Welcome to the Wild Coast. The land of the amaXhosa where undulating green hills are punctuated with brightly coloured rondavel huts, warm smiles greet you around every corner, where the ocean is wild and filled with surfing dolphins and breaching whales, and where your soul finds rest in the beauty of the raw, unfiltered beauty of nature. Welcome to the Wild Coast. The Wild Coast is a section of coastline in the Eastern Cape which stretches from East London up to the South border of KwaZulu-Natal. It includes popular holiday destinations Cintsa, Morgan’s Bay, Yellow Sands, Wavecrest, Bulungula, Hole in the Wall, Lubanzi, Coffee Bay, Mdumbi, Port St John’s and Umngazi. During apartheid the region from the Great Kei river northwards was known as the Transkei homeland.
The Wild Coast spans quite a large area and as such there are some areas that feel more authentic than others. Places like Coffee Bay and Port St Johns have become fairly toursity in recent years while places like Bulungula and Mdumbi are known to be some of the few places left along the Wild Coast where you can still get that proper authentic, untouched Transkei experience.
My family visited Bulungula back in 2010 when we did a long roadtrip through South Africa during the 5 week June-July holiday we had when South Africa hosted the 2010 Soccer World Cup. We absolutely loved our time here having amazing memories of sunrise pancakes, beach horseriding and listening to the World Cup matches on a little radio with aerials precariously positioned to try and get enough signal. 11 years later we decided to return and again loved every single second of our stay.
Bulungula is a very special place. It’s really not just any beachside accommodation. It is an eco-lodge that is completely integrated with the local village. Back in 2003 the owner, Dave, arrived in Bulungula from Cape Town. He feel in love with the place and asked the local Headman if he could have permission to build a lodge in the village. They came to an agreement that he could, provided that Dave also helped out the local community. The process began with Dave buying Jojo watertanks for all the households in the village. This helped the community immensely as before many children got very sick from the unclean water. He also set up the Bulungula Incubator which runs a preschool among other community upliftment projects. Today the lodge is managed and run by the community locals and every activity that is advertised is led by a local, meaning that whatever money you spend here is put straight back into the community.
The Bulungula Lodge sustains local culture and the planet, and is 100% owned and managed by the vibrant, traditional Nqileni village, a Xhosa community. The Xhosa community is an integral part of daily life in and around the Lodge. With no fences, no crime, and no hassles, the village is full of friendly smiles and lots of animals. You are invited to be part of this community throughout your stay – becoming part of the Bulungula Lodge and village community is the whole point of coming here!
Bulungula is not only socially conscious but environmentally conscious too. It is completely off the grid with the little electricity they do have being solar-powered (it is just enough for a few lights and a charging station). Their showers have been nicknamed Rocket Showers as they use parafin-lit toilet paper to heat the water. This heat travels up a narrow chimney making a rushing sound like that of a rocket taking off into space. Their loos are long drops – but clever ones that separate liquids and solids to prevent bad smells. Everything is created mindfully with the environment in mind.
Bulungula is probably still as authentic as it is because it is not the easiest place to get to. While you don’t technically need a 4×4 to get there, it is definitely recommended. However, in a raised car you should be fine. You will drive to the Coffee Bay turnoff on the N2. Then follow the tarred Coffee Bay road for 50km before turning off to your right. You will then continue down to the Zithulele Mission Hospital before following a series of landmarked directions to the lodge. Make sure you visit their website before and download their map (I have attached it here too in case) and follow the directions for Route 2. It is really just the last section where the road gets a little gnarly. When you arrive you are allowed to drive your car to the lodge and unpack your things. You’ll then need to drive it back up to the school as the lodge is a car-free zone. It costs R15 per day per car.
The accomodation consists of rondavel huts with double (R520 per night) and triple (R690 per night) options. There is also a tented camp (R490 per night) or you can stay in a rondavel dorm (R220 per person per night). You can book directly through their website. The huts are basic with just the beds inside (bedding included, bring your own towels). Toilets and showers are seperate and communal.
