The gate­way to the Wild Coast, Chintsa is a serene sea­side vil­lage that’s long been a fam­ily favourite for hol­i­days. ON­DELA MLANDU drank in the views and lo­cal brews

Getaway (South Africa) - - NEWS -

This town may have two sides but it’s got one big heart, says On­dela Mlandu

‘ In­cred­i­ble,’ I gasp, tak­ing in the sea views af­ter park­ing my car in a dou­ble-storey build­ing en­veloped with trop­i­cal veg­e­ta­tion. Out­side, it’s 25 de­grees and the air is filled with bird­song. ‘Molo!’ the voice of Sean Price, joint owner of Buc­ca­neers, sounds from the bal­cony. At the top of the stairs, Sean gives me a firm hand­shake and a glass of cold Coke, while I marvel at the views of the beach be­low.

The vil­lage of Chintsa (a Xhosa word mean­ing ‘river of crum­bling banks’) strad­dles the river mouth, cre­at­ing an east and west side. Both are sur­rounded by indige­nous for­est and sloped river­banks that are home to a va­ri­ety of birds and small mam­mals. The east side is more de­vel­oped, with most of the restau­rants and the mu­nic­i­pal ser­vices. Chintsa West is more ru­ral and largely un­touched. This is where Buc­ca­neers is, now in its sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of fam­ily own­er­ship.

Back in the 1980s, when Sean was eight years old, the Price fam­ily set off from Jo­han­nes­burg to find a new home in the East­ern Cape. They ar­rived in Chintsa and booked in to Craw­fords Lodge, one of the old­est fam­ily-owned es­tab­lish­ments in the area. When owner Roy Craw­ford heard they were look­ing to buy prop­erty, he re­ferred them to a Ger­man fam­ily who were sell­ing. Soon the Price fam­ily found them­selves own­ers of eight hectares of prime, wild coastal for­est bor­der­ing the beach.

They ini­tially built five cot­tages, mostly for their own use. The late 80s, dur­ing the height of apartheid, was a bleak pe­riod for South Africa and they never en­vi­sioned that their home would be­come a suc­cess­ful des­ti­na­tion for tourists a few years later. At that time, Sean’s mother was in­volved with NGOs in ru­ral ed­u­ca­tion, so grow­ing up, Sean had a bal­anced view of what the coun­try was go­ing through. ‘Our doors were open to many NGOs, church groups and po­lit­i­cal par­ties, and we loved it!’

When the new dawn ar­rived in 1994, South Africa at­tracted many young in­ter­na­tional trav­ellers. Sean had come across the con­cept of back­pack­ing when he needed a place to stay in Knysna en route home from univer­sity. ‘It was a Tues­day evening, off sea­son, and the place was buzzing with mostly young for­eign­ers,’ he said. He told his par­ents about it, and they promptly drove to Knysna to see what back­pack­ing was all about. And that was the be­gin­ning of Buc­ca­neers, or ‘Buccs’ as it’s known around here.

Fast-for­ward two decades, Sean is still in Chintsa and still lov­ing it as much as he did as a child. ‘If you’re pas­sion­ate about the ocean and the out­doors, then this is the hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion for you,’ he says.

The beach in Chintsa, one of the finest in the coun­try, is what makes it spe­cial. ‘It stretches un­in­ter­rupted for more than 10 kays, mak­ing it good for run­ning when there’s a low tide,’ says Sean. There’s also a range of wa­ter ac­tiv­i­ties. When the river is low, it’s an ex­cel­lent spot for kite­board­ing and to go ca­noe­ing. And the lo­cal surfers never say no to a few waves.

I strolled along the beach and got from the west side to the east side in un­der 10 min­utes. Along the way, I stopped to buy bead­work from ‘Rasta the Rasta­far­ian’, a lo­cal crafts­man orig­i­nally from Malawi.

The vil­lage cen­tre had sev­eral restau­rants. I chose The Bare­foot Café and tucked into a large burger. Given the calo­ries I’d surely gained, it was fit­ting that I walked back along the beach to Buccs, sand and wa­ter be­tween my toes.

Next morn­ing I was on a mis­sion to find out what keeps the lo­cals busy. First stop was Teas in the Trees, owned by Kate Bosazza who came from the UK 18 years ago. This pop­u­lar break­fast and lunch venue, hid­den be­tween tall trees, does

de­li­cious baked good­ies and has an art­sand-crafts store next door. Af­ter my hearty break­fast I got a freshly baked scone ‘to go’.

Five min­utes away is the Inkwenkwezi Pri­vate Game Re­serve, where vis­i­tors can choose be­tween guided drives, walks or ca­noe trips. I opted for a quad-bike trail through the bush. The thrill of rid­ing a quad bike (once I’d got the hang of it) made up for the fact that I didn’t spot much game, but I’ll blame that on choos­ing to ex­plore this wilder side of Chintsa in the mid­day heat.

Hav­ing worked up a thirst, I was glad I’d ar­ranged for a tour of Chris Heaton’s rus­tic brew­ery on Emer­ald Vale Farm. He started in 2012, mak­ing a va­ri­ety of craft beers, from dark ales to gold pil­sner, us­ing rain­wa­ter. I opted for a pale ale be­fore driv­ing back to the vil­lage.

Next morn­ing, the sea was calm and ex­quis­ite. The beach was de­serted and I imag­ined run­ning along it, my footprints be­ing the only ones im­print­ing the vir­gin sand. But I had a hike to tackle.

The Soup Kitchen Hike is a guided walk along the beach to the town­ship, where the ini­tia­tive pro­vides food for lo­cal chil­dren. The Soup Kitchen ini­tially ran dur­ing school hol­i­days only, when other nu­tri­tion pro­grammes shut down, but due to the great need, they now pro­vide two meals a day ev­ery week­day. Tourists on the hike serve the food, and have won­der­ful in­ter­ac­tions with chil­dren. It was worth ev­ery ache and pain in my stiff legs.

A swim was just the re­vival I needed. Chill­ing on the beach af­ter­wards, and think­ing about din­ner, I re­mem­bered an­other rec­om­men­da­tion – the town’s nightlife hotspot. The C Club was opened specif­i­cally on the re­quest of lo­cals, who wanted a place to so­cialise and lis­ten to live mu­sic and dance. It was a lit­tle too early to catch a party, but I swung past for a bite to eat on the wooden deck over­look­ing a beau­ti­ful gar­den.

Driv­ing through the tran­quil vil­lage later, I en­vied Sean’s child­hood in these idyl­lic sur­round­ings. The lay­ers of com­mu­nity wo­ven by gen­er­a­tions, so pal­pa­ble to any vis­i­tor, are ex­actly the rea­son he chooses not to leave.

ABOVE From the deck at Buc­can­neers, you can check out the whole vil­lage. BE­LOW LEFT You’ll get a rous­ing tra­di­tional Xhosa wel­come at Inkwenkwezi.

ABOVE Buccs of­fers surf lessons and all the gear needed to get you up and rid­ing. BE­LOW Inkwenkwezi is a Big Five re­serve with a gar­den venue that is pop­u­lar for wed­dings and other func­tions.

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