Road Trip: Garden Route to the Wild Coast

VW van at Wild Farm on the Wild Coast of South AfricaAt the tip of the continent, the rugged coast of South Africa called for a road trip. The famous Garden Route on the western side is an amazing region for its charming towns, incredible hiking, and pristine beaches while the lesser chartered Wild Coast holds dramatic wave-beaten beaches and tribal villages. Layer in a whale migration with your morning coffee, a national arts festival, a Xhosa circumcision ceremony, and potholes that could eat your car for breakfast…and you will just scratch the surface of the epic road trip we had along the South African coast.


Mossel Bay sand dunes, South AfricaComing down from the Wine Road in North, we entered onto the official Garden Route right before sunset. Mossel Bay holds that fame and with the mountainous cove and swirling sands, you can see why it makes the cut. We hadn’t really planned to stop here but if you ever plan a trip to the Garden Route, always book in extra time for unexpected photo ops.


Wilderness kayak and hike to Hoekwil forest and waterfallsThe directions to our lodging for the night in the town of Wilderness neglected to explain it was up a mountain on a deserted dirt road. We awoke in the morning at Wild Farm (VW photo, above) to incredible views and a charming property. To explore the area the owner gave us an amazing tip: Go to Eden Adventures to rent a kayak, then paddle up river to hiking trail for the Hoekwil waterfalls. The nature combo was perfect!


Wild Spirit backpackers in Nature's Valley South AfricaThe area of Nature’s Valley came highly recommended, with Wild Spirit adding to its infamy. Wild Spirit has to be one of the coolest backpacker joints in South Africa. Nestled between indigenous forests, pristine beaches and the mountains of Tsitsikamma National Park, Wild Spirit lives up to its name with a jam-session living room, organic menu, and gnome-home style architecture (like this magical portal made of ocean driftwood, see the night shot in the slide-show for even more Sci-Fi effect).


Kalanderkloof route Nature's Valley Wild Spirit South Africa Wild CoastOn our final day at Wild Spirit we woke up early and hiked the Kalanderkloof route down to the town of Nature’s Valley, then hiked back home along the Salt River route (do not skip the Salt River route if you do this hike, it was the best part). As promised by the owner, this hike sums up all the best things about the Garden Route and Wild Coast in one hike: dense forest, estuaries, beautiful beaches, jagged cliffs and numerous rivers and ponds. A hike not to be missed if you travel through this region.


The National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, South AfricaAs luck would have it, we met a musician who was on his way to play The National Arts Festival in Grahamstown. We had plans to stay along the coast but considering we were in the area during the biggest celebrations of the arts in the country, we had to re-route. He pointed us to a B&B that had a cancellation that morning and we ended up sharing a room with a comedian and a painter. Tip: Never book lodging ahead, being able to turn your travel plans on a dime is invaluable.


Cintsa beach is a tide-pooling paradise, South AfricaAfter seeing nearly a dozen musical and dance acts in Grahamstown (check out this amazing 20-person marimba band here), we headed down the Wild Coast. Stopping at Cintsa beach for some lunch, we sat out on a natural jetty right next to a swimming seal (I think he was as startled as we were). The rock formations from the Indian Ocean and shifting tectonic plates made this area a tide-pooling paradise.


Mdumbi beach town, South AfricaAfter lunch we checked our map and set off to cover the remaining 250km to reach the magical beach town of Mdumbi. The one road-trip blunder we made was assuming that the entire route would be the standard South African paved roads. We covered the first 200kms in 3 hours just as the sun set. The next 25kms were slightly more bumpy and under vanishing light. Around 7:30pm, in total darkness, we reached a fork in the road, right to Coffee Bay (decent roads, 5km), left to Mdumbi (less than decent roads, 24km….how bad could they be right?). Obviously, we forged ahead to Mdumbi. The road was by far the worst road I have ever driven on in my life, at multiple points we came across gulleys and potholes so large we had to reverse the car or fear loosing our under-carriage. Forty-five minutes into our road war, we calculated our speed vs. distance to travel and realized the 24kms was going to take us 2.2 hours (no joke, 11km/hour average). Regardless we powered through, and as you can tell in this photo above, taken the following morning, it was 100% worth it. You should have seen the look on the owner’s face the next day when we saw the VW Polo Vivo we took on those roads!


Xhosa people, the second largest South African tribe to Zulu in South AfricaThe rural beach town of Mdumbi is largely inhabited by the Xhosa people, the second largest South African tribe to Zulu in the country. Mdumbi Backpackers was tucked in with the traditional thatched-roof homes in pastel blues and pinks and built in a similar style.


