In the heart of the Wild Coast, the dramatic rolling green hills drop off into the warm, deep blue Indian Ocean. Sea haze hovers over the wild curve of Coffee Bay at the Nenga River mouth (Xhosa for “whale”).
The bay was named after a ship laden with coffee beans that was wrecked in 1863. This coastline is famous for its shipwrecks, with the Oceanos (1991) among the most recent.
Visitors can enjoy lush wilderness and the local Xhosa culture in a rustic environment. Coffee Bay’s backpackers keep holidaymakers entertained with surf lessons, canoe trips down the Mthatha River to see its pristine mangroves and local village tours. The community is close-knit and restful. The area’s natural beauty, great surfing, laid-back atmosphere and rustic charm attracts earthy types who enjoy indulging in a bit of “giggly twig” at full-moon beach parties and drum circles.
For more conservative travellers, there are wonderful walks and mountain-bike rides along hidden, untouched beaches and along rural, isolated coastlines, to the unique Hole in the Wall, eight kilometres south of Coffee Bay at the Mpako River mouth.
One of two natural marine arches in South Africa, it is a mesmerising work of nature, named iziKhaleni (place of thunder) by the local Xhosa people, due to the sound of the waves clapping through the hole in the rock, which echoes through the valley at high tide.
Coffee Bay is one of the more accessible Wild Coast destinations, reachable from the N2 via a 75-kilometre tarred road with the odd pothole. This has not spoiled its rustic, rural vibe and it’s a good escape from the madness of the city. It offers camping, a hotel, backpackers, bed-and-breakfasts and self-catering accommodation, a few bars and a trading store.
With an average winter low temperature of only eight degrees Celsius and a summer maximum of 28 degrees, safe swimming beaches, excellent fishing, bird-watching, horse-riding, scuba-diving, shell-collecting and fairly consistent surf breaks, it is truly one of the gems of the Southern African coastline.
Look out for
Wild Coast Hiking Trail – Five-day guided hike from Port St Johns to Coffee Bay along the coastline through exquisite rolling hills. Overnight in huts in rural Xhosa villages along the way.
Hole in the Wall’s breathtaking natural arch was worn through its slab of rock by the Nenga River. There is a small resort at Hole in the Wall (a three-hour hike or 10-kilometre drive from Coffee Bay).
Coffee Shack Backpackers guides tours to Hole in the Wall and to Hlungunwane Waterfall to abseil next to Baby Hole. It also offers day trips to Mapuzi cliffs and caves and the “Easy” Falls adventure hike. Those not staying at the backpackers can join in but call beforehand.
Hluleka Nature Reserve is a 772-hectare coastal reserve an hour’s drive north of Coffee Bay that encompasses the Congwane Mtombo and Ndabeni Hluleka forest reserves. Rocky sea shores, lagoons and evergreen forests can be explored via winding paths with exceptional birdlife, including black-bellied starling and olive bush shrike. Hilltop clearings afford spectacular dolphin and whale sightings. Fishing is allowed. The rest camp’s wooden chalets sleep six, with ocean and forest views.