Discover South Africa’s untamed and beautiful Wild Coast

The Wild Coast is one of South Africa’s most remote stretches of shoreline. Stretching from East London in the Eastern Cape northwards to Port Edward and the southern border of KwaZulu-Natal, the region is home to some of the most beautiful coastal scenery in the world.

The remote Mbotyi region of the Wild Coast, in South Africa's Eastern Cape province. (Image: SA Venues)
The remote Mbotyi region of the Wild Coast, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province. (Image: SA Venues, Flickr)

Brand South Africa reporter
The Wild Coast is a place of steep green hills and deeply incised river valleys. It is a land of windswept cliffs, deserted white-beaches, forests, untamable waves – and numerous shipwrecks.

The region is the historical home of the Xhosa nation. It is also the birthplace of South African statesman Nelson Mandela.

Before democracy in 1994 the Wild Coast formed part of the Transkei, separated from the rest of South Africa as a “homeland” under the hated grand apartheid system disingenuously named “separate development”.

Today the area is far more peaceful, but still somewhat lost in time. It’s a place where hippies, surfers and rural communities live side by side, with little in the way of possessions and much in the way of hospitality and friendliness.

While not nearly as glamorous as South Africa’s many popular beach destinations, every year adventurous and eco-loving locals and foreigners travel into the depths of the Wild Coast.

Hikers, surfers, nature lovers and cyclists navigate the coastline, bathing in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, which on a busy day usually has only one or two locals and a few Nguni cows.

Nguni cattle hang out on the beach with the shipwreck of the Jacaranda on the rocks behind them at Qolora Mouth on the Wild Coast. (Image: Andrew Ashton)
Nguni cattle hang out on the beach with the shipwreck of the Jacaranda on the rocks behind them at Qolora Mouth on the Wild Coast. (Image: Andrew Ashton, Flickr)

How to do it

Whether you are up for a week-long hike or just want to drop in on one of the main coastal villages for a few days, the Wild Coast will leave an impression.

Global tourists can get there quickly by flying to Port Elizabeth International Airport. Domestic travellers can fly into either Port Elizabeth or East London Airport.

Some visitors choose to self-drive and navigate dirt roads, goats and cattle, while others prefer to join scheduled activity-based tours like hiking, horse riding and mountain bike tours.

Bungalows, backpackers, beach lodges and modest hotels comprise the majority of accommodation in the Wild Coast’s populated areas. Accommodation is cheap in comparison to South Africa’s main tourist cities, but the remoteness of the area means that some pre-trip planning is necessary.

An old-fashioned pontoon safely carries vehicles across the Kei River at Kei Mouth on the Wild Coast. (Image: South African Tourism)
An old-fashioned pontoon safely carries vehicles across the Kei River at Kei Mouth on the Wild Coast. (Image: South African Tourism, Flickr)

East London region

Just north of East London, Kei Mouth, Morgan Bay, and Haga Haga are popular and convenient destinations on the Wild Coast.

A 1.5-kilometre long pristine beach, forested dunes and tumbling dolerite cliffs are just some of Morgan Bay’s scenic charms. There are horse trails to explore, dolphin and whale watching trips to take and a tranquil lagoon to enjoy.

Haga Haga is a small remote seaside village with a safe swimming beach.

Kei Mouth has a wide range of accommodation and a long list of activities including everything from deep-sea fishing to golf. It is also the start of the popular Strandloper Trail – a hiking trail that runs from Kei Mouth, through Morgan Bay, Haga Haga and the Jikeleza Route villages before terminating at Gonubie. The trail is roughly 60km long and takes four days to complete.

Chintsa

Only 45 kilometres from East London, Chintsa (or Cintsa) is a small seaside paradise set against a tranquil lagoon. Chintsa is surrounded by forested dunes and blessed with many perfect beaches. It is also home to one of South Africa’s most respected backpacker lodges, Buccanneer’s.

Activities at Chintsa include horse riding, fishing, canoeing, hiking, surfing lessons, canyoning, and cultural village tours. The Inkwenkwezi Game Reserve (isiXhosa for “under the stars”) is located close by, and guests can organise game drives into the reserve.

Coffee Bay, the heart of the Wild Coast. (Image: Pank Seelen)
Coffee Bay, the heart of the Wild Coast. (Image: Pank Seelen, Flickr)

Coffee Bay

Lying in the heart of the Wild Coast, Coffee Bay is regarded as one of South Africa’s most beautiful beach destinations. The village’s unusual name stems from a ship that was wrecked here in the 19th century, losing its cargo of coffee beans. The coffee beans washed ashore, and Coffee Bay was named.

The undulating hills dotted with traditional Xhosa huts provide a calm contrast to the striking cliffs and thrashing waves of Coffee Bay.

There is also an incredible natural wonder here called the Hole in the Wall. The huge detached rock formation has a large arch-like opening eroded into its side and, due to the constant rumbling noise coming from its belly, is known as esiKhaleni – “place of sound”  – in isiXhosa.

Abseiling, quad biking, spear fishing, horse riding and village tours are just some of the activities on offer in Coffee Bay.

Waves crash through the natural rock formation known as Hole in the Wall - esiKhaleni or "place of sound" in isiXhosa - near Coffee Bay. (Image: Rodger Bosch, Brand South Africa)
Waves crash through the natural rock formation known as Hole in the Wall – esiKhaleni or “place of sound” in isiXhosa – near Coffee Bay. (Image: Rodger Bosch, Brand South Africa)

Port St Johns

One of the Wild Coast’s most popular seaside destinations, Port St Johns is set against the Umzimvubu River mouth and surrounded by subtropical rainforest and cliff faces.

A set of twin mountains, named Thesiger and Sullivan, create a dramatic looking entrance on either side of the river mouth.

Six kilometres south of town, the beautiful Silaka Nature Reserve is a popular hiking and birding spot. Activities at Port St Johns include surfing, boat-based dolphin and whale watching, horse-riding and quad biking.

Dogs play on the beach in the late afternoon sun at Kei Mouth on the Wild Coast. (Image: SWWT)
Dogs play on the beach in the late afternoon sun at Kei Mouth on the Wild Coast. (Image: SWWT, Flickr)

Photo research: Mary Alexander.

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