The Wild Coast is my favourite part of South Africa. It has an incredible raw, untouched beauty about it, the heart and soul of the people of the area is in indescribeable, and it’s the sort of place that both ignites adventure and brings immense peace to your soul simultaneously. The Wild Coast is characterised by undulating green hills topped with colourful rondavel huts, and brilliant blue seacapes with majestic rocky cliffs. Many travellers avoid the Wild Coast as it seems a little hard to get to, unprecitable and wild. But these very things are exactly what makes it such a special place and one that is very deserving of its spot on your South Africa Itinerary.
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.
Welcome to rural Africa where the potholed roads are hard to navigate, lined with countless pigs, chickens and goats, and many a smiling, welcoming face!
I have been to the Wild Coast three times now and I honestly can’t get enough! My first trip was in 2010 on a countrywide family road trip. We spent a few nights at Bulungula. In 2018 Luke and I did a Cape Town to Coffee Bay Road Trip and spent an incredible five nights exploring all Coffee Bay has to offer. And then this year (2021) my family did a road trip and explored Bulungula and Mdumbi. Already my toes are itching and I’m looking at planning a multi-day hiking trip along the Wild Coast sometime in the future.
Complete Guide to the Wild Coast
The best way to get around the Wild Coast is to drive yourself around. The roads in the Transkei are not in the best condition but you do not need a 4×4 to get around. In 2018 we did our trip in a Toyota Etios and were perfectly fine. The roads are pot-holed and often gravel. If you plan on going to Bulungula you don’t technically need a 4×4 to get there, but it is definitely recommended. However, in a raised car you should be fine.
Google Maps isn’t very good in the Wild Coast, often directing you along goat paths and non-existent roads. The best bet is to get directions directly from your accommodation and follow their maps.
If you don’t have your own vehicle you can catch the Baz Bus. The Baz Bus stops at Mthatha (inland). There are daily shuttles from the Mthatha bus stop to The Coffee Shack in Coffee Bay. Bulungula has a shuttle service from Mthatha or Coffee Bay that you can pre-book for Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. Mdumbi Backpackers also has a pre-booked shuttle service from Coffee Bay or Mthatha.
To get to Bulungula, Coffee Bay or Mdumbi you will take the N2, then turn off at the Coffee Bay turnoff and take the various turnoffs to the respective destinations. The Coffee Bay road is a 75km stretch of tarred (pot-holed) road. There is a BP along this Coffee Bay road about 15km from the turnoff. The only proper grocery shop in the area is located at Ngcwanguba about 55km from the turnoff, 20km from Coffee Bay. There is also a petrol station here. Make sure you budget your fuel as these are the only two petrol stations in the area.
While places like Cintsa and Morgan’s Bay are also technically considered part of the Wild Coast, Bulungula, Coffee Bay, and Mdumbi are the real heart of the Wild Coast and the places I’ll be focusing on for my Complete Guide to the Wild Coast.
Bulungula is the southern most spot along the Wild Coast and is not as frequently visited as Coffee Bay. It is a little harder to get to with some confusing directions and a tricky road but the journey is well worth it! Bulungula is an eco lodge set next to the beautiful Xhora river and a lovely beach. You’ll watch many a gorgeous sunrise, see dolphins frolicking in the waves and have many opportunities to connect with, and support the local Xhosa community.
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.
Bulungula Eco Lodge
This is the only place to stay in this region of the Wild Coast. They are an eco-conscious lodge with a strong focus on sustainablilty and working in harmony with the local community. Everything is solar-powered and rocket showered! (Read my full blog on Bulungula to see what I mean). The accomodation consists of rondavel huts with double and triple options. There is also a tented camp or you can stay in a rondavel dorm. 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 where you can self-cater or you can order meals from them.
What to do in Bulungula
Bulungula Eco Lodge has an amazing relationship with the surrounding community and all of the activities offered by the lodge are local-run. You can enjoy sunrise pancakes with Nosipho, learn about the culture of the amaXhosa on a Cultural Experience tour with Jabu, meet the local herbalist or the village’s traditional healer. Alternatively take a hike along the beach to a hidden waterfall or the secret beach, relax in a hammock or watch the dolphins surfing the waves at sunrise!
Email Bulungula to ask about an epic 2 day coastal hike from Coffee Bay to Bulungula (free bag transfer!).
Read my Bulungula blog for all the details you need on planning a trip here.
Coffee Bay is the most popular spot along the Wild Coast and for good reason. It is the most easily accessible spot along the rural Wild Coast with a tarred road all the way from the N2, the vibe is laid back and you can hike to Hole in the Wall from here. Visiting Coffee Bay is not as much of an escape from reality as Bulungula or Mdumbi but it has a fun vibe with lots of adventure opportunities and plenty of exploration to be done!
