Road Trip with Bae (Or Your Girl Gang!)
It’s that time of year when you start thinking about your December break. Travel blogger Natalie Roos (@tailsofamermaid) gives you an inside guide to the ultimate local road trip – from Cape Town to Coffee Bay
If the idea of mixing up beach days with bungee jumping sounds good to you, a trip up the Wild Coast is perfect. My BF and I spent a week driving from the Cape mountains through the green forests of Nature’s Valley, and up the Wild Coast to the rolling hills of Coffee Bay. We camped for most of the trip but stayed in hotels and guesthouses when we felt like we needed a long, hot shower.
We listened to loads of podcasts, stopping at little farm stalls for hot coffee and toasties along the way. Much of the trip didn’t go as planned, but that’s part of the adventure – the best road trips are never over-planned. We had a basic idea of what we wanted to see and we had a few bookings, but we also had the freedom to spend extra time in places we loved, and leave early if we’d had enough.
Part 1 Cape Town to Nature’s Valley 550km | 6,5 hours
Nature’s Valley is a beautifully lush part of South Africa, where trees grow to record heights and waterfalls tumble within the dense forest. Wild Spirit Backpackers Lodge is world-famous, and visited by international travellers and locals all year round. They have different accommodation options, from camp sites to dorm rooms and even safari tents, which have proper beds and electric lights. They do delicious meat and veggie meals (booking in advance is essential), but there’s also a farm stall across the road that stocks local cheese and fresh bread, fruit and veggies. Although the crowd is very hippie (think drum circles around the ire and free concerts performed by travelling amateur musicians), there are stunning beaches and hiking trails in the area, so days can be spent relaxing or getting active. THE BEST PART The expansive views of the forest from the deck, and the specific smell of being in the Tsitsikamma forest. There’s also a waterfall and stunning rock pools on the property for icy dips. ACCOMMODATION Wild Spirit Backpackers Lodge: dorms from R170 per night, camp sites from R100 per night, private rooms from R500 per night, safari tents from R360 per night. Wildspiritlodge.co.za TRAVEL TIP Stop at Baleia Wines ( Baleiawines.com) near Riversdale when you drive through. Also, make sure your food is locked up in the camp site to keep out ransacking baboons.
Part 2 Nature’s Valley to Port Alfred 355 km | 3,5 hours
Port Alfred is a small coastal town with a stunning river where you can swim, ski and wakeboard. We rented a little houseboat from Houseboats Port Alfred: they’re rented on a self- drive basis, and even if you don’t have a skipper’s licence, you can get one when you get there. (If you don’t know how to drive a boat, you get the hang of it very quickly.) The Kowie River is about 13km long but you can’t get to the ocean from the houseboat-safe route, so you don’t have to worry about being dragged out into the deep beyond. It’s perfect for cruising – or for dropping anchor and relaxing. We spent our time tanning, swimming, losing my hat in the river and generally just hanging out. Although it’s not luxurious, the boat is clean and well kept, and has everything you need for a little break à deux.
THE BEST PART Sitting on the boat with a cold G&T, watching the sun go down over the river. ACCOMMODATION Houseboats Port Alfred: from R1400 per night (up to R2800 per night over Christmas). Houseboatsportalfred.co.za TRAVEL TIP Make sure you check the weather forecast (and especially the wind) before booking.
Part 3 Port Alfred to Morgans Bay 275 km | 3,5 hours
We decided last-minute to spend a night halfway to our next destination (Coee Bay). It turned out to be the best decision of our trip – the halfway spot happens to be a little coastal town called Morgans Bay. This small village is a favourite holiday destination for generations of South African families, and after visiting myself it’s easy to see why: the beach is beautiful and expansive, the people are friendly, and there’s an awesome small-town vibe. For lunch, we dragged ourselves away from the waves for a few cocktails and snacks at The Deck, which was packed with tanned holiday-makers. To camp, we found a spot at the truly wonderful Yellowwood Forest, just a kilometre away from the beach. The camping grounds are incredibly well cared for by the owners (who live on site). The bathrooms are clean, and there’s a lovely restaurant where you can get pizza and beer.
THE BEST PART There’s a natural pool a couple of hundred metres from the camp site – great for a post-beach dip between the trees. ACCOMMODATION Yellowwood Forest: camping from R150 per night, family cottage from R750 per night, loft from R275 per night, bush camp from R340 per night. Yellowwoodforest.co.za TRAVEL TIP Yellowwood Forest is a family-friendly camp site, so it’s not a big nightlife spot. We didn’t mind because we were super- excited to get, like, 10 hours of sleep on our holiday – but if you’re looking for a party, try the other camp site near the beach.
Part 4 Morgans Bay to Co ee Bay 280 km | 4 hours
Return visitors love Coffee Bay passionately, and I’ve been hearing about its magic for years. It’s a small place, known for cows roaming the wild beaches, traditional huts on the surrounding hills and warm water. It’s very popular with surfers and nomads, so there are some great backpackers and camp sites to choose from. Make sure you book super-early, because by the time we tried to book in May last year, almost everything was full for New Year’s! We ended up at Coffee Bay Camp Site, which is right next to the beach. If backpackers slamming tequilas at breakfast isn’t really the vibe you’re after, this one is for you – but if you want a jol, I highly recommend Coffee Shack Backpackers ( Co eeshack.co.za).
THE BEST PART I loved the beach. It’s not too crowded, even at the busiest time of year, and the water is the perfect stay-in-and-swim temperature. ACCOMMODATION Coffee Bay Camp Site: camping from R150 per night. Goingwhere.co.za/co eebay TRAVEL TIP Even if you try to book ahead and everything is full, Coffee Bay is still worth visiting. There are always cancellations, and most places can make space for you. We ate a huge breakfast at Coffee Shack every morning for R45. If you don’t want to pay bar prices, there’s a tavern that sells cheap beer nearby – just ask anyone to direct you. We also went to Hole in the Wall at sunrise and it was really quiet and absolutely beautiful.
Co f e Ba Ca p Si e i d b a t u , a a h r h b t e b