The Wild Coast (Transkei). The black South Africa.

We visited South Africa during a 3 months roadtrip through southern Africa
(South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland).
October - December 2014.

Average Exchange rate: 1€ = 14 Rands

The Wild Coast is not really “wild” as it´s a populated area (mostly black people) and not many “coast” roads and limited contact with the sea, specially if you have a sedan car and follow the tarred roads. It would be simply better to call it Transkei, the black traditionnal South Africa. Many hills, sheeps, goats, cows and traditional houses.



For us, it´s a special region and a good experience to cross this South Africa area, cause of  the people, the landscape and the atmosphere. Really recommended, much more than the Garden Route (also a "fake" name).

As it´s a black populated area, we saw many public vans. So not too hard to travel in this region.
But only the main roads are tarred (and not so many going down to the coast) and many of the other roads are most of the times in bad conditions even for a 4x4. Not too much maintenance in the Transkei. 
Keep this in mind if you travel by car, specially a sedan car, as the places where you can get are limited. Roads are up and down, hilly area and narrow roads. You need time, driving is slow, as there are many curves.

As we were driving a sedan car, we just visited 2 of the most tourist spots on the “Wild Coast”, Coffee Bay and Port Saint Johns, probably the only places where tarred roads arrive nowdays in the Transkei.

Note: also tarred road to Chintsa, just near East London (growing fast with real estate). Many overlanders stop here, quite close to the main national road N2. We didn´t go (a few backpackers and campsites).

Not only bad roads, Transkei has sometimes electricity problems, many cut-downs.

   FROM EAST LONDON TO PORT SAINT JOHNS VIA COFFEE BAY    

This part of the Transkei it´s around 500 km. We did this route in 3 days (one day hiking around Coffe Bay).
Along N2 (no tolls, heavy traffic), many towns with gas stations, banks and supermarkets and busy centers.
We only followed tarred roads.
Note: during our visit (end of  November 2014), we had rainy and sunny days, but mostly rain!


   COFFEE BAY   

Easy access from N2 and then secondary road, by tarred roads. It´s 290 km away from East London and you will need around 2 hours to do the last 75 km. The road is quite fine, except a few sections, and bad specially around Coffee Bay, where they are doing road works.
Real Transkei, many traditional xhosa houses spread out green hills in the area.

We found the landscape of Coffee Bay quite normal, no real bay, no real sea views in fact from most of the lodges.  There´s a beach and a small cove and two rivers. The houses are pread out on several km.

We didn´t like the atmosphere of the place, "Jamaica and hippy style", with many people offering “mushrooms”, drugs and many liquor shops, the "cool" style of the backpackers lodges. Maybe too old?

We liked the rural atmosphere of the Transkei around Coffee Bay, yes, with traditionnal huts, real African atmosphere. The best, that´s why we recommend the place. To walk around.



Cheap accommodation in Coffee Bay:

Most of the backpackers have loud music all day long, drumming sessions and parties, too "cool". All are same style, Sugarloaf, Coffee Shack, Bomvu and a few new places. Similar atmosphere in all and most of them are really quite basic. Have a look first.

Most of the backpackers are at the end of the tarred road (works), crossing the small bridge. Only a small cove there. The real beach is around 2 km north, crossing the big river ( bridge when entering Coffee Bay). The coast is rocky, with cliffs. The ocean is rough.

Keep in mind that if going to other places near Coffee Bay, where you find backpackers lodges (Bulungula, Lubanzi, Mdumbi, etc.), the roads are gravel ones and not in good conditions. Better ask before. 

 Keep in mind: All the accommodation in Coffee Bay is fully booked in high season, and the prices are more expensive.

We stayed at:
    Dark dorm at Bomvu Backpackers
  • Bomvu Backpackers. 
Prices:
Campsite: 60 R/pp, 
Dormitory: 100 R/pp (we stayed there cause heavy rain)
Rooms 250 R/2p. 
Quite basic and not always very clean, specially the kitchen, toilets and dorms. Music at night, noisy till late. Popular but we didn´t like it cause lack of maintenance and party atmosphere.



  • Villa La Bay: Price for camping: 80 R/pp. Looking for a quiet place after 1 night at the Bomvu backpackers, we stayed here. Only camping, no electricity, so it was peaceful. The owner was nice, we talked a lot and he finally invited us staying one night for free. Thanks! On the shore of the river, at the entrance of the village, with BBQ, quiet and clean.