You’ll follow the N2 until the Coffee Bay turn off. You’ll then follow this tarred, albeit pot-holed, road for 75km down to Coffee Bay.
We stayed at the Coffee Shack on our camping trip. They have very affordable camping and dorm options as well as some more upmarket private cottages. They have a special where the fifth night is free, and I’d definitely recommend staying five nights! There is so much going on at the Coffee Shack with organised hikes, surfing lessons, free sundowners, a Xhosa village experience and lots of opportunites to meet fellow travellers. View all of their accommodation options here. If you’re a family or a bigger group, have a look at the King’s House option.
The Real Kei
This is located 3km outside of Coffee Bay but is a STUNNING looking Airbnb with a woodfired hot tub! It looks perfect for a couple with a bigger budget. Check it out here.
What to do in Coffee Bay
Hike to Hole in the Wall, hike to the Mapuzi cliffs, visit a local village, hang out in a hammock, go surfing, have sundowners on one of the seaside cliffs and try some Umqombothi beer.
Read my Coffee Bay blog for all details of our stay there!
Mdumbi is the next town along from Coffee Bay and is another must-have spot on your Wild Coast Itinerary. Again it is slightly harder to get too making it a littl more remote and tranquil. Mdumbi is the next river mouth up from Coffee Bay. Many people actually hike from one to the other. It is home to the Pondo people and has a raw untouched beauty about it. The Mdumbi River winds through milkwood forests and opens up to a large white sand beach that has been voted as the most beautiful beach in South Africa. I’m not sure I would go as far as to say that, but it is a lovely spot. It’s a firm favourite for surfing and the river is great for fishing and kayaking. To get to Mdumbi you follow the Coffee Bay tar road right to the bottom.
Just before Coffee Bay you turn left onto a gravel road. This will wind it’s way to Mdumbi. If you’re staying at Mdumbi itself at either Mdumbi Backpackers, Vukani Backpackers or Eco Swell Lodge then you will turn right at the T-junction. If you are staying at Wild Coast Secrets Accommodation you’ll turn left at the T-junction. Make sure you get exact directions from your accommodation hosts.
Wild Coast Secrets
Wild Coast Secrets Accommodation is located a short distance outside of Mdumbi itself. In my opinion the views from this spot are 100x better, if not the best views you’ll find along the Wild Coast. From your patio you literally have 270 degrees of seaview. The waves are littered with thousands of dolphins and whales catching the surf and you can literally sit for hours watching them! I cannot recommend visiting Wild Coast Secrets enough! There is a Rondavel option and a Main House option. Both are self-catering with maginifcent views. Book them on AirBnB using the links above.
An award-winning backpackers that promotes community involvement and sustainable eco-tourism. They’ve got gorgeous panoramic views of Mdumbi beach and all the good vibes. They offer a range of comfortable rustic accommodation ranging from traditional rondavels to wooden huts to safari beds to camping. They have communal bathroom and cooking facilities on site for all accommodation options. This is a great budget option and if you’re wanting to be on Mdumbi beach itself.
What to do in Mdumbi
Mdumbi is all about the beach. Grab a surfboard, your cossie or a good book and enjoy some Wild Coast sunshine! The coast here is ideal for hiking and there are many trails winding along the coast. There is a popular hike from Coffee Bay to Mdumbi which takes 3 hours. Contact Mdumbi Backpackers about the hike from Coffee Bay to Mdumbi (3 hrs), spend two nights and get a free ride back deal. Make sure you factor in plenty of time to sit and watch the dolphins and whales frolicking in the surf.
Check out my Mdumbi blog for all the details.
Hiking the Wild Coast
The Wild Coast is the most incredible place to hike with an abundance of green hills, long beaches (dotted with cows) and incredible views. If you’re planning on doing a hiking trip I would recommend driving to Coffee Bay to start, spend one night there. You can then organise a two day hike to Bulungula through Bulungula Eco Lodge (they offer a free bag transfer) and spend a few nights in Bulungula. They will then organise a transfer back to Coffee Bay. Spenda few days resting and relaxing in Coffee Bay then do the 3 hour hike to Mdumbi, spend two nights there and get a free ride back to Coffee Bay. This trip is something I’ve been dreaming of doing for years and can’t wait to one day do it!
Alternatively you can book a hiking tour with Conscious Journeys. They seem to be an incredible company that organises Wild Coast Hiking Retreats. Email them for more info: [email protected]
Or contact any of the accommodation places and ask if they know a lcoal guy who can guide you.
The Wild Coast is a truly magical place and really needs to be on everyone’s bucketlist! If you’re travelling to South Africa, make sure you include a week on the Wild Coast in your itinerary!
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.