mouth is a small coastal village on the southern banks of the river mouth and is home to the usual beautiful beaches, rolling hills and relaxed atmosphere typical of the Wild Coast. However, it does have a few unique features including “the pont” which is one of the last remaining river ferries in South Africa – used to transport goods, vehicles, cattle, and anything really, to and from the old Transkei.

The rocky coastline at Kei Mouth.
The rocky coastline at the mouth of the Great Kei River.
The pont at Kei Mouth.

There are excellent hiking and mountain biking trails around Kei Mouth, most notable being the Strandlooper Trail which starts at Cape Morgan. The town is also the starting point of the Imana Wild Ride and the Wild Run series events, which attract a number of mountain bikers and trail runners every year.

Jill hiking on the Strandlooper Trail near Double Mouth
Jill on the Strandlooper Trail between Double Mouth and Haga Haga.

Just over the hill is the small holiday town of Morgan Bay where visitors can enjoy long walks on the sandy beach, swimming in the lagoon as well as incredible sunset views from the tops of the cliffs nearby.

Walking on the beach at Morgan Bay in the evening.
Evening walks on the beach at Morgan Bay.
Jill walking on the beach during sunset at Morgan Bay.
Sunset on the beach at Morgan Bay.

Double Mouth Nature Reserve is also a must-see spot in the area with the search for ancient treasure at Bead Beach being one of the main attractions.

To the north of Kei Mouth, just a short way from the pont, is Qolora Beach. This side of the river has a very different feel from the holiday vibes in Kei Mouth. Here, visitors will find far fewer people as well as miles and miles of empty beaches to explore.

A sunny day at Qolora Mouth on the Wild Coast.
Qolora Mouth: one of the quieter spots on the Wild Coast.

The coastline in this area is famous for its excellent fishing. From river fishing in the Great Kei, to shore angling off the rocks, or even deep sea fishing, you’d be hard pressed to find a better fishing spot in South Africa.

Our favourite things to do in Kei Mouth:

Our favourite place to stay is at the Mitford Hotel (they also do excellent meals at the restaurant), otherwise, check out this link to find more available accommodation around Kei Mouth.

The sundowner spot on the cliffs of Morgan Bay.
The sundowner spot on the cliffs of Morgan Bay.

Wild Coast Region 4: Jikeleza Route

Our final region along the Wild Coast is the Jikeleza Route. The word “Jikeleza” means to “go around”, and that’s just what visitors can do on this beautiful, meandering route between Cefane and Sunrise-on-Sea just outside East London.

One of the most popular stops on the Jikeleza Route is Chintsa, a small village bisected by a large lagoon. The calm water makes it one of the best places to go kayaking or to look for water birds and waders such as the Spotted thick-knee, Sandpiper and Giant Kingfisher.

The Cintsa lagoon.

The beaches are absolutely stunning, especially in the golden light of a sunrise. The dunes shine bright yellow and orange in the early morning glow and the wide sandy coast is a great place to start your day with a walk on the beach.

Golden sand dunes at Cintsa West beach.
Chintsa West beach at sunrise.

Surfers will enjoy the beaches around Queensbury Bay, Glen Eden and Yellow Sands, which are all home to some world-class waves all year round.

Our favourite things to do on the Jikeleza Route:

  • Have a picnic at Yellow Sands.
  • Visit Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve.
  • Kayak on the Cintsa River (Hire all the gear from Buccaneers Backpackers).
  • Morning walks on the sandy beaches.

Our favourite place to stay is at the the Buccaneers Lodge & Backpackers (they also do excellent meals at the restaurant), otherwise, check out this link to find more available accommodation around Chintsa.

Chintsa West in the early morning.
Chintsa West in the early morning.

Things to consider when travelling to the Wild Coast

Visiting the Wild Coast is an absolute must, however, there are certainly some things to keep in mind when travelling through the area to ensure that you’ve set your expectations right from the start.

Poverty

The Wild Coast on the whole is a very poor area and as such, tourists are seen as an opportunity for the locals to make money. This can take the form of positive initiatives like selling crafts and curios, to less favourable methods like begging and even selling illegal substances and natural resources.

How you choose to contribute to the local community during your stay is up to your conscience, however, be advised that the giving out of sweets to children is strongly discouraged as there are no dental facilities in the area and (while this should go without saying) you definitely need to avoid buying illegal products, like SASSI red listed fish and undersized crayfish.

Driving

Driving throughout the Wild Coast can be an adventure in itself. Most of the roads are gravel tracks which are annoyingly bumpy when dry and dangerously slippery when wet. While you don’t necessarily need a 4×4 to drive the roads, you will need extra caution and vigilance. The condition of the roads is usually very bad, with massive potholes and eroded edges – add to that the prevalence of people and animals in the road as well as a seeming disregard for any road rules, and you’ve got the gist of what you can expect from driving in the Wild Coast.

Connectivity

While things are slowly improving, there are still vast swathes of the Wild Coast that get very limited, patchy or slow cell phone and internet connectivity. It should be fine if you just want is to keep an eye on your emails, but you’re probably going to have to say goodbye to your Netflix series for a little while.

Weather

While some areas will have a few nuanced patterns, a general overview of the weather on the Wild Coast is as follows:

January to March is the hottest time of year with temperatures reaching up to 36℃ (96,8℉), not to mention high humidity which adds to the apparent temperature quite a bit.

April to July is one of the best times of the year with the average temperature usually between 21 and 28℃ (82,4℉). The famous Sardine Run also happens around June which makes it an ideal time for scuba divers and fishermen to visit.

August to November is slightly cooler with average temperatures of around 18℃ (64,4℉) and only 69% humidity.

December is high-season for tourism as most of the country’s school kids go on their summer holidays. The weather around this time of the year has temperatures at around 28 to 31℃ (82 to 87℉).

What to do next

Bonus: We’ve created dozens of adventure guides just like this. Join our family of avid adventure seekers and get access to ALL of our adventure guides.

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