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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa

A large chunk of this coastline between Cintsa in the south and the Mtamvuna River in the north (just south of Port Edward in KwaZulu-Natal) was part of an apartheid-era homeland called Transkei (over the Kei River). When apartheid fell, the homelands were reattached to their respective provinces, in this case the Eastern Cape. The Kei is a special place – untrammelled, wild and beautiful – with superlative point breaks.


CINTSA TO THE MTAMVUNA RIVER

When you head to the land that gave birth to Nelson Mandela, you step into another world, rustic and laid-back. Beware Pondoland Fever – a soporific holiday vibe bordering on extreme inertia brought on by warm weather, pastoral living, relaxed locals and illegal crops.

In summer, the weather is humid and hot. Rivers are swollen by rain and the ocean can be dirty around river mouths. The detritus that washes out attracts sharks. However, the Sardine Run in mid-winter (June or July) also brings predators inshore.

The best surf occurs in winter, when the Wild Coast is mostly dry and warm, with consistently light variable winds. Best time to visit is late summer to early winter when groundswell arrives, cold fronts are rare, and cyclonic east swell is still common. Infrastructure along the coast is rudimentary, but there are well-run hotels, resorts and backpackers at Mazeppa Bay, Coffee Bay, Hole-in-the-Wall, Qolora, the Haven, Mngazi, Mngazana and Port St Johns.

Cintsa West

Intimidating point break with steep take-off and short, intense tube. Needs a fairly solid southwest swell and westerlies. Surf at high tide only.

Cintsa East

Below-par beach break. Sparks occasionally. Best in clean winter swells and light west winds.

Haga-Haga

Quaint and friendly resort right on the beach. Close to East London, with good surf in the general area. There is a left-hand point in front of the hotel. Bit rippy. Not great. There is also a kiff reef point just around the corner. Seek and you might find.

Double Mouth

Right-hand reef south of Morgan’s Bay that breaks into a channel. Best on moderate south swell and light northwest. Good camping. Check it from the top of the hill.

Morgan’s Bay

Rustic resort that comes alive in season. The Eastern Cape is peppered with small towns that are dead in the off-season, but cook when townies from around South Africa arrive for summer holidays. An exposed beach break that works in small swell and light offshores. Average.

 

 

 

{mosimage} DISTANT HOLLOW: The former Transkei is riddled with world-class waves.

{mosimage} DAWN PATROL: Dolphins leap from the back of another Mdumbe bomb.

{mosimage} SURF AND TURF: The Wild Coast big five comprises the cow, sheep, goat, pig and donkey.

 

Barbel Point

Another right-hand point. Offers more juice than spots to the north. A more defined line-up, although the sections only connect when the swell is right. Needs large, clean south swell and light west. Best when light berg winds blow.

Wacky Point

Right-hand point break and beach. Fickle wave at times, but can get world class. Two full-on barrel sections – round, powerful and fast. Accessible from Kei Mouth, but the road is bad.

Whispering Waves

Marginal right-hand point break west of Kei Mouth. Tends to be a bit ‘pap’, lacking in power. Best on small swells and light to moderate southwest.

Periwinkles

Close to Weymouth, Periwinkles is a hollow peak that breaks on a shallow rock shelf close to shore. Works on east or southeast swell but needs light northwest wind and low tide, otherwise it becomes a rocky shore break. Sublime when good, according to some locals.

Qolora Mouth

Range of beach breaks and reefs along a 1.5 km beach. The Qolora River flows into a large lagoon open to the sea at high tide. Nice spot. Waves are sensitive to wind, and the sea needs to be clean and lined up. Can be fickle: very dependent on sand movement. Home to Trennerys Hotel.

Mazeppa Bay

Another laid-back Wild Coast resort. Friendly staff. Good food. Cold beer. One problem. Not many waves. There is a short right-hander near the island and a left that breaks into a rip on the east side. Lots of exploration potential by four-wheel drive.

Qora Mouth

One of many river mouths along the Wild Coast. Series of scattered sandbanks flanked by rocky coast on each side. Some potential, but summer is rainy season and the sea is often brown and muddy.

Kei Mouth

The town of Kei Mouth comprises many holiday shacks and a small hotel. The Kei River marks the old border between South Africa and the former apartheid homeland of Transkei. Along the beach there are left- and right-breaking peaks, best in an east swell and northwest winds. Not the best surf, but a fun place to chill. During the holidays in December and January, it is packed with school-leavers and university students.

Jujura River

Beautiful river cuts through hills to form steep bushy cliffs. There are sandbars around the mouth, while on the eastern side, a long rock point juts out from the left side of the mouth. Sandbars all around. Hard to get to.

Shixini Estuary

Series of waterways leading into the ocean. Out-of-the-way spot. Exploration potential.

