CHINTSA, EASTERN CAPE
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
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.