Beginning our Leg Two coverage of the Baz Bus route, we leave Port Elizabeth (a.k.a. NMMM) traverse the Sunshine Coast and head into the Wild Coast. This is the section of the Baz Bus route where if they offered frequent rider miles I would have earned 2 round trip tickets.
BAZ STOP: PORT ALFRED
During the numerous runs I made on the Baz Bus up and down this coast I never did get a chance to stop in at Port Alfred. Some call this small town “The Heart of the Sunshine Coast”, and from what I heard it lives up to its name. From excursions up the Kowie River to lazing on pristine beaches, activities abound in this little village. Hop on the train at the Station Backpackers and visit Bathurst with South Africa’s first pub, The Pig ‘n Whistle or for those who like to live dangerously…. visit the Bathurst Museum for The World’s BIGGEST PINEAPPLE!
BAZ STOP: EAST LONDON
If you like “big” cities I would advise you to stop here before moving on. This is the last place that will resemble anything bigger than a village store for the next six stops. East London is a good place for surfing and its Nahoon Reef has been compared to some top spots in Hawaii. For those interested in natural history the local museum has one of the world’s few Dodo eggs and a preserved coelacanth (a living fossil believed to have been extinct for millions of years until a fishing trawler netted one several decades ago).
- Where to Stay in East London: Sugarshack Backpackers. Right on the beach and a 10 min walk from the local grocery store, this hostel has good potential. Safety outside the gates at night can be a concern, though, and there isn’t much of a vibe at the backpackers itself – but then again I might have been there on a slow day.
- IMPORTANT NOTE: It is very important to get any banking you might need done in East London. There isn’t much on the Wild Coast in the way of, well, banks.
BAZ SHUTTLE: HOGSBACK
Rumored to be where JRR Tolkien came for inspiration while writing his famous Lord Of the Rings trilogy, it is said that Hobbiton was based on this magical hamlet. (Tolkien was born in SA, but moved to the UK when he was three.) Hogsback is truly breathtaking – completely different from most stops in South Africa. Sometimes you can almost hear the fairies laughing around the next corner. Home to the Amatola Mountains and the second of two rainforests in South Africa, you can hike all day or just sit and stare.
- Where to Stay in Hogsback: Away with the Fairies. The most important thing I can say about this hostel is that the food is a MUST. With a professional chef from Scotland doing the cooking, every meal is a magical journey of mouth-watering delight. Before eating you can work up an appetite by climbing the scariest treehouse in South Africa to watch the sunset – and then party it up in the bar where the Jagermeister flows like water.
- Trekker’s Opinion: This is a must for everyone. Even if, for you, the ocean is where its at, take a few days and come explore the magical mountains of Hogsback.
After a few nights in Hogsback, it’s time to press on. Welcome to the Wild Coast! – also known as the Transkei, the name of an apartheid-era “homeland”.
The Transkei is steeped in Xhosa culture, and promises adventures for some and a good time for all.
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- IMPORTANT NOTE: in this particular part of South Africa you will receive offers to buy “Swazi”, “wacky tabacky” or magic mushrooms at practically every turn. It is important to know that the government sprays the “herbal tobacco” fields by helicopter, so if you happen to get a headache while relaxing with your friends, stop and toss the lot. If you decide to munch on a mushroom, be 100% sure you know how to tell the difference between edible and poisonous – the locals that sell the stuff don’t always go for quality. Last, take note that SA laws against drug use are very strict – and you don’t want to end up in an SA jail. ‘Nuff said.
BAZ STOP: CINTSA
From volleyball to booze croozes to sundowners at the beach, Cintsa is the perfect place to start your Wild Coast adventure. The Baz Bus drops us off right at the doorstep of Buccaneers Backpackers – which has a very generous “free wine” policy on many of its outings – and after a quick tour get ready to stay longer than you planned. Just down the road is Nkwenkwezi private game reserve, where you can go for horse rides (book at Buccaneers), and Cintsa East School, where you can spend some time volunteering.
- Where to Stay in Cintsa: Buccaneers Backpackers, of course! Free evening activities with free wine, party every night in the bar and great dinners. Given its title of “the best backpackers in South Africa”, offering every kind of Transkei adventure Buccaneers has something for everyone.
- Side Note: there are NO banks in Cintsa, so come prepared with cash.
BAZ STOP & LUNCH STOP: UMTATA
Umtata is not a stop per se, but rather a pick-up point for shuttles to the hostels in Coffee Bay. There is a Shell Ultra City restaurant and shop for lunch, and you usually have around 20min to stretch your legs.
BAZ SHUTTLE: COFFEE BAY
Coffee Bay is a one and a half-hour drive from the Baz Bus pick-up point in Umtata, so if you plan to stay, I recommend two nights minimum.
Now – Coffee Bay – where to start? This gorgeous coastal hamlet has a special place in my heart. I came here just as an after-thought; my plan was to stay for two nights, and two and a half MONTHS later I finally bid my new family good bye.
As the Baz Bus navigates around potholes big enough to swallow an elephant, and swerves around sheep, cattle and small children – all of whom just stand and stare – you begin to discover landscapes that take your breath away. Each one is better than the last.
Since Coffee Bay is tribal-owned, there are no industries and the biggest thing to happen in the last year was when the small store got an ATM machine (not for international cards though).
This small community is full of adventure, sun, sea and surf. Hike to nearby Hole in the Wall one day and the next go in the opposite direction to Mdumbi and the “Best Beach in South Africa” (according to Getaway Magazine). Then there is horse riding, and surfing, and village tours, and just relaxing on the sand for hours and hours.
- Where to Stay in Coffee Bay: Bomvu Paradise Backpackers. This was my hostel of choice. Set amongst lush vegetation next to the Bomvu (“red” in isiXhosa) River, and a 30 sec. walk to the beach, this is a beautiful place, period.
Learn how to make your own drum (and play it), enjoy the full moon festivities or, best of all, time your visit with one of the larger festivals held every few months. Coffee Shack. About three steps from the back gate of Bomvu, this is a great hang out place, with parties every night that go well into the next morning.
- Where to Stay in Mdumbi: The African Pot. Contact Bomvu Paradise Backpackers if you are unable to reach African Pot. This alternative hostel has no electricity and is run on many environmentally-friendly systems. It is also an excellent spot to learn to surf with the resident instructor.
- Trekker’s Opinion: Coffee Bay is one of my favorite spots in SA, and not just because I got to live on the beach in a tent for two months while there, nor because I got to open the bar every day. (Lucky me.) Quite simply, its beauty and relaxing vibe are several different orders of perfect.
BAZ STOP: MPANDE
Baz Bus pretty much drops you off in the middle of no-where along the highway. From here you apparently jump on a local taxi and head down to the Kraal Backpakcers. I have heard many good things about the Kraal, but I never did make it there.
BAZ STOP: PORT ST. JOHNS
This is another one of those stops where a two-night stay can turn into a two-month sojourn. While for me it was Coffee Bay that extended my holiday, for many others Port St. Johns is equally enchanting. Some call it a small little hippie town from the old days, but there is adventure round every corner and a party at every bar.