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Kayaking the Transkei Coast

Kayaking the Transkei Coast

Mar 2013

Words Paul Winter, Pics Shaen Adey and Paul Winter

For the ocean-minded, the South African winter months – from about April to August – are the time to visit the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast region. This is when the sea is cleaner, due to less run-off from summer rainfall rivers. The swell action and waves are more lined up and predictable - although slightly bigger and more powerful. With this in mind my paddling partner, Jacques, and I recently headed off on a multi-day, self-supported kayak adventure along the Eastern Cape coastline and the southern parts of the Wild Coast.

‘Once again’, reads one of the journal entries of our trip, ‘we woke up to a stunning East Coast sunrise, spent an hour getting the kayaks ready, then headed off into blissfully calm, blue water – north towards our next stopover. Hugging the coastline just behind the breakers, we had dolphins with us all morning. We couldn’t decide whether to stop paddling and let our senses take it all in, or carry on up the coast to see what new watery adventure we could find. We paddled on and soon shot past the massive, rusted wreck of the Jacaranda, sprawled across the rocky shore. We then spent hours exploring a section of small coves and reefs just around a headland. After this, we stopped for a break just past a place nicknamed Cherry Point. There we met a local guy keen to sell us a fresh cob he’d just caught from the rocks below his rondavel hut. We took him up on the offer and ended up stuffing ourselves with heaps of delicious grilled fish and beer bread cooked on the coals for lunch…’

If you’re an outdoorsy, adventure-travel person living in South Africa and have never explored the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast, then I think you’re slightly crazy. Whether you’re hiking the famed Strandloper Trail, mountain biking, fishing for numerous game fish species, diving the world-renowned Sardine Run, learning to speak isiXhosa in Nelson Mandela’s homeland, or scoping out landmark sites like Hole in the Wall near Coffee Bay – do yourself a favour and make a journey here. This is heaven on earth for adventure-lovers, and in the right sea conditions it provides exhilarating open-ocean kayaking.

We covered just on 100km during the six-day trip, paddling from East London to just south of the small fishing village of Mazeppa Bay with stopovers at Cintsa, Haga Haga, Double Mouth, Morgan’s Bay and the Kei Mouth. Do you want to find ? At Bead Beach, just south of Morgan’s Bay, you just might find beads washed up on the shore that were once part of the cargo of a 17th-century Spanish galleon. This was where the Santo Espiritu was wrecked in 1608. If you look hard enough, you’ll find tiny porcelain or carnelian bead treasures in the crevices of rocks dotted along the shoreline.

As we headed deeper into Wild Coast territory, we paddled past and explored places like the Quolora River mouth and the bays, alcoves and reefs around Nxaxo and Mazeppa Bay. This is a small fishing village known for its island and protected beaches.

This trip was by no means a feat of endurance: surf-ski paddlers easily do 30km or more per day on the ocean. It was more of a quality exploration of the Wild Coast waters. Still, we knew we’d have to deal with lots of surf launches and open-ocean paddling – and that was the thrilling part for us. It didn’t come without its drama, though.

‘Jacques expertly negotiated the outside breaking waves,’ reads another journal entry. ‘But once he’d made his way closer in, things went bad. First, a nasty little inside wave rose up from behind and flipped the poor guy and his boat – giving both of them a washing machine thrashing. Second, the same wave snapped his oar in half, leaving him to fend for himself with only one blade and a short stump for an oar shaft once he’d clambered back into the boat. Third, somewhere in the mess his paddling jacket got tangled up around his torso and neck – leaving him immobile and a total slave to the ocean’s fate, like a hapless 16th-century seafarer locked in the tentacles of an enraged sea serpent.’

But then, of course, sea kayaking on the Wild Coast is not only about multi-day open-ocean paddling and negotiating heavy surf. There are dozens of estuaries and river systems that meander through the hills, just waiting to be explored. During the winter months, these often turn into calm, crystal-clear stretches of water as they flow into the tidal zone. There is ample bird and fish life around, and you can’t venture far along the shoreline before you see Nguni cattle milling around on the beach. There are also a handful of stretches along the coastline that can provide a once in a lifetime sea kayaking experience. It’s more like a marine safari with exhilarating blue-water paddling.

At our final destination of Mazeppa Bay, both fuelled by a hefty cardboard carton of local Mkumbuti beer, we threw around some ideas of forgetting about our jobs back in Cape Town and continuing our adventure north into KwaZulu-Natal - and eventually into Mozambique. But then that was the Mkumbuti talking, and anyway, we knew we’d return to the Wild Coast soon enough. We’d be crazy not to. The place is paradise.

Mapping around

Peter Slingsby’s Wild Coast map, which covers the Wild Coast stretch from East London to Port St Johns to Port Edward, is a fantastic guide for travellers to the area. The map details all accommodation, places of interest, roads, travel info, etc. in the region. Visit for more.

Paul Winter is a writer and photographer based in Cape Town. His specialities include documenting South African beach culture and ocean adventure. He is a surfer, free diver, sailor and beachcomber. One of his current projects is to paddle the length of the South African coastline in a sea kayak.

Nightjar Travel