There is a communal kitchen, lounge and dining area. If you are self-catering there are fridges you can use (just mark what’s yours) and a guest kitchen with gas stoves and all the equipment you will need. There is no oven and I would recommend bringing your own sharp knife as those are a little hard to come by. Be prepared to be preparing meals alongside a number of other guests and the local mamas. If you are not self-catering you can have all your meals prepared by the mamas at the lodge. Breakfast is cereal with yogurt and fruit as well as toast etc. Lunches are either a traditional Xhosa meal or toasted sarmies. Dinners are different each night but are always hearty and delicious.
What to do in Bulungula?
Bulungula is situated along the gorgeous Wild Coast coastline meaning everywhere you look you’ll find an abundance of natural beauty. Whether you’re just sitting back in a hammock enjoying the view or embarking on one of Bulungula’s many activities, you’re bound to have a lovely time.
Watch the sunrise
Sunrises along the East Coast are always out of this world. Head down to the Bulungula beach and turn right. Walk a few minutes until you find some sand dunes. This is the best spot to watch the sunrise. The first hour after the sun has risen is the best time for dolphin watching. Stick around a while and watch them surf.
Take a hike
Hiking along the Wild Coast is one of the best things to do in South Africa. Many people spend multiple days doing it. You can easily do a lovely day hike from Bulungula lodge. You’ll start by crossing the river and following the beach to the left of the lodge. You follow the beach until you reach a rocky outcrop then you’ll see a path on the grassy hill to your left. Follow this path as it winds along the hills and then puts you back on the next beach. Walk to the big hill in front of you. If you follow the path up this hill you’ll go over and pop out at a secret beach on the other side. The hike there and back should be about 7km and take you around 2 hours. If you’re looking for a longer hike chat to the staff about hiking to Coffee Bay. It is a 2 day hike with an overnight stop in Lubanzi. The hike is about 4 hours each day or you can do a long 8 hour hike to do it all in one go. They can organise transport for you back to Bulungula.
We were very lucky and had one of the local dogs self-appoint himself as our hiking guide. He led the way and showed us where to go.
Join the Cultural Experience Tour
The Cultural Experience tour is run by Jabu. She has grown up in the village and is passionate about inviting others to witness and experience her Xhosa culture. We joined her for a morning and walked all around the village. We learnt about marriage customs, labola, how to make mud bricks for the huts, how to crush maize to make umqombothi (maize beer) and maizemeal and how to make a traditional meal of samp and beans (Umngqusho).
We were invited into Jabu’s family home where we had our faces painted by her sister’s daughter and our headscarves wrapped on. We learnt how to carry water buckets and sticks on our heads with no hands. We then enjoyed a meal of samp and beans together with the family.
We then hiked up to the top of the village and were invited to taste the traditional maize fermented beer (umqombothi). To me it tastes a bit like kombucha! Finally we visited the Lemongrass Project which is a female entrepreneurship upliftment program that employs women in the community to make lemongrass essential oil to make soaps and creams to sell.
We throughly enjoyed our time on the Cultural Experience tour with Jabu and felt to privileged to be invited to experience some of the Xhosa culture.
Relax in a hammock
Grab one of the hammocks and find a spot to watch the ocean or read a book. Life along the Wild Coast is about slowing down enough to take it all in.
Have sunrise pancakes
Nosipho runs a sunrise pancake business. She takes you for a walk along the beach at sunrise and sets up camp to cook you delicious pancakes on the beach. The pancakes are thick and sweet and yummy!
There are plenty of other exciting activities to do at Bulungula like fishing or going for a walk with the herbalist, meeting the traditional healer or the headman. Whatever you end up doing you’ll have the best time. This place is truly special and so worth the bumpy trek!
Roadtripping around South Africa? Check out my blog post on Cape Town to Coffee Bay (which includes guides to Nature’s Valley, Yellow Sands, Coffee Bay and Hogsback) for more South African roadtrip inspiration. If you’re looking for Garden Route guides check out my comprehensive guide to Knysna.