Everything you need to know about visiting South Africa’s Wild Coast

by | Mar 17, 2024 | Africa, South Africa | 0 comments

2-week Namibia itinerary
2-week Namibia itinerary

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If you have ever considered travelling to South Africa, you have probably heard of popular destinations like Cape Town, the Garden Route, or Kruger National Park. But have you ever heard about the Wild Coast?

Nestled along the eastern shores of South Africa, this untamed region is a paradise for nature lovers, adventure seekers, and those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of life. And this hidden gem is one of the best places to visit in South Africa.

The Wild Coast is exactly what the name suggests: wild, rugged, and pristine. The landscapes are a perfect blend of green rolling hills dotted by small, colourful houses, lush forests, winding rivers, and breathtaking coastal scenery of cliffs and empty beaches.

The luxuries you’ll find on the Wild Coast don’t include fancy hotels and gourmet restaurants, but rather a fresh ocean breeze, peaceful solitude, the lack of (good) phone reception, and freshly caught seafood.

For those seeking a truly off-the-beaten-path experience, the Wild Coast delivers in spades.

This post is a complete guide to visiting the Wild Coast in South Africa. It contains everything you need to know, from how best to get there and where to stay, to the most amazing things to do along the coast and everything in between.

How to get to the Wild Coast

Since the Wild Coast covers quite a big area of South Africa’s Coast, the best way to get there depends on where you’re coming from.

Travelling to the wild Coast by plane

Depending on where you’ll be staying along the Wild Coast, the closest airport to fly into will either be Margate, Mthatha or East London. There are flights daily from Johannesburg to all three airports and from Cape Town to East London. I like to use FlightConnections to check out available flight routes.

You’ll need a car to travel the Wild Coast, and you can pick one up at either of these three airports. You don’t necessarily need a 4×4, but you’ll need a car with high clearance to navigate the untarred roads.

Travelling to the wild Coast by car

In my opinion, flying is the most comfortable option. But if you need to bring a lot of stuff or are visiting the Wild Coast as part of a whole South Africa road trip, you can definitely drive there from places like Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) or Durban.

When my in-laws visit the Wild Coast, they even drive all the way from Johannesburg, on what can be a 10-plus hour drive.

2-week Namibia itinerary
2-week Namibia itinerary

How to get around on the Wild Coast

Once you’re on the Wild Coast, don’t expect smooth highways and paved roads. Except for the N2 and the roads leading to Coffee Bay and Port St Johns, most of the roads in the region are dirt and gravel.

But this is all part of the charm. The bumpy and slow journey adds to the adventure and makes for an even more memorable trip!

You might get thrown around in your car a bit and you will definitely find yourself dodging potholes and animals. But you’ll also catch glimpses of this incredible region, the colourful rondavels with small vegetable gardens, laundry flapping in the wind, children playing on the roads, and livestock roaming about.

Phone reception on the Wild Coast is patchy, and not all turn-offs are signposted. Make sure to download the offline maps on Google Maps or Maps.me before you head off on your adventure.

2-week Namibia itinerary
2-week Namibia itinerary

The best things to do on the Wild Coast

Less is definitely more when it comes to visiting the Wild Coast. Instead of planning a full-on itinerary and trying to tick off as many places as possible, take it day by day. Due to the lack of a road running directly along the coast, travelling between places takes longer than it might seem.

Instead of spending hours in your car, the best thing to do on the Wild Coast is pick a nice place to stay (or two) and enjoy this area to the fullest. I promise you won’t run out of things to do!

Enjoy the beaches

South Africa has incredible beaches galore, but the ones on the Wild Coast are definitely amongst the most stunning.

Some of the rolling hills gently slope into the Indian Ocean. Others give way to steep cliffs that plunge dramatically into the sea. And in some areas, they simply fade into pristine and untouched beaches. It’s difficult to find the words that do it justice, but this coastline is guaranteed to make your jaw drop.

You’re often more likely to share the beach with a herd of cows than people. Even in holiday resorts like Hole in the Wall, the beach is rarely crowded. And otherwise, the next stunning beach is just around the corner.

Go for a swim

The water temperatures on South Africa’s Wild Coast are perfect for swimming, thanks to the warm Agulhas current flowing along the eastern coast. However, it’s important to be aware of strong currents, rough waves, and potentially, sharks.

The Wild Coast is also crisscrossed by a series of rivers that flow into the ocean. The river mouths surrounded by white sand make for incredible photo ops and are awesome swimming spots. The water is generally calmer in the estuaries and river mouths than in the ocean, and it’s so much fun to let yourself float in the current.

2-week Namibia itinerary
2-week Namibia itinerary

Watch the cows on the beach

Growing up in Switzerland, I’m used to seeing cows grazing on alpine pastures, but I’ve never seen a cow lounging on a beach before. The cows roam and graze freely on the hills, and you can often spot whole herds of them ruminating or relaxing on the beach.

This is honestly one of the coolest things about the Wild Coast!
2-week Namibia itinerary
2-week Namibia itinerary

Go for a hike

The near endless beaches and rolling hills on the Wild Coast are perfect for relaxed strolls and awesome hikes. You can walk for hours without meeting anyone but a few cows, find an empty beach for a swim, or climb one of the many hills for the most incredible views.

Daily morning walks on the beach are the perfect way to start your days on the Wild Coast. But at least once during your stay I’d recommend letting out your inner Dora the Explorer, and adventuring a little further.

After two hours of venturing along the coast, we found ourselves floating lazily and completely alone in the estuary pictured below. This was my absolute favorite moment of my trip to the Wild Coast!

