As someone who loves travel, the thrill of visiting somewhere new never gets old. Couple that with the anticipation of fulfilling a lifelong travel dream and the excitement knows no bounds!
As a child I spent 4 years living in East London so there was something comfortingly familiar about driving through my old neighbourhood and down the roads that led to the beach and the school that were my daily routine so many years before. (In fact I was blown away by how much of it all came back to me!)
During those primary school years I remembering learning about homeland known as The Transkei. This was only a few years since Mandela’s release (he wasn’t even president yet!) and the overarching feeling I was left with about this area was that of trepidation… Fast forward a few years and I started to come across magazine articles featuring The Wild Coast. And then I made the connection and realised that these were part of the same area – a South African secret!
From then I decided that I wanted to return to my “roots” with my kids one day. I wanted to share a snippet of my childhood with them, but I also wanted to discover a new side to our “roots” together. I wanted to explore the birthplace of Nelson Mandela and pay homage to the role he played in transforming our country. I also wanted to explore a part of South Africa that was new to me and to my kids at the same time… I wanted to instill in them a love for adventure, for new places and for exploring our country.
And so we finally made it across the Kei. To the Transkei
Our first stop was actually at Morgan Bay, located on the East London side of the river….
I’d heard so much about it from friends who would holiday here that I wanted to see what all the fuss was for myself.
It was a rather overcast, rainy, windy day when we found ourselves perched in a carpark overlooking the rocky shore, eating our picnic in the car!
When we finally were brave enough to face the elements, we popped in at the legendary Morgan Bay Hotel briefly and then headed down to the beach, admiring the local beaded handiwork along the way.
Our brief visit allowed Abi a few minutes of collecting beautiful (albeit broken) shells – her new favourite activity on the beaches of the Eastern Cape. Here the shells seem more delicate, brightly colours and plentiful. The beaches of Cape Town and the West Coast only seem to offer up rather uninspiring mussel shells!
The sweet little seaside village definitely held some appeal and I can totally see why it’s such a popular spot for holiday makers. I would love to return and spend more than one afternoon here… and in better weather!
After our quick visit to Morgan Bay we decided to head to Kei Mouth, a neighbouring town accessed via a dirt road (5km) or a much longer route of tar (20km). Google Map Lady led us towards the shorter route. Neglecting to tell us that it was pretty much impassable in a low slung sedan!!! Only when we’d already driven quite a way down a road with the most ridiculous potholes and ridges of rock did a local draw up alongside us and identify us as visitors… It was THAT obvious. Most locals only attempt to do this route 1 way and then always in a 4×4. Gratefully we attempted a 3 point turn in a muddy single track… and took the long way round!
Our visit to Kei Mouth was also very brief… but we did find the legendary Kei River…The weather wasn’t playing along too well for an extended explore but next time we’ll hopefully discover more of what this little town has to offer!
And then it was time to cross the river and headed into the Transkei itself…
The drive from Chintsa to our next destination, Coffee Bay, was approximately 5 hours! Looking at the map you wouldn’t think it should take that long. But it did! The roads in this part of the world are notorious and we finally found out why!
The general driving in this part of the world leaves a lot to be desired. We were particularly nervous driving such a distance along the N2 as just 9 months prior to our road trip one of our very closest friends was killed in a head on collision caused by reckless overtaking (not on his part!) and our fears were confirmed when we realised that the drivers in this part of the world are very risky. Over-taking on blind rises seemed to be a favourite! At times it was rather terrifying putting yourself at the mercy of the other drivers on the road. We said a lot of prayers!
Aside from the terrible drivers, the roads weren’t too bad. The pothole situation was actually manageable with only 1 or 2 very large potholes and a few patches of smaller ones. The other rather interesting aspect of this part of the world is the free-roaming livestock!
Our first encounter was a herd of cattle cruising the streets with no herd boy in sight. Then there were horses, sheep, goats (plenty of goats), dogs, donkeys, chickens. You name it, it crossed the street. Right in front of our car. And the just kept coming. Around every bend in the road there were more animals to dodge. Finally we realised there was no point putting your foot down on this sort of road. Far too dangerous when the pedestrian traffic has no road sense. So we opted to drive at 60km/hour and enjoy the view… and the unique experience! There were a few close calls with horses or cows who opted to dart across in front of us and a few times where we literally had to stop in the road and wait for the animals to get up and move!! Only in Africa, right!?
That being said, I still loved the drive. Seeing a completely new side of South Africa which I had never experienced was such fun. I really enjoyed discovering what rural life was like…
A huge majority of South Africans call this part of the world home. Small rural dwellings, many tranditional mud and thatch rondavels, but a few more lavish creations obviously built with income earned on the mines or in towns and built during the owners annual leave. Each property had a few cattle or sheep or goats and a small subsistence veggie garden. This was a world apart from our urban life and vastly different from anywhere else I have visited in SA. I found it fascinating to see how each family has their own fenced off patch of land and that homes in each village are scattered across hills for as far as the eye can see. These villages are very different from the ones I know where every home borders another and creates a cluster of a village.
Our route took us all the way up the N2, past Qunu, the birthplace and childhood home of Nelson Mandela.
Initially I was really excited about this pilgrimage. I wanted to honour this mighty man and see the place that formed him. But I was vastly disappointed… We stopped off at the Nelson Mandela Museum just off the highway and found ourselves joining the tumbleweeds in the empty lifeless building…
The South African tourism website “promises visitors a memorable cultural experience and insight into the life of Nelson Mandela, with guided tours and a heritage trail that follows his in his footsteps.” but, besides a stern security guard we found no one else! Not one soul! No locals sharing tales of their hero, no guides to take us on a tour of the area. It was really depressing and a bit let down for me hoping to inspire my kids with stories of this South African legend.
