At 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.
Coming 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.
The 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!
The 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).
On 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.
As 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.
After 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.
After 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!
The 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.
One 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!