The wild Wild Coast and not so wild Garden Route
Feb 12, 2006
|All was going so well on our train ride to Durban, perhaps a bit too well. After an overnight journey, we were supposed to arrive fresh in Durban at 7am. BUT after an uneventful evening and a good night's sleep, things started to go wrong. After stopping in Petermaritzburg, only 100km from Durban, our hopes of arriving on time were dashed. We found out that the worst electrical storm in 20 years had damaged the power lines - not good news for an electric train. Twelve hours later we finally limped into Durban. At least we got to see some scenery in daylight.
Durban is a bustling metropolis with a truly international flavour. It reputedly has the largest Indian population outside of India, and it was to the Indian quarter that we headed on our first day. It was great to be amongst markets and noise again - ahhh the chaos! We headed to this district in search of the most famous of Indian-Durban dishes - the Bunny Chow. The Bunny Chow is a spicy curry (typical of Durban) served in hollowed out half loaf of bread. We bought ours from a busy little place at the market and picked up a couple of forks at the counter only to have them taken off us by an old Indian dude who told us that it would taste much better eaten with your hands. He was a wise man. It was fabulous.
We really enjoyed our stay in Durban, due in no small part to our friends Tony and Cristy. We met Tony and Cristy for about 5 minutes in Tanzania, and they left us with an invitation to stay with them when we came to Durban. Probably unfortunately for them, we took them up on it - thanks to you both, we had a marvellous time!
Unfortunately it is pretty difficult to travel cheaply and independently around South Africa, so we did what almost every other backpacker does, and jumped onto the Baz Bus. This service allows you to get on and off as many times as you like between two points so long as your travel is in the same direction. Very handy, but not terribly adventurous. Our first spot of interest out of Durban was the Wild Coast - an area known in the past as the Transkei and still relatively unexplored and undeveloped. This region has a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the country but this added to its charms for us. The Wild Coast has some of the most stunning landscapes we have seen anywhere. Overlooking a seemingly endless ocean, this is "big" country: impossibly green with narrow, steep river valleys carving their way through the hills. Perched high on these hilltops are small traditional Xhosa villages clustered together in pastel huts of pink, yellow, blue and green. Beautiful.
We spent most of our time on the Wild Coast at one of the most beautiful places we've had the fortune to find. Mpande is a tiny Xhosa village right on the coast. There is no electricity or running water and you only share the beach with a few cows. The Kraal backpackers, where we ended up staying 4 days, is also one of the best backpackers we have found, with wonderful people, a few chooks, a couple of dogs and horses plus a big boa constrictor that lives under the pizza oven. Cooking is mainly done on gas and the rooms are lit in the evenings by a combination of candles and hurricane lamps. While the Kraal has a couple of solar panels, these are strictly for the sound system.
We had a fantastic few days lazing around, swimming or hiking around the village. We also visited the local preschool that was funded by the Kraal. Andrew spent some time fixing the swings. This was immediately appreciated by the cutest little kids ever.
The Kraal was an incredibly relaxing place and tough to leave. Our stay was perhaps more enjoyable because of the people we met: Rhyn, the manager, and some lovely fellow travellers, Rich and Juicy Lucy, James and Ida. You guys were all great value.
From Mpande we continued along the Wild Coast to the small town of Cintsa. We knew that all accommodation from now on would find it tough to live up to the Kraal, but Buccaneers Backpackers at Cintsa did a pretty good job. Buccaneers had a really positive impact on our experience - they even serve meals in their own home, complete with candles with rose petals, for up to 50 skungy guests! Son decided to have a surfing lesson despite the water being considerably cooler. She did pretty well - standing up a few times and managing to avoid any massive wipe-outs, although some impressive bruises appeared a few days later.
From here we decided to head inland for a couple of days and couldn't resist the village of Hogsback. Who could, with backpacker accommodation called "Away with the Fairies" and "Dodgy Dave's Rondavels"? It is another beautiful area with lots of walking amongst the mountains and waterfalls. Son spent a day wandering around the waterfalls while Doiv impressed even the locals with his fire building abilities although a little paraffin was recruited to deal with the waterlogged timber...
Our stop along the Sunshine Coast was at not-so-wild-as-touristy Jeffrey's Bay. If you're not into surfing or shopping for surf gear, there isn't a lot here. The highlight of our time here had to be watching the local guys surfing near perfect 2 metre waves at Supertubes (home of the Billabong Pro). Even Son's newly found surfing abilities were probably not yet up to the job - certainly not for the faint hearted.
Out first stop along the Garden Route was the lovely Plettenberg Bay. Driven by random cosmic forces we found Juicy Lucy and Rich at a local jazz café. We had a fantastic time with these two over the following few days: kayaking and cooking up a storm on the braai. We enjoyed one or two drinks as well.
Our final stop was the wonderful little town of Wilderness. Set on a huge ferocious beach, Wilderness is a popular spot for paragliding and lots of water sports. The highlight for us however, was watching a huge pod of around 100 dolphins playing in the waves off the front of our backpackers - a truly cool sight!
Off to Cape Town for our last couple of weeks in South Africa.