DAY 1 12 km
Port St Johns to Mngazana
It’s an ordeal to get from Cape Town to Second Beach in Port St Johns, where the hike starts. It’s a long drive on roads of varying quality and there’s the extra logistical complication of having to leave your vehicle at the hike’s start or end. We stayed overnight in Coffee Bay, parked the car there, and took a taxi to Port St Johns. ( The drive is about 190 km; the hike along the coast is about 60 km.) It’s a hot Saturday in September. Midday. Port St Johns is a cacophony of people, music and hooting cars. There are five hikers in our group: me, Catharien Robbertze, Dian Wessels, Liezel van Beek and Le Roux Schoeman. Yongama Manjezi (23) is our guide. He has worked for Wild Tours for three years. “My name means ‘to overcome’,” he tells us. Finally we start walking, along the beach and past the mouth of the Bululo River, into a little conservation area called Silaka Nature Reserve (4 km²). Almost immediately I forget about the drive, the potholes and the busy town behind me. Silaka is like a new world, untouched by man. Five cows relax on the beach, as if they’ve been placed there deliberately for Instagram. Yongama is passionate about his job and shares fun facts as we walk. “Snakes eat this for energy when they’re fighting,” he says, pointing to a bright orange flower. “I’ve cooked this to cure a stomach ache,” he says about a green-coloured fruit. The trail steepens and Yongama sighs: “Yeah, the heartbreak,” he says. I have a flashback to eight years ago: Heartbreak Hill. It’s impossibly steep and the heat is stifling. I huff and puff to the top, all the while thinking about the meaning of Yongama’s name: To overcome, to overcome… The climb is worth every drop of sweat because the view from the top is fantastic. We watch as a whale frolics in the Indian Ocean far below. A little way further we walk through a small settlement – “Molweni!” the residents call out – and eventually we arrive at Umngazi River Bungalows & Spa, a luxurious holiday resort, where we buy chips and cooldrinks at the hotel shop. We eat our snacks on the riverbank, waiting for the resort motorboat to take us across. Late in the afternoon, the weather changes. Clouds gather, the temperature drops, the wind picks up and the ocean starts to brood. We head to the Mngazana River for our final river crossing of the day, where a ferry operator called Goodman Tatile is battling the wind and the waves to get to us in his small row boat. The poor man will have to do at least four crossings to get all of us and our luggage to the other side. I’m a little nervous when I climb into the unsteady boat. A spring tide is coming in and about halfway across the river I can feel the current tugging us towards the unknown deep. I’m very glad when we make it to the other side, where Robert Tatile, Goodman’s brother, helps me ashore. It’s a Tatile family affair in this neck of the woods: Goodman’s wife Nosikele is waiting at our overnight accommodation when we eventually arrive after a short hike next to a sprawling mangrove forest. The beds in the hut are neatly made and there’s a power point where we can charge our phones. In another building there’s a shower and a flush toilet. Dinner is traditional Xhosa fare: chicken, rice, cabbage and potatoes. We eat in Nosikele’s living room. I fall into bed at 8 pm, happy and satisfied.