COASTAL SPLEN­DOUR

3 SLACK PACK­ING HIKES

Getaway (South Africa) - - TRAVEL HIKING -

There’ll be seafood treats but no sand in your bed on these guided trails on the Wild Coast, West Coast and Sun­shine Coast

‘We won’t see many peo­ple over the next few days and most of the beaches we cross are in­ac­ces­si­ble by car. To re­ally ex­pe­ri­ence this area, you need to walk it,’ guide Matt Botha told us at the start of our four-day hike on the Wild Coast. Then, as if to kick-start our ex­pe­di­tion and give us a taste of things to come, he turned and waded through the chest­deep river with­out look­ing back. We were off.

Our group of 20 hik­ers had gath­ered on the oth­er­wise-de­serted Mtentu Beach in the north­ern reaches of the for­mer Transkei. Sand­stone cliffs jut­ted above the pris­tine es­tu­ary be­hind us while the ocean churned nearby. Matt, the owner of Wild Child Africa, spent much of his child­hood run­ning free on these beaches and now shares his con­sid­er­able knowl­edge, as well as his beam­ing ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the peo­ple and coast­line of this re­gion, on his hikes.

‘There are 109 river mouths along the Wild Coast, a 280-kilo­me­tre-long strip that runs from the Kei Mouth up to Port Ed­ward. That’s a river ev­ery twoand-a-half kilo­me­tres,’ Matt said. We’d be walk­ing through Pon­doland, the wildest part of the Wild Coast, and ev­ery day the ter­rain would be dif­fer­ent. ‘To­day we’ll pass through the beau­ti­ful grass­lands and ravines of the Mkam­bati Na­ture Re­serve, to­mor­row is the shelf sec­tion, the next day is the cliff sec­tion, and the last day we’ll walk along a string of lovely beaches,’ Matt ex­plained.

The weather was over­cast on that first morn­ing and the ocean was a strik­ing colour, as clear blue as Lis­ter­ine. Pur­ple crabs scut­tled across the sand as we made our way onto the mead­ows of the na­ture re­serve. Flanked by the Msik­aba and Mtentu rivers, Mkam­bati is just 10 kilo­me­tres long and five kilo­me­tres wide. The forested ravines and coastal grass­lands would be our play­ground for the day.

‘There’s a very spe­cial mi­cro­cli­mate from Port St Johns up to the Mzamba River,’ Matt told us. ‘Many species of frogs, plants, in­sects and an­i­mals are en­demic to this area. The Mkam­bati palm, or Pondo co­conut, is a good ex­am­ple of this as it only

Day three of the Pondo Trail, end­ing at Mbo­tyi, presents ar­guably the most dra­matic views of the en­tire route, like this windswept view­point over­look­ing The Cathe­dral and The Key­hole. PONDO TRAIL By Matthew Sterne CRAY­FISH TRAIL By Cather­ine Rudolph CHOKKA TRAIL By Michelle Hardie

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