The building does have a photo exhibition tracing Nelson Mandela’s journey, told in his own words, and narrated in part from his acclaimed biography A Long Walk to Freedom but that was it. I wouldn’t recommend it. My kids were bored, my husband was grumpy, I tried in vain to find the positive, but in fact I was a bit embarrassed imagining that international visitors might actually stop off here and discover that it would appear South Africa has forgotten their Madiba.
Finally we started winding our way down to the coast and the village of Coffee Bay…
Our accommodation for 2 nights was the ocean front, Ocean View Hotel, an iconic and historical hotel that many South African’s have been visiting for decades.
Our interleading rooms were large and neat and we shared a family bathroom. This was another spot that made for a relaxing family break. As it was October, it didn’t feel warm enough to attempt the sea or the swimming pool but we made good use of the swingball and discovered another pool table!
Meals at Ocean View are taken seriously and each breakfast, lunch and dinner, a buffet is spread out with a multitude of choices… Foodie Ben thought this was the business. Going back for seconds, and even thirds, as often as he pleased! The jelly and custard a firm favourite… with me 😉
The best aspect of the hotel was the huge undercover deck with incredible views of the mountain and sea and a soundtrack of nature at it’s wildest – the wild waves crashing in to the rocks on the beach below.
One of my favourite memories of our fun family holiday was captured on this beach when I took a walk down with my 2 kids and one took a photo of me with the other one…
On our last day in Coffee Bay we headed out to see the iconic Hole in the Wall rock that makes this little spot on the map so well known… Initially we had thought we might make our own way there, but quickly discovered that this is yet another road for only 4×4 vehicles (or the VERY brave!)
From Ocean View the drive is about 30 mins on very steep, rocky roads and she we opted to book an excursion with their reception.
I’m so glad we did. I wouldn’t have wanted to come all this way without getting a photo of the second most famous natural formation in South Africa (Table Mountain has to be the first!)
Once we arrived at the viewpoint we had the choice of making our way down the slippery grassy bank or staying “safe” at the top of the hill. I initially thought I’d just enjoy the view from this vantage point…
But then my son and husband ventured down and I didn’t want to miss out on the chance of capturing THIS iconic family photo. Almost every family in SA who has traveled in this part of the world has a similar one and now, so do we!
After a busy morning, my traveling companions opted to enjoy a “holiday” afternoon and chose to snooze and chill while I headed off to explore the local culture and village life with a wonderful local guide. Unfortunately the sad reality is that my most memorable afternoon is now only that – a memory. Technology (and thieves) let me down at this point when my camera battery died and I had to use my cell phone to capture some photos… and then, upon my return to Cape Town, my iPhone was stolen out of my bag in a local restaurant… and these photos with it!
I was initially sooo devastated. Nothing upsets me more than losing something… and when they are irreplaceable photos of a once-in-a-lifetime experience the pain if physical. To be honest this is very reason why this series of posts is so delayed. I was trying to find the energy to face the fact that I had lost photos of this aspect of our trip (and I didn’t have that many on my camera of Coffee Bay and Ocean View in the first place)
Finally I realised that I did have enough material and that I must rather just put up what I have. I’m so sorry that THE highlight of my visit to Coffee Bay isn’t documented here in photos but what I can say is that I would highly recommend taking a walking tour with a local guide of the village at Coffee Bay.
We left from the hotel on foot, heading across the main road and into the village. Our first stop was with a Rastafarian called David who proudly showed me around his vegetable garden. He sells his produce to the villagers and spends his days fighting off the monkey’s who try to steal his tomatoes! Then we headed to the river, where my guide told me a few of the local fables and shared some of their ancestral beliefs. Heading up the hill we passed various groups of goats grazing and I was amazed to discover that they are left to wander the hills and each local knows who’s goat is who’s so there’s very little chance of theft! (Rural life!!) We stopped off to chat to a few local girls playing in their garden and then popped our heads inside a local mud hut. Spotlessly clean with everything in it’s place, this rudimentary kitchen put my own to shame!! All along our route we were greeted warmly by the local people going about their afternoon business – collecting water, cooking food, watching kids play, collecting firewood. An interesting fact about the traditional Xhosa homesteads was that if a home had a large wood pile of branches and sticks outside it this meant that the home was managed by a wife who took her role seriously! A sign of a happy home as the husband’s needs of warmth and food were being provided for properly.
I so wish I could SHOW you this wonderful afternoon. I really had such an interesting time meandering the hills of Transkei and I don’t think a visit to the area is complete without this type of experience. Unfortunately in the theft of my phone I also lost the contact details and name of my guide… so if you’re looking to do a similar walking tour please contact the reception at Ocean View who can put you in touch!
Moral(s) of the story:
- Have a back up battery
- Always charge up your batteries
- Don’t leave your battery charger at home over 1500km from you
- Back up your photos
- Find out how to use iCloud and use it
- Don’t leave your handbag with expensive cell phone lying around where people can take it… even tho they shouldn’t take things that don’t belong to them!!!
Ocean View Hotel
Tel: 047 575 2005/6 o r 083 791 3010
Email: [email protected]
Images: Kathryn Rossiter (except the last 2 of Xhosa huts and a few of the hotel from their website!)