Wild Coast camping, part one

Words and photography Ros Grieve

Around Coffee Bay

The Wild Coast has been beckoning me for years – ever since the 1970s, when I remember walking miles on deserted beaches and being enchanted by the wonderful landscapes.

With only a couple of weeks at our disposal, we (that’s Ian and I) decided to visit just a small portion of the old Transkei, the area between Coffee Bay in the south and Port Edward in the north. That was basically all we had in mind, having failed to get a decent map of the area before we left home at World’s View, Pietermaritzburg.
Wild Coast camping
Staying with friends in Kokstad the first night, we were relatively fresh to tackle the main N2 route through the major towns in this region, including Mthatha. The less said about that journey the better, except that my nerves were shot to pieces from witnessing the kamikaze driving! The turn-off to Coffee Bay is just south of Mthatha. It isn’t the greatest road, the driving seemed even worse and, on top of it all, the heavens opened.

My first impressions as we neared Coffee Bay were of a burgeoning population with schools, clinics and dwellings everywhere. However, as we neared the coast the views were awesome: this was what we 
had come to see.
After driving around the area to get a feel of the place, we turned in at the first camp as you enter the village, Villa la Bay. It appeared to be on a river with an attractive cliff face. Setting up camp in driving rain is not my idea of fun, but we donned waterproofs and got Heidi’s tent put up pretty smartly. (Heidi’s our trailer, and her tent was designed and made by Ian.) It was dark by now and the rain was still coming down in sheets.
Enormously relieved that the tent was indeed waterproof, we poured a glass of wine to toast this new adventure. Just behind us, in what we thought was the ‘backpackers’ part of this enterprise, rock music was pounding and lights flickering. With the option of either going to bed, and having to grin and bear the noise, or joining the party, we took the second option. Once I’d adjusted my waterproof and quickly combed my sodden hair, we were ready to go … only to return red-faced and giggling helplessly! If ever a holiday started on the wrong foot this was it. The rock music and lights were in our host’s workshop, where he was industriously sanding something down.
The storm continued through the night, and when we arose the next day the water supply to the ablutions was off. In daylight the camp appeared quite attractive, and the cliff face on the opposite bank seemed to be sending out strangely eerie sounds. Discounting ghost theories, we decided the weird sounds were echoing human voices. We also decided to seek a different campsite.

Coffee Bay Campsite
Across the road from the Coffee Bay Hotel is a large sign ‘Coffee Bay Campsite – OPEN’. On investigating this large former municipal camp, we approved of the large, shady stands right next to the beach. Although the resort had obviously seen better days, we were pleasantly surprised at the efforts to keep the sites cleared of dune vegetation. Manager Johan Roux is very hands-on, walking around the area, checking all is okay.
The ablutions are adequate and clean, though I have to say I can’t imagine how they cope when the camp fills up. We’d suggest taking a portable shower and toilet, as the sites are large enough to ensure privacy. One big plus here is the large water tank, which means you have a permanent water supply – a big advantage in a place where this important commodity is often not available. We had one of the stands with a beach view. Bomvu Beach is on the edge of a pretty cove, and it proved to be a safe swimming beach as well, which provided us with much pleasure, whether we were walking, sunbathing, swimming or just sitting and watching the world go by. There are plenty of walks from here, or you can just chill, or visit one of the many backpackers’ facilities in the area.

Sadly there is no visible sign of life on the rocks, though. Every day people would come with iron bars and spend hours gouging at the marine life attached to the rocks, clearly gathering something! That brings me to another controversial subject. We’d barely set up camp when little faces appeared at the fence offering crayfish. I remember a few years ago at Ntafufu becoming quite concerned at this practice and refusing to purchase these offerings – only to be informed that my stand was meaningless to these people, who needed to sell the crayfish in order to survive. (I’d welcome a view from a conservation spokesperson about solutions to this problem).

The Coffee Bay Campsite is now owned by the Department of Environmental Affairs. It’s run by 
Corrie and Buks Stohls, who are attempting to get the department to upgrade the camp, at least by building another ablution block and increasing the number of electrified sites. Of the 53 stands only 
two are electrified. On a drive down the coast to Hole in the Wall, we were once again startled by the loveliness of this coastline. The number of places to stay is quite extraordinary, considering how small Coffee Bay actually is. We stopped at quite a few, essentially to find out about camping options. Many backpacker lodges are happy to accommodate campers, but only in smallish tents. Hole in the Wall is a resort that offers this option, with a lawn for tents in front of their backpackers’ accommodation. Others we visited that allow camping are Mdumbi Backpackers and Anchorage Hotel.

White Clay
Just one kilometre south of Coffee Bay, on the road to Hole in the Wall, we came across White Clay, which has to have one of the best positions on the Wild Coast. Offering various accommodation choices, it also has a small campsite with glorious views. White Clay is well known for initiating the
Iron Man 50 km and 21 km challenges held in May and August respectively. We met owner Karen and were very impressed with this treasure of hers.

Karen was also able to sell us a map – an absolutely essential item if you plan to visit the Wild Coast. Made by Slingsby 
Maps, it’s called ‘Exploring the Wild Coast’ and details everything from landmarks such as schools and clinics to scenic routes to tracks to accommodation, including telephone numbers … oh my goodness, everything! I’m a big map fan and this one is simply fantastic. So we spent a week at glorious Coffee Bay, delighting in just about everything – everything, that is, except the mozzies: be warned, and go armed! Next time read about our interesting drives, using our new map, and about the Mbotyi Community Campsite.


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