Keep an eye out for dolphins and whales

It’s common to spot groups of dolphins throughout the year on the Wild Coast. We were lucky to see them almost every day, swimming past the coastal stretch in front of our terrace, playing and hunting in the waves.

Additionally, southern right whales migrate from Antarctica to the South African coast every year to mate, give birth, and raise their young ones in the warmer waters.

The Wild Coast is one of the best places in South Africa to observe these whales. The whale season lasts from June to November, but the peak calving months of July and August are the best time to witness the impressive displays of graceful water acrobatics and raw power, even directly from the shore.

2-week Namibia itinerary
2-week Namibia itinerary

Visit the hole-In-The-Wall

Hole-in-the-Wall is one of the most famous landmarks on the South African coast. Living up to its name, Hole-in-the-Wall is an impressive rocky archway in a freestanding cliff (or island) just off the coast.

The formation is not only a natural wonder but also holds great cultural significance for the local Xhosa people. A local legend tells a romantic tale of sea people falling in love with a beautiful girl living near a lagoon, cut off from the sea by a mighty cliff. When the girl’s father opposed their union, the sea people enlisted the help of a huge fish to break through the cliff and sweep the young Xhosa maiden away.

For the best view of the Hole-in-the-Wall, don’t head down to the beach in front of it. Instead, follow the Hole-in-the-Wall View Drive past the little village to catch the full panorama of the rock formation and the lagoon in front of it.

2-week Namibia itinerary
2-week Namibia itinerary

Enjoy some fresh seafood

The coastal waters of the Wild Coast are teeming with marine wildlife. In addition to awesome dolphin and whale sightings, this also means delicious seafood. People from the nearby local villages came past the house daily, selling freshly caught fish, meaty oysters and flavorful crayfish.

Nothing complements your sundowners better than some local seafood straight from the sea!

Visit one of the nature reserves

The Wild Coast in South Africa is home to several stunning nature reserves that showcase the region’s diverse flora and fauna. While visiting one of the reserves, you might be able to spot antelopes, monkeys, a wide range of birds, and even zebras.

  • Inkwenkwezi Nature Reserve is a private game reserve 40 minutes north of East London. It’s malaria-free and home to the Big 5 (elephant, lion, buffalo, rhino and leopard) in addition to many other animals.
  • Hluleka Nature Reserve, located 30 km south of Port St Johns is a tranquil reserve boasting rocky shores and golden beaches, lagoons, lush forests and a variety of animals. If you’re lucky, you might even spot some zebras on the beach.
  • Silaka Nature Reserve covers 400 ha of lush forests and a dramatic coastline in a forested valley south of Port St Johns.
  • Mkambati Nature Reserve is a large nature reserve between Port Edward and Port St Johns. It’s home to a large number of animals, the impressive Msikaba Gorge and the stunning horseshoe falls.
2-week Namibia itinerary
2-week Namibia itinerary

Enjoy the slow Life

Normally, I find it impossible to do absolutely nothing. FOMO is a real thing for me, especially when I’m travelling. But the Wild Coast is one of the few places that truly managed to calm my mind and body.

Sure, I would have loved to find out what’s behind yet another hill, visit as many places along the coast as possible, and explore all the nature reserve. But as I mentioned earlier, the best way to visit the Wild Coast in my opinion, is to pick one place, and enjoy your time there to the fullest.

Spend a few hours each day listening to the sound of the ocean, watching the waves crash and create beautiful patterns of blue and white, and finally read that book you’ve had on your list for so long.

Where to stay on the Wild Coast

The Wild Coast is only sparsely populated. Some larger towns and popular holiday resorts include Port St. Johns, Hole-in-the-Wall, and Coffee Bay. But for the most part, you’ll only find small villages and settlements along the coast.

We stayed at a relative’s house on the Wild Coast, which is not available for rent. But I have scoured Booking.com for some amazing alternatives along the coast:

  • Mazeppa Sunrise Beach Accommodation | There is both a studio and a 2-bedroom house, both with stunning ocean views. The accommodation is only a few meters away from the beach at Mazeppa Bay, and about 3 hours each from East London and Mthatha.
  • Clifton Cottage | This awesome 3-bedroom house is located right by the beach at Kei River Mouth, about one hour from East London. This looks like the perfect place to stay if you’re visiting the Wild Coast with your family or a group of friends.
  • Blue Cottage and Seaview Cottage at Coram Deo Lodge | These cottages in Coffee Bay look super cute and have an amazing ocean view. Plus they are only 600 meters from the beach.
  • Bulungula Xhosa Community Lodge | This unique, carbon-neutral accommodation, about 2.5 hours from Mthatha, is owned by the Nqileni village, a vibrant and traditional Xhosa community. Some of my friends have stayed at Bulungula before, and couldn’t recommend this place enough.
2-week Namibia itinerary
2-week Namibia itinerary

The best time to visit the Wild Coast

The warm weather during the summer from December to February is perfect for enjoying the gorgeous beaches and outdoor activities, and the sea is at its warmest. However, the summer months are also the wettest and busiest (but it’s rarely super crowded on the Wild Coast).

Spring and autumn are perfect for outdoor activities like hiking. The weather is mild, and there is less rain compared to the summer. During spring, the landscape comes alive with blooming flowers and lush vegetation. On the other hand, autumn is still an excellent time for water activities since the sea is still pleasantly warm from summer.

The winter season on the Wild Coast is peaceful and quiet. It brings cooler air and water temperatures and the least amount of rain. In addition, July and August are peak whale watching season.

 A trip to the Wild Coast is always a good idea, no matter what time of the year!
2-week Namibia itinerary
2-week Namibia itinerary

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Welcome to my world!

Hi, I’m Sara, a twenty-something Swiss on a mission to become a full-time travel writer and digital nomad.