Mbashe River

Large river surges into sea, with interlocking sandbars and large expanse of white sand. Exploration potential.

The Haven

Classic old-style Wild Coast hotel – The Haven Hotel – sandwiched between two nature reserves and two rivers. Dwesa nature reserve lies in the west and Cwebe in the east, while the Mbashe River lies in the west and Mbanyana River in the east. Surfers go to nearby Breezy (20 minutes by four-wheel drive) for cooking point break waves, or to Holmes Gully near the hotel, which can be fun. Long beaches. Sandbar potential.

Ntlonyane (Breezy Point)

Shark risks aside, this is a regional classic: a long, tubing right-hand point break similar to J-Bay. Best when the swell is from the south and wind from the west or southwest. Sharky when rivers are in flood during summer or Sardine Run is happening in mid winter.

Mpame

Not great. A right-hander off the point into a deep channel. Best on a south swell and light northwest.

Sharpleys Reef

Rocky point break with sectiony rights. Best swell is south. The waves wrap on to the sandbank.

Mncwasa Point

Further north from Sharpleys Reef. Point break with potential on a big southeast groundswell, but that is conjecture at this point.

{mosimage} HOLE-IN-THE-WALL: A two-hour walk from Coffee Bay.

Hole-in-the-Wall

The Wild Coast’s most famous landmark – a freestanding sandstone cliff with a truck-sized hole in the middle: open ocean outside, calm lagoon inside. At the main beach 500 metres before the hole is a fun beach break that breaks off rocks on the right. At the Hole, you can ride waves that rumble through the hole, refracting weakly into a shallow lagoon.

Mbomvu

This small protected bay lies adjacent to Coffee Bay, where the Coffee Shack and Mbomvu Backpackers are situated. Mbomvu is a rare sandbank and boulder set-up, where the waves break into a small river mouth. Hollow and fun. Best at two to four feet with a light westerly. Can be defunct for years, and then suddenly come right for a few months.

 

Coffee Bay

Legend has it that a ship carrying coffee from southeast Asia to Europe ran aground here. For a while, coffee beans took root and trees grew. No sign of them now. In the sixties and seventies, Coffee Bay used to be a quiet holiday haven for regional businessmen. Now it’s a busy little community, with several backpacker hostels, trading stores, two hotels (The Ocean View and the Coffee Bay Hotel) and a campsite in a grove of milkwood and other indigenous trees. The bay, between the Mbomvu and Nenga rivers, is flanked on the left by rocky cliffs, and on the right by a mellow point that runs a few hundred metres out to sea. Coffee Bay is a great spot to spend a week or two. There are fun waves on the beach and the point. It can be used as your adventure base. It is near Mthatha River Mouth, an hour’s walk to the northeast, which is great for fishing and exploring. Coffee Bay is a two-hour walk from Hole-in-the-Wall to the southwest. There are world-class points within an hour’s drive, and good hikes in the area, with waterfalls, cliffs and patches of forest.

{mosimage} RUGGED HEADLANDS: Mbomvu Bay, with Coffee Bay in the background.

 

Coffee Bay Point

Mellow right-hand point on the south side of Coffee Bay. Take off over a small rock shelf and hotdog down the point. Best in a three- to five-foot east swell in mild westerlies. In normal south swell, most of the energy is expended on an outer point. The broken swell refracts and lines up again on the inside. The ride depends on sand further down, where a small river enters the sea. In a light west or northwest wind, and a lined-up three- to six-foot groundswell, the beach break around the rivermouth gets good. Similar to Yellows.

Mpuzi

This right-hander breaks off a rock shelf and grinds across a river mouth, but is not surfed often. Fickle and sharky (they are caught off a headland nearby).

Mthatha Mouth

River-mouth beach break. Fickle and sharky, but good peaks sometimes.

Whale Rock

Short, fast and hollow reef where a large sandstone rock sticks out of the water just south of Mdumbe. Best in medium south swell and calm seas.

Mdumbe

Another perfect point. Gnarly in big swell. When swell and sand line up, Mdumbe breaks for up to 800 metres, depending on whether you make the never-ending freight train section across vast river-mouth sandbanks. Best at six to ten feet in moderate west or southwest winds. The paddle-out can be daunting. Once you lower yourself into the best entry point, a narrow gully in the rocks, you can’t see the waves. You need a wave spotter on the rocks to signal between sets. Mdumbe rivals Jeffreys Bay but gets (more) sharky in summer and during the Sardine Run. Campsite and backpackers nearby.

