The breathtaking Wild Coast boasts truly epic riding, all the way from the scenic ‘tamer’ section that languishes down south near the muddy roil of the Great Kei River, all the way north to where it nudges up again KZN. Let’s just say it is a vast and exhilarating MTB playground.
Words and Images by Jacques Marais.
The Wild Coast Routes
Kei Mouth Routes
The lower reaches of the Wild Coast, just north-east of Buffalo City (East London), lies within easy reach along the N2 highway; but the real adventure awaits once you mission onto the uncharted gravel roads here in the heartland of the ‘Old Transkei’. There’s no doubt this still rates as one of SA’s undiscovered trail destinations, with any pedal into the heart of Pondoland delivering the ride of a lifetime.
The area adjoining Kei Mouth boasts rollicking rides along hiking paths, cattle tracks and gravel roads hugging the ocean shore. Beach cruising is part of the deal though, so make sure you time your rides to coincide with low tide and a firm strip of beach.
Here are two pretty cool routes…
On The Bike
When you head into the old Transkei, you have to find your own route, so a GPS or compass and a set of maps are a must. Estuary crossings, mangrove marshes, rocky hiking trails, rutted singletrack and speedy gravel sections make up part of the annual Imana Wild Ride, an institution amongst velo adventurers and one of SA’s oldest multi-day MTB Stage Races.
Nothing stops you from cranking the amaXhosa heartland solo, though, so get ready to rock and roll. Easy cranking unfolds between Kei Mouth and Morgan Bay, so point your front wheel onto the gravel tracks heading west from Morgs. A great spot to start your journey is at the Morgan Bay Hotel (www.morganbayhotel.co.za).
Once you get beyond the main beach, ascend onto the dramatic cliffs rising above the Wild Coast surge. Here, a cliff-top trail makes for technical riding – mostly along the local hiking route – so it is important to keep things tidy. Instead, you could instead follow the steep jeep-track inland from the cliffs. Your first port of call is Double Mouth camp site, about 4km away from Morgan Bay.
For a beefier ride, cycle west to the Kei River (4km) and cross on the ferry. From the river, a steep gravel road ascends, but keep an eye out for a jeep-tack to your right near the top. Enjoy the view before crank/carrying down to the beach and across the Gxara River.
From here, crank about 2km along the beach until you find a jeep-track turning inland. Follow this track past local homes, keeping right at the fork and right again when you hit the tar road down to Qolora Mouth. What you’re riding is often cattle tracks, so just keep a look out for bovine spoor, then point yourself in that direction.
The ‘Kei’ always offer time to chill, so enjoy a well-deserved pub lunch when you reach Trennerys Hotel (www.trennerys.co.za) before klapping the return journey. Leave the tar where you came in earlier, climbing back up to the ‘village’. Instead of turning left to go back down to the beach, you can head straight up and on through a small forest.
Keep your eyes peeled for a trail on your left (and maybe walk the descent if you’re not technically inclined). A steep crank up the other side takes you through another Xhosa village, before spitting you out onto the main dirt road back down to the ferry crossing.
Off The Bike
During summertime, anything goes here in the great outdoors. Hike the scenic Strandloper Trail (or the Wild Coast Meander if you’re keen to sleep in a comfy bed at night), otherwise wander off on a day tramp to Double Mouth Nature Reserve.
Saddle up for a horse ride along the cliffs, surf the solid (if slightly sharky) point break, go game viewing at one of the Eastern Cape nature reserves, watch frolicking humpback whales or simply soak up the sun on the beach. Trevor’s Trails at Trennerys Hotel offer guided walks or community interaction on guided routes.
Best Time of the Year to Visit
Year-round coastal fun, but it can get a bit muggy during summer. The climate is generally mild, with temperatures seldom in the single figures or above 35°C.
|DURATION||90 minutes to a full day on the bike|
|CONFIGURATION||8km return to Double Mouth; 26km loop to Trennerys|
|START POINT:||Kei Mouth Village|
|COORDINATES:||S32°41’02.6” / E28°22’40.2”|
|TERRAIN:||Rocky hiking trails, rutted single-track, gravel roads|
|MAP:||Invest in a 1:50 000 topographical map of the area|
|ENTRY REQUIREMENTS:||Permit upon paying entry fee|
|FACILITIES||Range of accommodation options, basic shops|
|CELL RECEPTION:||Unexpectedly good|
|BEWARE OF:||Cliff top trail, ticks|
This ride is more about exploration than just mountain biking pleasure, with a fair bit of route finding along the way. As aways, the coastal topography serves up an exhilarating combo of cattle tracks, jeep track and public gravel roads.
