A Walk On The Wild Coast SidePosted on: 29 August 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves
David Alston savours the delights of South Africa's Wild Coast Amble.
“Remember to keep the sea on your left,” was our tour guide’s advice after surveying our party of 14, somewhat elderly - we prefer ‘mature’ - walkers, as we bussed it out of East London Airport en route to Trennery’s at Qolora Mouth. It was the starting point of the five-day Amble offered by Wild Coast Holiday Reservations in South Africa.
With luggage transported between the overnight stops leaving hikers free to walk with light daypacks, the Amble really is the ideal way to explore a particularly beautiful and unspoiled part of South Africa’s coastline.
With the first afternoon at Trennery’s ‘at leisure’, most of us opted for ‘Trevor’s Trail’, a guided three-hour boat trip and walk along the banks of the Qolora River with interesting flora and fauna, and for the birders among us, excellent sightings of Giant and Half-Collared Kingfishers, and the always majestic Fish Eagle.
Trennery’s seemed to be little changed from a family visit some 40 years ago, but still offers comfortable accommodation, good food - ‘Roast ankle of inflamed beef with swollen joints and strained calves sauce’ for those completing a southwards hike at this point - and the beach is shared with a variety of amiable cattle.
A guide is provided for the first half of the next day, presumably to avoid hikers making a wrong turn on leaving the hotel and finding the sea on their right. The walk takes one over low-lying rocks to the mouth of the Kei River past the place where Xhosa visionary Nonqawuse had her dream which led to cattle killing, crop destruction and subsequent starvation among the Xhosa people in 1856.
After an easy two-and-a-half hour stretch, ‘Fish Eagle 2’, piloted by a suitably laid-back local, who had taken the precaution of including a notice on his craft to the effect that ‘all marriage licenses issued by the captain on this boat are only valid for the duration of the voyage’, took us for a lunch cruise up the Kei River past impressive cliffs well-populated with cycads.
In the afternoon, hikers can either stick to the shore-line, which is rocky for most of the way with a short-stretch of beach at the end, and arrive at Morgan Bay after about three hours, or opt for a shorter route over the hills which brings one to tea and/or beer about an hour earlier.
The three-star Morgan Bay Hotel, which many holiday-makers return to year after year, is a family-run establishment in a spectacular setting facing the sea. Each menu contains a full weather report, an inspirational poem or story, ‘things to do’, and rather alarmingly, intimate details of what the various guests have been up to during the day, so be on your best behaviour!
The next day, 14kms in all, starts with quite a stiff 60m climb to the top of the famous Morgan Bay cliffs, where one is rewarded with majestic views up and down the coast.
Descending to sea-level again, the Amble continues along a shelly section where Xhosa women can be found still looking for pieces of Ming pottery or small brown Carnelian beads from the Santa Espiritus, which was wrecked off the coast in 1608.
A final stretch of sandy beach brings one into Haga-Haga. 'It’s so nice you say it twice,' says the publicity handout, and indeed it is, with its small permanent population, and a variety of genial canines and felines, five of whom reside at the Hotel and whose names and habits are fully described in its brochure.
The final, and longest at 15.5kms, day of walking takes one to Cinsta East, starting with a correctly described ‘tricky section over a rocky headland’, but progressively easing out until an 8km of pristine, gently shelving beach is reached.
This provides a grand finale to the coastal section of the walk and brings one to Crawfords Cabins, set up on a headland in a densely forested area. Once again, this family-run establishment affords comfortable accommodation, more than adequate food and the warm hospitality for which the Eastern Cape is famous.
The last day of the Amble offers two options: a short ‘Coastal option’ of 10kms to Glengariff and a ‘Game Option’ to the nearby Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve. Having heard that the ‘Coastal option’ could be something of an anti-climax after the splendours of the previous four days, we chose the ‘Game Option’.
Although the Reserve’s tented accommodation was luxurious and the food lavish, there was time only to do a short walk and game drive, and on reflection we felt we would have preferred to remain on the coast, or to have started the walk at Wavecrest, north of Trennery’s, and ended it at Cinsta, which would have been a fitting climax to the Amble as a whole.
All in all though, an experience definitely not to be missed, and with costs reducing in direct proportion to the number of walkers, the price of R7330 (£523) per couple all-inclusive except for drinks was good value. Hats off to Wild Coast Holiday Reservations, whose organisation was most efficient, with a full itinerary and detailed map being supplied to each hiker. They also offer a number of other walks in the area which take in many of the best parts of South Africa’s coastline.
By David Alston
Wild Coast Holiday Reservations (043) 7436181
Trennery’s (047) 4980004
Morgan Bay (043) 84111062
Haga-Haga (043) 8411670
Crawfords (043) 7385000
Inkwenkwezi Game Reserve (043) 7343234
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