Many South Africans will tell you that the Wild Coast is their favorite place to go on holiday, year after year. It’s peaceful, it’s rural, and the beaches are still, truly, wild. Cattle graze on the steep grassy hills that run along these deserted white beaches and small settlements of colorful Xhosa huts sporadically appear. As beautiful as it may sound, it remains a rural area and there are few things you need to know before setting off to enjoy a holiday on the wild side of South Africa.
1. The local kids will beg for sweets
They will literally run after your car shouting “Sweets! Sweets!” You will feel sorry for them, but whatever you do, don’t give them any sweets. It’s bad for their teeth, and these families often don’t have toothpaste and toothbrushes to their disposal. Instead, give them pens and paper to draw on.
2. The roads will be bad
Even if you’re travelling to a three or four-star lodge, chances are almost certain that you’ll encounter at least one narrow, winding road littered with potholes. The further north you travel, the worse they get, as the roads don’t get serviced nearly as often as they should. Gravel roads almost feel easier to drive because tire-sized potholes in the tar don’t surprise you.
3. A lot of the activities are community based
Many of the lodges, and especially backpackers, are partly owned by the community. In most cases, the activities, like hiking, kayaking, and surfing are organized by members of the community. Be sure to enquire whether you can pay them directly and tip them if you can, as this is a great way for them to benefit from the tourism in their home communities.
4. You might have to buy alcohol at a shebeen
A shebeen is small shop, sometimes simply a house, from where alcohol is sold illegally. If you’re backpacking through the Wild Coast, the chances are good that you’ll come across one of them. Don’t be put off by the shabby looks of it. Some of the backpackers don’t have liquor licenses, and this is the only place where you can purchase alcohol in town. It’s usually much cheaper than your average bottle store anyway.
5. You’ll meet the most interesting people
Staying in the smaller, community-based huts, lodges and backpackers will bring you in contact with the most fascinating people – families visiting from Europe will meet families from South Africa, and all the children will play along, perhaps even joined by the kids from the local community. The atmosphere at these accommodations is relaxed, and people are open to meeting others and learning about their way of life. Don’t be shy to join in a drumming circle or have a beer at the bonfire with everyone else.
6. The closest town will be far away
Nothing is close-by on the Wild Coast. The stretches between towns are not only far, but the roads are bad as well. If you can avoid driving to towns and civilized areas for the duration of your stay, you should. It will add to your experience of the Wild Coast and its remote nature. That being said, it’s important that you bring any medication that you may need during your trip with you.
7. You’ll encounter many cows
The cows that graze the hills often enjoy resting on the beach, partly because it’s flat, partly because it’s dry. Don’t get scared when you encounter a massive Nguni cow while you’re strolling down the beach, they can’t do anything to harm you.
8. You’ll need to take cash
Many of the larger lodges have card facilities, but be sure to have cash with you as ATMs are rare. It’s nice to be able to tip the locals, waiters, and guides, or to buy those beers at the shebeen without having to worry. The shops you may find along the way won’t be able to accept you card and in the more rural areas, reception is too bad for card machines.
9. There’s a lot of walking to be done
Chances are good that you want to spend all your time relaxing at the lodge, or backpackers, or on the closest beach, but do try and explore a little further. It’s not often you get to hike along a completely deserted coastline with only a few huts and perhaps a cow herder or two along the way. The Wild Coast is a place only fully enjoyed on foot, out in the open, with nothing but the sounds of the ocean to break the peaceful silence.