Hiking South Africa's Wild Coast through the spectacular Mkambati Nature Reserve

Some beaches are best enjoyed with umbrellas, lounge chairs and cocktails. But to experience beaches such as Mkambati...

Posted: Jul 24, 2018 12:38 PM
Updated: Jul 24, 2018 12:38 PM

Some beaches are best enjoyed with umbrellas, lounge chairs and cocktails. But to experience beaches such as Mkambati, hiking shoes and canoes work better.

That's because there's no roads leading to the beach. Hidden inside a nature reserve along South Africa's Wild Coast, the only way to travel there is by hiking along the Mkambati River or paddling up the coast.

That inaccessibility is why even many South Africans don't know this beach on a sheltered bay, although it's one of the world's great rarities.

Where the river meets the sea, it tumbles over black cliffs in one of the few waterfalls to pour directly into the ocean. At least, when the tide is high the water pours directly into the ocean. At low tide, the water falls onto the beach where turtles nest and otters splash.

Natural wonders

"There's a hole in the waterfall itself that we call the jacuzzi," says Russel Hartshorne, who co-owns the nearby Mtentu Lodge. "It's not warm, but the water bubbles up around you."

Because the land is owned by the communities who live there, Mtentu operates in agreement with the surrounding villages, which receive a portion of the proceeds.

During the austral winter, usually in late June or early July, the Sardine Run passes the coast -- an epic aquatic migration of, yes, sardines, but also the whales, sharks, dolphins and birds that feed on them.

The Sardine Run is unpredictable -- more so in recent years as the ocean has warmed and currents have shifted. During the best years, the bay bubbles with sea life that skirts the beach, while the river runs turquoise blue.

In the summer, from November to February, giant kingfish circle in their hundreds, for reasons still unknown, before swimming back to sea. Then the waterfalls are smaller, but the water is better is swimming, says Hartshorne.

Incredible walks

The river actually forms a series of waterfalls as it heads to sea. Just 50 meters above the Mkambati Falls, the Strandlooper Falls make a nine-meter drop that hides a cave where baboons make their homes.

The most intrepid hikers climb to the top and jump into the river, flying past the baboon hideout.

About 2.5 miles farther up, the Horseshoe Falls crash in an even more dramatic drop, while deeper in the reserve, the Swallow Tail Falls are only for the hardiest.

Even the canoes can't make it there. After another two mile paddle, the canoes get parked for a last half-mile trek that takes an hour to scramble over boulders, swim across ponds, and climb to the 100-meter falls hidden in a breathtaking gorge.

"In a day you've done between a six and 10-kilometer walk, and you've seen three really beautiful waterfalls," Hartshorne says.

Along the way, the wildlife on land is less dramatic than in the sea, at least by South African standards. Eland, zebras and gnus appear among the gray rocks and green grass, while the baboons periodically let themselves be known. Cattle roam freely inside the reserve, including along the beaches.

Travel plans

The Mkambati Nature Reserve hugs the Indian Ocean.

The nearest major airport is in Durban, anywhere from two to four hours away, depending on the location of the lodge in the reserve.

To get to places like Mtentu Lodge, it can be faster to stop in Port Edward, and then hike, cycle or ride horseback along the beach into the park. The roads do get there, eventually, along a very round-about route -- made faster in a 4x4 that can make the journey off-road through the reserve.

This is one of those parts of the world where Google Maps doesn't excel, so it's best to carry a map and follow directions to the letter.

Much of this land in the Eastern Cape was set aside as a "homeland" under the apartheid regime, part of the racist program of separate development, which meant the homelands weren't developed at all.

Mkambati sits inside a region called Pondoland, part of the former Transkei. Now it's fully incorporated into South Africa but the land along the coast has been declared a protected zone.

Bongani Mlotywa grew up in the region, and now organizes hiking trips of up to five days through Pondoland that include homestays in villages where water is still drawn from wells and toilets are euphemistically called "long drops". His company, Absolute Wild Coast leads tours by foot or on horseback, with porters available if needed.

Lodges like Mtentu are also totally off the grid, finding ecologically minded solutions like solar showers for their wooden cabins and stilted safari tents.

West Lafayette
Clear
91° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 94°
Kokomo
Scattered Clouds
88° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 96°
Rensselaer
Clear
84° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 87°
Fowler
Clear
84° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 87°
Williamsport
Clear
86° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 90°
Crawfordsville
Clear
86° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 89°
Frankfort
Overcast
86° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 88°
Delphi
Clear
88° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 88°
Monticello
Clear
88° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 88°
Logansport
Clear
90° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 91°
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 46915

Reported Deaths: 2681
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11499683
Lake5053242
Elkhart316443
Allen2717128
St. Joseph186366
Cass16369
Hamilton1518100
Hendricks1386100
Johnson1254118
Porter71237
Tippecanoe6778
Madison64864
Clark63844
Bartholomew58244
Howard56057
LaPorte55326
Kosciusko5124
Vanderburgh4806
Jackson4653
LaGrange4657
Noble45728
Hancock43735
Boone43443
Delaware42949
Marshall4273
Shelby42025
Floyd37144
Morgan32531
Montgomery29320
Grant29026
Clinton2852
Monroe26628
Dubois2646
White26010
Decatur24832
Henry24315
Lawrence23624
Vigo2288
Dearborn22723
Harrison21022
Warrick21029
Greene18432
Miami1812
Jennings17111
Putnam1688
Scott1607
DeKalb1594
Daviess14116
Orange13523
Wayne1346
Perry1279
Steuben1262
Franklin1248
Jasper1142
Ripley1147
Carroll1102
Wabash1102
Fayette987
Newton9710
Whitley884
Starke853
Randolph784
Huntington712
Wells711
Jefferson701
Fulton681
Jay680
Washington661
Knox630
Pulaski621
Clay604
Gibson592
Rush563
Adams481
Benton480
Owen471
Sullivan441
Brown381
Blackford372
Posey360
Spencer351
Fountain302
Tipton301
Crawford290
Switzerland260
Martin220
Parke220
Ohio140
Warren141
Union130
Vermillion130
Pike90
Unassigned0193

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events