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What does it take to walk the wild coast?

Just a little planning.

I'd wanted to walk the wild coast for an awfully long time but was scared off by the logistics of getting back from B to A. This year, when I realised that my intention to do the GT 6weeks post knee operation was a little too optimistic, I decided to bite the bullet on a Wild Coast Trip.

Now, I'm a bit on an extremist and there was no way that we were only going to walk a small portion of this magnificent coastline. And so, we opted to walk from Port Edward to Coffee Bay (approximately 175km) over a period of 7 days. "We" being my wonderful boyfriend Scott, and me.

We are lucky to have stellar family and friends. We figured that if we could get dropped off by one of them at the Wild Coast Sun in Port Edward, we would be able to catch taxis from Coffee Bay to Mthatha and then a bus from Mthatha to Durban- without worrying about getting back to our car in Port Edward.

My mom received the call up for the lift, and much to our relief she obliged. We managed to book a TransCape bus from Mthatha to Durban. And so, the challenging logistics of the trip had been resolved.

Now it was time to plan our stops. We were eager to embrace a little luxury by staying in accommodation along the way, negating the necessity for packing a tent, sleeping bag and hiking mattress. If we choose our stops wisely we would also be able to buy dinner there and so decrease the load of our bags. (When did we become such woeses????)

We scanned Google Maps, zooming in on the coastline, looking at accommodation options and trying to map the distance between each. After about an hour of deliberation, we selected our route. Here it is!

Before we begin, note that we were going in blind. We had an estimate of distances (20km/day) and limited idea about which rivers to be cautious of.

Day 1: Wild Coast Sun to Mtentu Lodge (26.4km)

We left Durban at 6am so that we would be able to begin hiking by 8:30am. The car was filled with apprehension during the drive as torrential rain pounded the windscreen. We stopped at MacBanana for some last supplies, only to find it flooded. 130mm the previous night. Wowza, what were we heading into?

Anyway, we arrived at Wild Coast Sun and there was no going back.

The first day consisted of continuous beach walking. The sea was on its head, the wind howling (luckily at our back). At about 10km the sea turned brown. We began to expect a river. 2km later we reached the Mnyameni River. We began to wade into the river with packs held high above our heads. It was high tide. The current was strong. We edged deeper and deeper until we realised that perhaps it wasn't the best plan to get all of our clothes wet on day 1. We edged back to the riverbank and placed our bags down. Scotty took a seat. I'm not as patient and so I stripped off my t-shirt and launched into the river, yelling "I'm just going to see how deep it is". I grew up a swimmer, counting hundreds of laps a week. But the water was strong. She had me in her grips and seemed to be deciding whether to fling me into the eddy just to my right or push me to sea. As Scotty started searching for our rope, I realised I couldn't wait long enough for him to retrieve it. I could see the panic in Scotty's eyes; and feel it in mine. There were a few rocks about 5m to my left where the waves were breaking. I figured that if I gave it everything I had, I could possibly grab a rock as the current pushed me out. Flip I haven't swum that hard in a long time. I gripped a rock and heaved myself onto it. A gentlemen from the accommodation on the hill had seen this little debarcle and had started down towards us. In broken Zulu I told him that I would "Khokha I-boat". He helped me find a kayak, which we used to ferry scotty and the bags across. Deep breathes.

We didn't veer off the sand during the first 21km. It was magnificently monotonous. A little after Sikombe River we climbed a path leading inland and followed a series of paths until we arrived at Mtentu Lodge.

Mtentu Lodge is an incredible place with log cabins linked by wooden boardwalks. There is a communal "chill and chow" area. Your dinner, breakfast and lunch are all included in your accommodation price and their food is delicious.

That night the wind rocked our cabin and the rain pelted on the tin roof, playing an ever-loudening drum.

Day 2: Mtentu Lodge to Grosvenor (29km)

We woke to grey-black sky and rubbles of thunder. The day ahead looked ominous but the forecast predicted different. We sent so much hope into the universe and clung to the thought that perhaps the forecast would correct.

And it was. As we finished up our breakfast and fastened our packs, the slightest sliver of sun shone through the clouds. It was quick walking to Mkambati, our first waterfall flowing into the ocean. The water was plummeting down and we had to walk inland almost to Bat Cave to find a safe crossing point. It took us 30minutes to cross this river, which is usually a doddle.