Xhosa Circumcision ceremony Mdumbi Backpackers was its involvement in the communityOne of the greatest parts about Mdumbi Backpackers was its involvement in the community. On our last day at Mdumbi we were lucky enough to get invited to a very special ceremony in the village. These four boys had just spent three weeks living in the bush and were now returning home for their circumcision and the accompanying ceremonial goat slaughter (which we saw in way too much detail). We were honored to be invited to witness this very important ritual in the life of a Xhosa tribesman, and managed to get a video so you could join us in this full-village affair.

This blog just skims the surface of the amazing things we saw on our trip from the Garden Route to the Wild Coast so don’t miss the slideshow and please let us know if you have any questions!

16 thoughts on “Road Trip: Garden Route to the Wild Coast

  • September 4, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    Great report & shots!!!

    Are there any surfers in the area there? ‘Difficult to judge size from the photos but some of those coves & river mouths look like they could offer up a nice break.

    • September 5, 2012 at 3:36 pm

      kenneth, you are totally right. there were lots of surfers out at Mdumbi where the river mouth comes out. but much to our shagrin (sp?) there were also some shark sightings the day we wanted to go surf, so we never made it out. I would say the waves were approx 4-6 feet (on the front side, so a Hawaiian would call them 2-3 feet). 🙂

      • September 5, 2012 at 3:58 pm

        also, thanks as always for the love on the reporting and photos! so great having you along for every post kenneth!

      • September 5, 2012 at 6:01 pm

        Ahh yes, All I had to do was check google & YouTube. Mdumbi is known for good waves. Cool!!

        • September 5, 2012 at 7:39 pm

          awesome! that river mouth meeting the ocean was quite a sight. especially when the tide started coming in and colliding with it. one or two photos of that in the slideshow.

  • September 4, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    I think I spot the backpack from Banjo-Kazooie.

    How do the travel expenses in South Africa compare with South America? Could a budget traveler like myself expect to find many hostels that are $15 or less a night?

    Liking the video additions.

    • September 4, 2012 at 11:42 pm

      Unfortunately it is not that inexpensive (it’s more like $30 a night) but on the upside, South Africa has some of the coolest hostels we’ve ever stayed in–they tend to get prime real estate and have a really inviting vibe. If you go, pick up a free copy of Coast to Coast, it is great resource for up-to-date info on where to stay on the backpacker circuit.

      • September 5, 2012 at 11:39 pm

        Thanks for the recommendation. I checked out the Coast to Coast website and found some hostels as low as $10/night. Just what I’m looking for.

        I think you guys probably stay in nicer places than I do. I usually go for the ones that look like thieves’ dens. If I can’t find anything cheap I just sleep in the street and lie on top of my backpack so it can’t be stolen, lol.

        • September 6, 2012 at 7:46 am

          fantastic…now you have no excuse. just a note the $30 a night is for two people in a private room, so that is $15 a night per person…not bad. i like your sleeping trick, do you travel with a pacsafe? might be a good idea, we have used ours a few times while sleeping in bus stations 🙂

          • September 6, 2012 at 8:30 pm

            Ah so that’s for two, very nice. I guess I just need a travel partner then.

            I’ve never used a pacsafe. Normally I lay the side of the pack with zippers against the ground with the backside up, then put one strap under my arm and use it as a pillow. Someone would have to wake me to get it open. The only close call I’ve had was when I fell asleep by accident from fatigue while my pack was sitting beside me. I woke as a man was creeping away with it in his hands. After I retrieved it from him I followed him from a distance and used my telephoto to get pics of him pickpocketing 3 other people, then I showed them to the local police and led them to his location.

  • September 6, 2012 at 3:33 pm

    Nice photos!

    Were you able to enter the South Africa Library for the Blind? I had never heard of a library for the blind.

    • September 6, 2012 at 6:46 pm

      man, you are observant! love that you look through the slideshow each time! no we did not make it in there, although now that you mention it, we totally should have….

  • May 8, 2014 at 11:40 am

    Mike, I nearly fell off my chair when I read that you were driving along the dirt roads of the Wild Coast in a VW Polo Vivo! Fantastic. It just goes to show what a bit of perseverance and patience will bring you to! The best way to explore this stretch of coastline is to do exactly what you did and head off down these dirt roads. We recently did a long weekend to a spot midway between Haga Haga and Morgan’s Bay. Our dirt road took us to a delightful thatched self-catering cottage that was just 100 metres from the beach. Our blog on our trip has lots of photos to show everyone what a stunning spot this piece of coastline is. Hope you like it. Neil

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