Who said that a 4×4 safari in Southern Africa needs to start at Maartinsdrift, Komatiport or Beitbridge? “Africa begins at Cape Augulas”: says Andre van Vuuren from Andre van Vuuren Safaris and that is one of the reasons why they decided to expand their range of safaris to interesting destinations in South Africa.
The guest list for the first safari in South Africa was put together on invitation and the seven vehicle strong convoy met each other at Stoney Brook, 12,5 km from Kokstad, the capital of East Griqualand. This guesthouse on a farm is on top of the list of places where to stay in this farming area and the ideal place to stay before or after driving through the Transkei. Everybody is old travel companions and good friends for many, many years and on the first night it was clear that this safari to Pondoland was meant to be an exceptional memorable experience.
After a hearty full English breakfast the interesting convoy with a Mercedes Benz ML350 driving in the number two position to hardcore Four liter V6 Landcruisers covering the back, left for Pondoland. Pondoland, the most northerly section of the Wild Coast that stretches between the Mtata and the Mtamvuna rivers, is a land of wild cattle and wilder beauty, of waterfalls plunging directly into the Indian Ocean, of colonies of vultures nesting above undisturbed forest gorges, and a beautiful but rugged coastline which boasts some of the most spectacular scenery in Southern Africa.
The route to Msikaba took us through the towns of Flagstaff and Lusikisiki, It was a Sunday morning, end of the month and all the shops were open. The streets were congested with people, vehicles, bicycles and taxis and reminded me very much to a drive through Arusha or Dar Es Salaam on a Saturday morning. The tar road ends just outside of Lusikisiki and the gravel road to Msikaba was dry and in a reasonable good condition.
We arrived at Msikaba at about mid-day and settled in in our tented camp right on the beach on the corner between the estuary and the sea…what a setting! Each couple was accommodated in a en-suite safari tent under thatch on a wooden deck and we were spoiled with a private fully equipped kitchen, dining room and lounge overlooking the white sandy beach of Msikaba. Each couple had a turn to prepare dinner and breakfast and we were spoiled to death.
The next morning we left camp for a visit to the wrecking site of the Grosvenor and Waterfall Bluff. The wreck of the Grosvenor, an East Indiaman, occurred on 4 August 1782 on the Pondoland coast north of the mouth of the Umzimvubu River. The shipwreck was close to the place where the Portuguese ship, São João, had gone down more than two centuries earlier on 8 June 1552. The Grosvenor was a three-masted ship of 729 tons on her return voyage to England when she was wrecked, carrying a crew of 132 and 18 passengers, and a cargo valued at £75,000. Of the 123 survivors, only 18 reached Cape Town and were repatriated, the remainder dying of their privations or being killed by, or joining with, Bantu tribes.
After a picnic lunch, the road took us further to the scenic mouth of the Luphuthana River. One of our guides, Mariana van Vuuren, is fluent in Xhosa and after negotiating the deal, we left the vehicles in the safe keeping of some of the local boys. The best way to get to the Waterfall is via the Waterfall Bluff Trail, which begins at Luphuthana and is a 4 km hike each way. The dramatic and pristine coastal topography along the way makes this trip a photographers dream come true. After about an hour’s walk we reached the spectacular, 93 metre high Waterfall Bluff, which is one of only a few waterfalls on earth that plunge directly into the ocean.
The next day was more a day at leisure. The more adventurous in the group went on a canoe trail up the Msikaba Gorge bordering the Mkambati Nature Reserve and the rest of the group enjoyed the tranquillity of the Camp.
We all went on a late afternoon drive to the Cape Vulture colony high up in the cliffs overlooking the Msikaba River. This is one of the largest Cape Vulture colonies in the Eastern Cape with over 170 pairs breeding and it definitely ranks as one of the most spectacular with the deep gorge, Msikaba River below and views towards the ocean. There is a new wooden deck offering the perfect birding platform. We also encountered a group of three Ground-Hornbill foraging in the grasslands.
After a very relaxing evening around the campfire we had to say goodbye to Msikaba and prepare for the next part of our Pondoland adventure.
On our way to Mboyti River Lodge, we drove through a section of the magnificent Magwa Tea Plantation. This is known to be one of the world’s largest tea plantations. The evergreen tea bushes, hugging the rolling hills and surrounded by borders of massive Eucalyptus trees are a sight to behold. After some refreshments, the convoy drove through the most beautiful Transkei country side with lush green hills and colourful Pondo villages to Port St. Johns.
On arrival in Port St. Johns we drove straight to our campsite for the night at Cremorne. Cremorne Estate Holiday Resort lies at the foot of Mount Sullivan Forest Reserve, on the bank of the Mzimvubu River which flows down for another 3 and half kilometres, bursting into the Indian Ocean. Port St Johns is quite a run-down little town and one’s first inclination is to quickly marvel at the setting (which is spectacular), but then move on to greener pastures. But don’t succumb to this temptation before you have explored the bit of town, or more correctly, the dirt road that runs to the scenic Poenskop with the most amazing views of this wild and rugged coastline and Mount Thesiger Forest Reserve which has a Landing Strip on the flat top with magnificent views of the ocean and surrounding hills and valleys. The guys immediately saw an opportunity for some fun and Ron Fourie quickly organized a drag race on the airstrip which was of course won by Charlie Buckle in his ML…..and that with an heavy off road trailer. After exploring the area and having some good morning fun, we left for Coffee Bay.
We decided to drive back to Mthatha on the N2 and to take the tarred road to Coffee Bay. In Mthatha everybody had a welcome stop at one of the bigger malls with 50 ppm diesel, Super Spar, a pharmacy and a liquor store.
On arrival in Coffee Bay we drove directly to our campsite. It is a neat, big shaded camping site in an indigenous forest right on the beach front. After everybody were settled in we left again to explore the town and to pay a visit to the famous Whole in the Wall which is only 8 kilos down the road. The village of Coffee Bay is real beachcomber country with rustic lodges and bars, gorgeous swimming beaches and breath-taking hikes. Coffee Bay was named after a ship that lost its cargo of coffee beans in a wreck off the Wild Coast and the beans were supposedly washed up on the beach to germinate there. These trees, if there were any to start with, are no longer visible but the name stuck.
Coffee Bay and the Hole in the Wall are virtually synonymous – mention the one and you picture the other – and one cannot describe the full extent of the beauty of this area of the Wild Coast without including this incredible natural phenomenon.
The hole is quite literally a geographical marvel. It is an offshore stack of rock through which the elements have eroded a hole. The hole is directly in the path of the Mpako River and it is this, rather than wind or the surf that has eroded the hole.
Back at our camp we were treated on a big beach braai by Ossie Meyer and Anton Smith and also celebrated Jaco and Talita van Wyk’s wedding anniversary. All good things come to an end, but everybody agreed that we had a bliss of a time and that Pondoland is an absolute worthwhile 4X4 Safari.
This safari will be a regular event in the future and the next Leisure Wheels 4X4 Safari to Pondoland will be from 23 – 30 October 2015. For more information contact Avril Malan on [email protected] or Corne on [email protected]