3 SLACK PACKING HIKES
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