Lwandile

Perfect sand-bottomed point break set-up. World class on a low tide when a clean six- to eight- foot south to southeast groundswell is smoothed by light land breezes. The take-off zone lies off a slab of rock – a tubing entry point, then a long hotdogging wall as the wave moves away from the rocks, and runs over deeper sand, before it bends wide of a rocky outcrop and hits a series of sandbanks. On some waves, you can ride to the beach, a ride of maybe 250 metres. As in many Wild Coast spots, this depends on the time of year and sand movement. Even when the sand is not right, the point is a good wave. When the sand is right … eish, what a wave. Accommodation can be tricky. There are holiday houses at nearby Presley’s Bay – a long walk down the beach. Some people rent them out. You can free-camp on the point (rocky and a bit uncomfortable) or on the banks of the Lwandile River (guard your stuff), but most people drive from Coffee Bay. Between sessions you can cool off under a small overhang looking over the point.

{mosimage} FRESHLY GROUND: Start the day with a mellow surf at Coffee Bay Point.

Presley’s Bay

Just down from a row of rustic holiday cottages, best during a small swell early in the day in a light land breeze.

Ebalow

Another good point break: a rare left-hander in the Eastern Cape. Needs a fair-sized swell, preferably a cyclonic east swell, or frontal swell from the

Rame Head

Long peninsula with a fast right-hand point two hours’ walk from Mpande along the beach. Only works in big swell when other spots are out of control. Rame Head needs winds coming from westerly directions. Relatively protected from the strong southwest busters that bash up the coast.

Sharks Point

Great waves, but is difficult to get to. In a bay sheltered by cliffs, the point is on the south side. Gets good in a south swell at four to six feet and light to moderate westerlies. About half an hour walk south of Mpande.

Mpande

A good left-hander breaks into a channel near the rocks. Needs a two- to four-foot east swell and light west winds. Accessible from the Port St Johns to Mthatha road. There is a campsite near the lagoon.

 

Port St Johns

This spectacularly beautiful, former frontier town is a warped blend of Mpondo and colonial culture. The town has a derelict, unkempt look to it. Many of the buildings have cracked walls and peeling facades that hint at a once-thriving port built on the mighty Umzimvubu River and fuelled by trade in ivory and skin. The jungle and rivers teemed with wild animals such as crocodile and hippopotamus. Umzimvubu is Xhosa for ‘home of the hippopotamus’. Cliffs tower where the river slices a steep gorge to the sea. Monkeys still chatter in the undergrowth. The three beaches are hemmed in by lush plants, birds and other wildlife, including the hippie ferals who subsist in the bush. You will meet fascinating people in Port St Johns – New Age travellers and former city-slickers who have chilled here semi-permanently. Some settlers enjoy the crops and marry the tribesfolk. There is even a white sangoma fully kitted out in witchdoctor regalia. The surf is not great, and more than a little sharky, but it’s a good place to relax for a few days. There is surf at the Umzimvubu River Mouth, but the sandbanks are fickle. Try to muffle the ‘Der dum, der dum’ refrain in your head. Second Beach is marginally better than Third Beach. Both spots, south of town, have mediocre waves best in light offshore or glassy seas. They don’t handle big swell.

{mosimage} MBOTYI: Another headland, another perfect point.

Mngazi

Beach break peaks in front of the river mouth are best when the sea is glassy or a light northwest breeze is blowing, and the swell is two to five feet. It’s signposted from the main road between Port St Johns and Mthatha. Mngazi River Bungalows is a very comfortable family-oriented resort where you can spoil yourself.

Mntafufu

Beach break with a right-hander that breaks off a reef on the south side. Best in a small swell and westerlies. Unridden and isolated, a typical Wild Coast point break.

Mzimpuni

A large bay with a right-hand point break at its southern end. This place needs a large south swell and land breezes. Some people walk here from Mbotyi – about four kilometres heading south. A four-wheel drive will get you there quicker but be warned that off-road driving is strictly illegal on the coast to protect certain species.

Mbotyi

A beautiful long beach dotted with A-frame peaks. Best in a small to medium east swell and light westerlies. From Port St Johns, take the Lusikisiki road and follow the Mbotyi signs. As you approach the coast, the road gets steep and can be impassable after heavy rains: ‘Sorry boss, it has been raining for weeks. The rivers have flooded. The roads are washed away. We’re stuck here indefinitely.’ There is a great campsite and very nice hotel.

Mkambati

This is a nature reserve north of Mbotyi along the coast to the Mtentu River just before the border between the Wild Coast and KwaZulu-Natal. Loads of exploration potential.

{mosimage} FOAM FEATHER: Remote point break does its thing. No-one out.

 

 

Comments  

 
Daniel Robus
0 #1 Mtentu river lodgeDaniel Robus 2015-04-09 13:49
Hi,

I am going to the wild coast (Mtentu river lodge) and was wondering if you could point me to the nearest spot - it's about 60km from the wild coast sun....

Thanks thanks
 

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