The remainder of the day saw us journeying along the beach, enjoying the orange dunes near Daza, and standing awe-inspired by the sand dunes near Msikaba. The staff team at Mtentu had called ahead for us to organise a ferry across the Msikaba River, which was greatly appreciated. We opted to stick along the beach and low-lying paths from here all the way to Port Grosvenor.

We were greeted by an extremely friendly chap when we arrived in Grosvenor, and invited for tea and lemon cookies. We couldn't decline this kind gesture and were blessed to hear about some of his exciting adventures in the Transkei. We had no idea where our accommodation for the night was, as it wasn't registered on google maps. We walked around Grosvenor in search of our room, asking locals and visitors alike for advice. Turns out it was 1km up the dirt road (which at the end of the day wasn't the best finding).

We stayed in a modest house on the hill with a beautiful outlook. They had a bath which was a blessing after a long day's walking! It was rustic but everything that we needed.

Day 3: Grosvenor to Mboyti (27.4km)

The beginning of this day is engrained in my mind. It was the moment that our life changed somewhere between a little bit and a lot. As we set off down the hill a dog came bounding towards us. I bend down to pat him and he immediately turned onto his back giving me his tummy. After a short rub we continued walking. But with this little guy by our side.

The path led us on a grassy bank alongside the beach. After about 2km I asked Scotty how long he thought the dog may walk with us for. His response, "Meh, probably 5km max." We continued and after about 9km reached a short river crossing. The river was only about 10m wide, but it was deep. So, we decided to head a little upstream to a possible rock crossing that we could see. There was an exquisite home right on the banks and we walked behind the property and picked up a clear path through the trees to an easier crossing point.

From this point the day was absolutely spectacular! We walked along the cliff line past Luphutana where the waves crash into the rocks, rounded on the mighty Waterfall Bluff, and headed inland before reaching Cathedral Rock.

We reached Mbotyi, with the dog still with us despite not having fed him and leaving him on the other side of river crossings. We had booked into Mbotyi Mountain and Bush Camp which was a way up the mountain but the hosts kindly offered to collect us from Mbotyi Beach. Hopping into the car was a telltale moment. We could see the dog had no idea where he was. Scotty and I got in and as we were about to drive off, our host's son asked us if we wanted to bring the dog with us. In the heat of the moment, Scotty picked the dog up saying "It's okay Grosvenor, we are just going up the hill." Hmmm, he'd mentally named him. And the craziest thing is, that so had I. And my mental name matched his.

The Mountain and Bush Camp was absolutely epic! The family bought the land for R1500, a case of coke and a case of beer; and had spent the last 7years constructing their little habitat. They cooked delicious meals for us, fed our little friend, had a pet donkey and pig.

Day 4: Mboyti to Port St John (32.7km plus a little lift)

The dog was still with us. He was still commonly referred to as "the dog" since I wasn't yet brave enough to call him by name. Our hosts drove the three of us down to Mboyti Beach, from where we continued south.

I think this day may have been my favourite. It was absolutely spectacular. The path led us through the village to Shark Point Beach and then along the coastline. We had one big river crossing, the Mntafufu River, but luckily had timed it well and were able to stroll across at waist height.

There were sections of trail that had us walking along deep black rocks, embedded in the cliffs, with waves crashing into them. It was purely amazing. The dog is extremely afraid of the white foam of waves and so there were certain points which were harrowing for him. This was when he gained his name, as we had to coax him along foamy-rocky sections. At one point Scotty had to straddle a 1.2m gap in the wet rocks with a 10m drop into the ocean and Grosvenor in his arms. I couldn't get secure enough to take Grosvenor from him and so he had to throw him onto the rocks. My heart was in my throat, helplessly watching these two, unwittingly strengthening our bond.

We continued along the beach and then made our way up through a little village before beginning the long descent into Port St John. This was followed by a 3km beach walk and ferry across the estuary.

We arrived in Port St John at sunset. The cars scretched around. The dogs growled. There were people everywhere - or so it seemed after four days of being largely alone. We had to head into town to buy some dog food and restock our supplies. This meant that while I went into the shops, Scotty squatted over a terrified Grosvenor in the taxi rank. I ran through the aisles, quickly collecting what I needed and joined the extremely long queue. But the queue didn't move. And it didn't move. I peered around and noticed that the cashiers all had their heads on the desks. I overheard someone mention that the system was down. Great, just what I needed with a petrified pouch outside. I left my basket and ran into the next shop to repeat the process. By the time I left it was pitch black. Our hostel was 3km away and Grosvenor was exhausted and scared. We managed to hitch a ride to the hostel on the back of someone's bakkie in exchange for beer money.

