Closest Town: Coffee Bay
Grading: Difficult to extreme | Duration: 4–8 hours
Location (Area/Province): Eastern Cape and Wild Coast
Configuration: 33km one-way
Start Point: Hluleka Main Camp
Access: Gate fees at the nature reserves (and the ferry, of course)
Beware of: River crossings, sharks, ticks, wait-a-bit thorn branches, cows, skebengas, downhill ruts … you’ll survive, and you’ll love it
Facilities: Many resorts, camp sites, backpackers, hotels, etc.
Cell Reception: Intermittent
The remote and rugged Wild Coast region, languishing between the Kei and Umngazi Rivers, must rate as one of South Africa’s most undiscovered cycling destinations and, if you rate yourself as a staunch biking brave, a pedal into the heart of Pondoland will deliver the riding experience of a lifetime.
Do not expect marked routes when you head onto the Wild Coast, as here in the Xhosa heartland you will be expected to find your own way. A GPS or compass and a set of good maps are a must if you’re keen on a multi-day MTB adventure, but every obstacle – from estuary crossings and mangrove marshes to rutted singletrack and misty beaches – will make this a ride to remember.
On your bike
Beach cruising, especially along the southern section of the coast above Kei Mouth, add a sublime dimension to an off-road riding adventure that is out of this world. Hluleka, Dwesa, Silaka and a selection of small nature reserves gracing the coastline offer a combination of technical riding and bike-based game viewing, while the grassland slopes are crisscrossed with cattle footpaths and hiking trails. Access, with the exception of the nature reserves, is free, but care should be taken in the area as muggings, theft and intimidation have been reported. This is the exception to the rule though and I found the local amaXhosa people to be incredibly friendly.
A very doable section of the coast is the ride from Hluleka Nature Reserve to Coffee Bay. Crank off from the reserve’s main gate, and then slip left towards the coast along a rutted jeep track to a pebble beach (2.7km). A steep double-humped climb beckons to the top of a grassy knoll and, once you crest this, a jeep track turns into a series of deep ruts dipping down inland. Head back towards the ocean and then keep right along some singletrack to a stand of mangroves (5.5km).
Continue along this trail to the hiking footpath dipping down towards the Mtakatye River (6km). Cross with the ferry as some Zambezi sharks may just be patrolling the mouth, then climb steeply to Mtakatye Village (8.5km). You’re now on a speedy section of hard-pack back towards the sea, following the road to your right, away from Presley Bay (12km) and then onto a stunning beach.
Push up an extreme hill (13.5km) before cruising the contours, riding through a village and to the beach below Tshani, then banging onto a rocky trail leading to Mdumbi Backpackers (21km). Bomb the beach at Whale Rock and cruise to Mthatha River (24.7km), then take a breather on the ferry.
After a steep climb, hammer left along the singletrack hiking trail, dropping down steeply to reach the river (27.5km) at Maputzi Point. Cross along the rocks and then trudge for about 1km until you summit and gaze out to the end of the earth (28.5km). The next kilometre of riding is literally and figuratively on the edge, culminating in a giddy view (29.5km) across the Coffee Bay beach. Head inland, following the contoured cattle footpaths in an anticlockwise direction and keeping an eye out for a thoroughfare leading to a track passing just below the garbage dump (31km) and into town.
If you want to ride the Wild Coast as part of an organised group, get in touch with 180 Degree Adventures (check out www.180.co.za) who operate the Wild Coast as a multi-day MTB ride. The Imana Wild Ride, scheduled annually for July or August, also allows a limited number of cyclists to cruise the coastline from The Kei to Umngazi River mouth as part of a sanctioned event. Solo rides are a dime a dozen along nearly 300km of coastline, but a good free-ride bike, topo map, compass (or preferably a GPS), ample food and water, as well as a bountiful sense of adventure, are prerequisites. [/div2]
Off the bike
A number of magnificent coastal hikes and horse trails exist, or try some mechanical fun – there are stacks of 4X4 and quad bike operators. Visit Qunu, the birthplace of Nelson Mandela, a pilgrimage more and more
people are making.
Tel: +27 43 705 4400
GPS: 31°49’29.7” South / 29°18’07.2” East