The rugged and unspoilt Wild Coast is a place of spectacular scenery. If you want a holiday miles away from the hustle and bustle of city life, the Transkei is definitely the place to go, and the small community of Coffee Bay is in particular a charming destination. There’s not much more here than some huts, a trading store, a couple of camping sites and a hotel, but the coast is absolutely stunning and the beach untouched between the green rolling hills and the sea.
I visited Coffee Bay a couple of years ago and am dying to return again soon. Back then, driving down the potholed road towards the sea, I was desperately trying to avoid hitting one of “Transkei’s Big Five” as goats, pigs, cows, horses and sheep crossed the road relentlessly. A rather nerve wrecking drive, but definitely worth it once you reach Coffee Bay and feel your body unwind rapidly.
In 1893 a ship carrying a cargo of coffee beans wrecked in the bay. Many beans washed ashore and germinated, resulting in coffee trees growing for a few years. The trees have long since died, and although Coffee Bay hasn’t grown into a big town tourism has become the lifeblood of the village.
Due to the inaccessible terrain and because of the Transkei having been ruled by the Xhosa nation since their arrival from further north in the late 1700s, the land has never been divided up into privately owned lands. As a result the Transkei, in all of South Africa, is where you are part of real Africa with functional tribal law and structure in place.
For the best Wild Coast experience I would without doubt recommend staying at the Coffee Shack, idyllically set under the trees at the mouth of Bomvu River. Owner of this rustic backpackers, renowned surfer dude David Malherbe, has always had an affinity with the Wild Coast and growing up he used to visit regularly for surfing and fishing trips. “I actually believe that Coffee Shack is a large part of the Coffee Bay experience, as arrogant as it may sound. It gives people the opportunity to feel comfortable and let their hair down, having loads of fun meeting a multitude of incredibly interesting people from the area and around the world,” he says.
With unemployment in the area being over 60% Coffee Shack is trying to involve the community as much as they can. There are several interesting and challenging activities to take part in, and all the guides on their tours are local kids who speak English. There is an overland route through the hills to Hole in the Wall, a famous Wild Coast landmark. You can swim across the Mpako River to the Hole and the bravest can do daunting cliff jumps. There is also a coastal hike to Hole in the Wall where you visit Shelly Beach, which boasts over 200 species of shells. Other exciting expeditions are the Umtata River canoeing trip through mangrove swamps, the Mpuzi cave walk, forest walks and visits to local families for tribal dancing, singing and dinner. The Coffee Shack also offers surfing lessons.
In years of living abroad and travelling around the world, David has always felt that the Wild Coast is the most unique and special bit of coastline he has ever come across. “There are many beautiful, untouched areas in the world, but there are few that are inhabited by cultures which are effectively more than 500 years old and still following their traditions,” he says. “I’m in Coffee Bay making my living, and it is an incredible place and environment to do so. I really love to see guests leave happy – or sometimes never leave.”
Every night as the sun disappears behind the cliffs in Coffee Bay, Coffee Shack Backpackers comes alive. There are always plenty of cold beers in the fridge and as reggae music mingles with laughter, the smell of yet another delicious, homemade supper (such as butternut soup and fresh bread) wafts through the camp… Can life get any better than this?