The wild coast – a beautiful stretch of deserted beaches and friendly people – isn't that wild after all.
The rain had kept a constant chatter on the corrugated iron roof. We were thankful for the rain because it had filled up the tanks from their somewhat dry levels. Still, it had woken me up early, with the constant ratatat of hard rain falling. The rest of the house was still sleeping.
I walked to the end of the musty bedroom, pulled the curtain aside to peer out at the drenched landscape and my heart quickened. A man was standing mere metres away, under the low branches of a tree. He was dressed in a yellow raincoat and was staring at the house intently. I watched him for a minute. He was unaware that I had seen him. Suddenly I saw another person in a tree a little bit further away. Then another. I looked again, and still, they stood there in dawn's wet early light. I stood on the soaking wooden balcony in my bare feet and asked the nearest guy., "What? What do you want?"
He slowly walked forward towards me and pulled a bag from under his raincoat and pulled out the most massive, plumpest crayfish I had ever seen. He placed it flapping on the wooden balcony by my feet. Then he took another, slowly pulled it out of the bag, and set it next to the first. The other guys all walked out from under the trees with their sacks and placed them in separate little piles in front of me. I burst out laughing, at the appreciation of this precious moment. Big toothy grins opened up in front of me, and we all had a communal chuckle. Welcome to the Transkei.
We had heard about a legendary wave around the next headland and our mission after breakfast was to go and find it. We set off for the nearest hill. We climbed straight up for a little while until we were all breathless before we summitted the hillock. A beach vista stretched before us. A few rondavels in the foreground covered the corner of the picture. The rest was taken up by a vast bay of white sand, and clean blue waves. In the distance, we could see a headland, with our secret destination just beyond it. We started down the hillock, walking alongside a sloshy little riverbed. It opened up onto the wide, white beach, littered with seaweed, but untainted by human influence. Not even a footprint anywhere.
The tide was low, so we slogged away on the relatively hard sand for about five kilometres, until we reached the base of the headland. We walked past gin-clear rock pools and wind-blasted caves, climbed over some rocks, and came around the corner. In the distance, as far as the eye could see, was a rocky coastline with waves smashing against it, and no sign of an indentation. This stretch of the coast wasn't a surfing stretch, that was obvious. Someone had sold us a dummy. Good waves don't come easy these days. We turned around and started back, remembering seeing some fun waves on the main beach.
When we got back, some local girls had gathered around our house, and instead of more crayfish, they had placed their wares on the wooden deck. Handmade jewellery fought for shelf space alongside an array of beautiful, finely-polished shells. Six or seven girls all jostled alongside each other, giggling and smiling, as they showed us what they had. Old clothes sat loosely on them in the warm afternoon sun, and although they were all smiles, you could see that they were desperate for sales. Some of us bought a few shells, some of us bought little pieces of jewellery for loved ones. The girls left smiling.
The sun was setting as we sat comfortably around a fire. We soon had the fire at optimum cooking temperature. A massive fish took dominance on the braai grid, surrounded by the crayfish tails. Nothing beats seafood done on the fire, with a dash of hot sauces, and some grainy spices. No dainty hors d'oeuvres here-no crepes or canapés or sausages on a stick. We were in the heart of the Kei, and it looked like it might rain again.
Ricky Basnett, Emma Smith and Avuyile "Avo" Ndamase set off in their Mitsubishi Triton bakkies to find waves off the beaten track in the Transkei region (now the Eastern Cape) of South Africa. Along their journey down the wild coast, they visit renowned surf spots like Mdumbi, Lwandile and Coffee bay, but spend a fair amount of time exploring unknown nooks along the rugged coastline, many of which require a 4x4 to reach. A visit to the Transkei wouldn't be complete without a visit to the iconic Hole in the wall, and the trio of professional surfers find something special.
"The Transkei is an unspoilt, rural area of the Eastern Cape of South Africa, North of J-Bay, South of Durban. A temperate zone between the sub-Tropics of KwaZulu-Natal and the more Mediterranean climes further to the South. Here there are few roads and even fewer bridges connecting the rolling hills, meaning that there is no easy access to many of the beaches. The mythical waves of Lwandile, a fast, right handed point break that unfurls and races across its reef like an African freight train, in a similar fashion to that most famous of African point breaks, Jeffreys Bay, a few hundred kilometres back down the road. Lucky for you, Lwandile is often empty. and for good reason. First it’s hard to reach. Although just across the river mouth and in the next bay from a small tourist area, the drive will take 3 to 4 hours on the cattle tracks, winding over the hills, through the valleys and across the rivers, to spill you out on the hill overlooking this gem. A short boat trip is the easiest way to access the wave, but good luck finding a boat in this part of the world if you don’t bring your own on the tow-hitch of your Landcruiser. The other thing that keeps the crowds down in Lwandile, beyond the inaccessibility, is the every present thought of sharks. Big ones. The Transkei is far enough South to make a chance encounter with a Great White possible, and far enough North to mean that you could also bump into a short tempered Zambezi, Bull or Tiger shark." mamiwatasurf.com
A former South African surfing champion named Justin Saunders has gone off the grid and set up a surf camp, sandwiched between a series of perfect points on tribal land. Swell Eco Lodge offers accommodation set within the rolling hills of Mngcibe (North side of the Mdumbi River). +27 84 943 3947
Salty Waves at Coram Deo in Coffee Bay
Wild Lubanzi is located in a little Xhosa village close to the surf.