The Wild Coast is truly that – wild and empty. Fishermen, cattle herders and curious local kids are generally the only people you meet outside the widely spaced hotels, though at spring tide there are gaggles of cheerful women harvesting seafood from the rocks. The beaches are mostly deserted, the hills are green, the forests are lush, the bird life is incredible and the rock pools are filled with colourful marine life. So exploring the area on the Wild Coast Meander is simply glorious. But instead of moving on each day you might want to linger longer. Here are five reasons to do so.
1. To go horse riding
It’s the superb fishing and beach walking that typically distract hikers staying at Kob Inn, the first port of call on the Wild Coast Meander. But horseback riding is a wonderful way to explore the empty beaches and coastal paths. Take a look at these horse riding activities on the Wild Coast.
2. To hike in the forests
The Wild Coast is a transition zone where you find an overlap of both tree and bird species endemic to the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. One of the most rewarding places to appreciate the resulting diversity is the Manubi forest near Mazeppa Bay Hotel. The call of Trumpeter Hornbills and Knysna Louries usually welcomes you, while on a guided walk, which can last from an hour to half a day, you’ll be introduced to the various tree species, which include big yellowwoods, the vines, huge orb spiders and the wonderful birds. And if you’re really lucky you might catch sight of a blue or grey duiker.
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3. To check out the rock pools
There are numerous lovely gullies and rock pools along the trail that beg to be explored. It’s worth carrying a mask and snorkel if you’re curious about the underwater world. Remember though that it’s not called the Wild Coast for nothing: there are strong currents and, often, big swells. Ask about conditions and good sites at the hotels, only go snorkelling (or swimming) when it’s calm, so check the tides.
4. To explore the mangroves of the Nxaxo river estuary
A boat cruise into the mangroves, some of the most southerly in Africa, from Wavecrest Hotel & Spa is a very special treat. Mangroves are typically found no further than 23° south of the equator, but around here (at 32° 30’ S) the Agulhas current is close to shore and counter-current eddies break into the estuary so the water is around five degrees warmer than the surrounding coast, one of the reasons that you find mangroves forests present.
The estuary offers fabulous birding with various kingfisher species, including rare Mangrove kingfishers, hornbills, woodpeckers and cranes often sighted. Ihem island in the lagoon is one of the most important breeding grounds for rare Southern Grey Crowned Cranes in South Africa. The name of the island derives from their call.
Even if you’re not a keen twitcher it’s a fabulous trip. Or you could just laze around the hotel’s Jacuzzi and sauna, have a massage, go canoeing on the river or take a dolphin viewing trip out to sea. So many reasons to linger!
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5. To take Trevor’s Trail
On your penultimate night on the Meander you have the choice of staying at Seagulls Hotel, right on the beach, or the more-upmarket Trennery’s Hotel, up in the coastal forest. Whichever one you choose, sign up for a guided tour with enigmatic guide Trevor Wigley.
Trevor’s Trail starts with a hike up through the forest on which Trevor (or his co-guide) points out endemic plants and their uses and entertains you with local lore. Arriving at a Coca-cola coloured river you board a small motor boat for a delightful trip through ‘The Gates’ – a narrow, steep-sided gorge festooned with hanging greenery – to a waterfall. If you’re feeling brave you can leap into the cool, refreshing stream before walking back down to the lagoon through rolling heath land as you enjoy wonderful views over the Qolora River mouth.
Words Fiona McIntosh
Photography Shaen Adey