Things to do around Coffee Bay

  • Surfing lessons in the beach: they say it´s cheap.
  • Try to swim. The sea was rough, we didn´t.
  • Walk to Hole in the Wall: It´s a beautiful beach with special rock formations (the sea was rough, not good to swim there). It´s around 7 km west of Coffee Bay. You can follow the gravel road (it´s what we did, easy and there are neighbors around, great to see the local life, great experience, recommended). Or you can take the coastal trail. You don´t need a guide (big offer around the backpackers). Anyway, it´s around 3 hours walk, one way. Possible to hitch-hike the way back (some tourists around) or take a public van (taxi, we paid 15 R/pp), the road is really in bad conditions (better not to take the risk with a sedan car).
 

  • There are trails all over the Wild Coast, for example from Coffee Bay to Port Saint Johns, but it will take several days (at least 5)…

Services in Coffee Bay: 

No supermarkets, only small shops. No gas station, so, better fill the tank before. You have to drive up, around 50 km, to find them, or plenty in the towns on the N2.


   PORT SAINT JOHNS   

From Coffee Bay it´s around 200 km, as you have to go up and back to N2, for around 20 km, pass Umthatha and continue on R61 to Port Saint Johns.

Umthatha is a big town, the Transkei capital, it has an hectic center, very busy. Nelson Mandela´s museum was closed under renovation, when we passed the center. His hometown is just a few km south of Umthata.
There´s a backpackers if you need to stop in this town (better options away).

Port Saint Johns is a coastal town in the Transkei, not anymore the rural african feeling of Coffee Bay. It´s more Umthatha´s Beach. That means busy and noisy with many local people on weekends and holidays, picnic, BBQ and drinking on the beach (specially at “second beach”, 4 km west of the center). 



We were there on Saturday. And the atmosphere gets heavy and we felt unsafe with many people under control, drinking. So we did not walk from second beach to the Gap (or rock). Maybe better and calmer on week-days if you really want to enjoy the place.

The city center is also busy, with supermarkets, banks and shops. Many squads around.

The surrounds are beautiful, specially the river and the big cliffs, but we found the beaches quite normal.

They told us that there are many dagga plantations (illegal smoking plant) in the surrounds.
End of November, the weather was quite rainy. So we did no walks around.

Cheap accommodation in Port Saint Johns:

The accommodation in Port Saint Johns is not as basic as in Coffee Bay, expect better quality here. 

There are 3 backpackers, 2 near the center (Jungle Monkey and Mad Hatters) and one at the second beach (Amapondo), campsite and dorms in all of them.  Similar prices, and most of them have "cool atmosphere", music, smoke, etc.
We stayed at The Pont Lodge and campsite, a quiet place, popular with families. Price for camping: 80 R/pp. Big area. Pool, BBQ, picnic. Near the river and the bridge. They also offer dorm in small bungalows (price, 150 R/pp). Very quiet and beautiful location.

 We slept under the shed, just in case, it was rainy.

Services in Port Saint Johns:

You find everything you need as it´s a commercial center: 3 supermarkets, shops, banks, gas station, etc.


   FROM PORT SAINT JOHNS TO MATATIELE AND LESOTHO BORDER   



This route, from Port Saint Johns to Qacha´s Nek (Lesotho border) it´s around 250km.  We did this route in one day, the second one early morning heading to Lesotho.



All the roads are tarred except the last 20 km to reach the border, after passing Matatiele, on the way to Qacha´s Neck border (SA-Lesotho), but fine with a sedan car and no rain.



Beautiful roads all the way, first passing green hills through Transkei with many villages (R61+R394) than after a short ride on N2 (no toll), it´s flat empty valleys with mountains behind from Kokstad to Matatiele (R56).



Port Saint Johns

No too much accommodation in the Transkei villages. Many lodges in Kokstad and camping in Mount Currie Reserve (5 km north of town, 130 R/2p). Also many options in Matatiele with a caravan park where we stayed (50 R/pp, basic but fine, but quite noisy roads around).

Supermarkets, banks and gas stations on the main towns crossed in Transkei and Kokstad and Matatiele.

The information about the Lesotho border is here or you can see the righ sidebar menu for complete information about Lesotho.

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