The Wild Coast region is aptly named: this is one of South Africa’s most unspoilt areas, a vast stretch of undulating hills, lush forest and spectacular beaches skirting a section of the Indian Ocean. Its undeveloped sandy beaches stretch for hundreds of kilometres, punctuated by rivers and several wonderful, reasonably priced hotels geared to family seaside holidays. The wildness goes beyond the landscape, for this is the former Transkei homeland, a desperately poor region that was disenfranchised during apartheid and turned into a dumping ground for Africans too old or too young for South African industry to make use of.
The Wild Coast region’s inhabitants are predominantly Xhosa, and those in rural areas live mostly in traditional rondavels dotting the landscape for as far as the eye can see. The N2 highway runs through the middle of the region, passing through the old Transkei capital of Mthatha and a host of scruffy, busy little towns along the way. To the south of the highway, the coastal region stretches from just north of East London to the mouth of the Mtamvuna River. With its succession of great beaches, hidden reefs, patches of subtropical forest, rural Xhosa settlements and the attractive little towns of Coffee Bay and Port St Johns (both popular with backpackers), this region offers the most deserted and undeveloped beaches in the country.
The Wild Coast, unlike the Western Cape Garden Route, is not a stretch that you can easily tour by car. There’s no coastal road, and no direct route between one seaside resort and the next. Yet in this remoteness lies the region’s charm. Resorts are isolated down long, winding gravel roads off the N2, which sticks to the high inland plateau. Choose one or two places to stay, and stay put for a relaxing few days. Most places along this stretch of coast are known simply by the name of the hotel that nominates the settlement, though you will also see the Xhosa name of the river mouth, on which each hotel is situated, on many maps.