Day 5: Port St John to Mpande (26km)

This was another absolutely spectacular day. We set off from Amapondo Backpackers, walking along the beach until Bird Rock. We then had a sharp ascent, and descent to Sugarloaf Rock. This was followed by an even sharper ascent that brought us to the ridgeline of the mountain, gifting us with spectacular views.

We crossed the Umgazi River with ease. As we approached Mgazane we took a path less travelled that walked us through thick Mangrove Forest, popping us out occasionally in swampland. It was so epic.

We managed to organise a ferry across the Mgazane River, which flows deep and fast. Once on the other side, we began heading inland, walking through villages and thick sections of forest. During a 2km forest stretch we heard chanting. It got louder and louder until Scotty stumbled upon the magnificent sight of an Initiation Ceremony. The young men were dressed in full regalia, with faces painted and pangas. The man in the front gave Scotty a large smile, one that I still hear about a month later.

We arrived at Mpande in the early afternoon and managed to get a ferry across the river. We walked up our last hill for the day, arriving at our home for the night: The Kraal.

Mpande was breathtaking, the Kraal was fabulous. There was a true sense of community at the Kraal with several permanent residents staying there (doctors working in the local hospital). Dylan, the owner, used to be a chief and so he cooked up delicious meals for us, adding to the experience. That evening, we went to sit on the hill to watch the sunset and were joined by a herd of horses.

Day 6: Mpande to Mdumbi (33km)

It's quite crazy, but just like the trip, I don't feel ready to write about this last day. There is the most profound beauty in the simplicity of walking up with no other purpose than walking through the wilderness. With no other purpose than being.

Day 6 was a kaleidoscope of emotions, trying to grasp every moment of being with such force - in a desperate attempt at engraining 'being' so deeply that it would be a practice of mine, strong enough to survive the transition back into urban living.

I noticed the sand shimmering as the waves recalled; I sought my footprints in the grass as I veered off path near Hluleka Nature Reserve; I counted the seconds between each whale's leap as we stared awe-inspired across the undisturbed landscape; I took heed of each step on the rocks near the sharky Mtakatyi River Mouth (this is a big river, be sure to plan a lift across - we managed to get help from people holidaying nearby); I searched the plants for insects as we neared Presley's Bay; and counted my blessings along the final beach section to Mdumbi Beach.

I was so busy being that I made a rookie error. The sun was setting by the time we reached Mdumbi Beach, and our final river crossing for the trip. We could see the river was deep. We took off our bags, held them above our heads and began to wade into the river. It got deeper and the current got stronger. After about 5 steps, we were swimming. I was concentrating on Grosvenor, telling Scotty I was worried about him, when a wave swept my bag into the water. I had to drag my bag, half-submerged the rest of the way across. When my feet touched sand again, water poured out my bag. I instantly knew that everything was wet. My book, my charger, my food, all of my clothes. The worst part was that I had a 10l waterproof bag, rolled up, that I hadn't bothered to use.

We arrived at Mdumbi Backpackers dripping wet, with dog in tow. Much to our distress we were told that the restaurant was closed, that Scott hadn't ordered dinner, and the shuttle that I had requested the previous evening hadn't been organised. Um, okay.

Luckily, our situation quickly turned: we were gifted a towel, enjoyed a hot shower, managed to find 4 items of clothing in Scott's bag that weren't wet - just enough to share between us, and heard that there was space 800m up the road at the pizza place for us to have dinner. But then the situation got even better: the gentleman at reception found our order for dinner, and another guest gifted us dog food (plus a raw egg) for Grosvenor (WINNER MEAL).

I plugged my phone in to charge before loadshedding so that I would have enough battery to wait for the shuttle driver's response. In this act, I blew both the plug and exploded my charger. Not so winner move.

At the beginning of the blog post I mentioned our plan to get home: taxis from Coffee Bay and a TansCape Bus from Mthatha. But having a dog with us changed the feasibility of this. By the time we went to bed we still hadn't figured out our plans for the following day, and how we would get home.

Day 7: Getting home

We woke to a reply from the shuttle driver. He would be able to fetch us at 8am. Relief soared through my body. A long day awaited us.

12 Fingers Shuttle Service drove us to Mthatha, from where we hired a car and drove the remainder of the way to Durban. The gentleman that runs 12 Fingers Shuttle Service is absolutely incredible!

10 hours later we rolled into Durban North. Tired. Relieved. And with a new friend for life, Grosvenor.


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