Your base is at the earthy Mazeppa Bay Hotel (www.mazeppabay.com), just on 35km south of what used to be Butterworth (now Egcuwa). This friendly family hotel has been run by the same clan for generations, and will make you feel welcome straight away.
The vibe is undeniably sub-tropical, with banana trees and green rolling hills framing jaw-dropping ocean views. These stunning surroundings will have you wishing you could stay and chill forever, but the cattle singletrack will soon have you saddling up for an MTB exploration of note.
On The Bike
Head out from the hotel on a steep climb into kwaManyube and the other outlying local villages if you feel like working your legs. About 2km will get you into Manubi State Forest, and this patch of indigenous woodland offers several hiking routes that make for ‘adventure biking’. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, though, especially after rain when the trials are super muddy.
Instead, you could keep going along the main gravel road, climbing for another 4km, keeping left along the main road. Occasional peeling signs may guide you onto a left turn towards Wavecrest and the lovely hotel there, otherwise you might end up in the Centane, a rather bustling and wild mishmash of shop, shanty town and shebeen.
But seriously, why would you want to head inland while true Wild Coast singletrack awaits? From Mazeppa Bay Hotel, follow the cattle spoor south-west, sticking to the coastline. Plan you ride (I mean, every ride here!) for low tide, pedaling along firm intertidal sand.
When rocky headlands force you to explore inland, you will easily enough pick up on the ‘cow pat paths’ contouring just above the beaches. Look out for the sublime Nqgwara River estuary 4.5km south of Mazeppa; those white splotches in the indigenous trees are fish eagles, by the way, so stop and take it in, maybe while floating in the warm water.
More beach meandering will take you first past a false estuary before you reach the Gqunqe River (10.7km). All the mouths can easily be crossed at low tide, or you can scout inland for a passable route if the flow seems strong. Keep going past Cebe Marine Reserve (it was temporarily closed when we were in the area a month ago), and on to Ncata and Transkei Beach Cottages (16.1km).
A trippy stretch of forest singletrack blasts you onto the combined moth of the Inxaxo and Ngqusi Rivers, your final obstacle between you and an ice-cold beer at the Wavecrest Spa and Resort (www.wavecrest.co.za), and what a place it is! You’re about 28km into your ride here, depending on your route choices, so wolf down a burger and chips before you take on the return crank.
There’s also the option of an easy 12km return ride to the east of Mazeppa, with the breathtaking trail along the cliff edges and remote beaches taking you all the way to Kob Inn. All these ocean-side rides trips you past ghost crabs, local fishermen, soaring long-crested eagles and the epitome of the Transkei: long-horned Nguni cattle sleeping on the beach!
Off The Bike
Hike the tranquil Manubi Trails with Lishle, the local hotel guide; spot an African Green Pigeon or a trumpeter hornbill in verdant coastal sand forest; canoe or fly-fish the estuary mouths; and if you find yourself somewhere within that sweet spot between brave and stupid – head out and surf the headland known as Shark Point.
Or maybe not. We did, and then saw pictures of apex predators nearly 900kg in weight that had been caught at Mazeppa Bay, where the ocean shelf drops off hundreds of metres right off the ocean edge, so maybe you should rather pack your rods. For the less adventurous, there are tours of the local village, where you can meet a local sangoma or some of the amazing traditional crafters and artists.
Best Time of Year to Visit
Wild Coast weather is always kind of balmy, though when it gets wet, the trails are very slippery.
|GRADING:||Intermediate to Technical|
|START POINT:||Mazeppa Bay Hotel|
|TERRAIN:||Beaches & cattle track|
|ENTRY REQUIREMENTS||Public access|
|FACILITIES||None en route, accommodation at Mazeppa Bay|
|CELL RECEPTION:||A bar or two on top of some hills|
|BEWARE OF:||Very sticky clay-like mud; slippery when wet|