Transkei

Coffee Bay © Jon Rawlinson
Located in the Eastern Cape, this former Bantustan was once officially called the Transkei. Many South Africans still know it by that name. Historically speaking, a Bantustan was set aside exclusively for a black ethnic group during apartheid. Ostensibly, it was to be governed independently by its population.

The region has a tumultuous and sad political history and remains a mostly rural area. Poverty is still rife. However, it is an area of spectacular natural beauty that is popular with adventurous travellers looking for an experience of unspoilt landscapes and authentic rural culture.

The main attraction is the Wild Coast, which, as the name suggests, is remarkably undeveloped. It has near pristine stretches of coastline where rolling hills, grassland, and forest grow right onto the beach.

Accommodation tends to be rustic, with the most famous venues being isolated camping and backpacking communities. This makes the Transkei an ideal South African destination for young budget travellers and backpackers. It is also a wonderful surfing destination, with some gorgeous surf breaks that are never crowded and often kept secret. Travellers must watch out for sharks, though.

East London is a good starting point for a journey into the Transkei. There are a few tour operators offering bus services through the region, but apart from this, the only way to get around is by hiring a car and road tripping.

Travellers should bear in mind that although this is a wonderful way to explore, the infrastructure is awful and the roads can be really challenging, with animals like cows, donkeys, and dogs crossing the streets, huge potholes, and virtually no signposts. For confident drivers, this is all part of the adventure. But travellers shouldn't expect to get anywhere fast in the Transkei.







Attractions

Coffee Bay, South Africa
Coffee Bay, South Africa © Jacques

Coffee Bay

Coffee Bay is a small inlet in the heart of the Wild Coast. Situated near Mthatha and with only a post office, a grocery store and a few B&Bs and backpackers to its name, the destination largely appeals to students and the young at heart. Its nightlife consists of drumming circles and the occasional trance party. Coffee Bay has some of the best surfing in South Africa, though, along with swimming, spear fishing and scuba diving. Nature lovers who explore its unspoiled coastline may see whales, dolphins and the occasional Cape Clawless Otter. The area is a paradise for golfers, hikers and anyone interested in horseback riding, too. Travellers who enjoy peaceful strolls along beaches with only wildflowers and natural forests for company will also appreciate the Wild Coast. All visitors should definitely stop at the iconic Hole in the Wall: a site where the sea has carved a giant tunnel through a rock. Seafood fans can buy fresh catches from local fisherman.


Zebra grazing in Cwebe
Zebra grazing in Cwebe © garethphoto

Inkwenkwezi Game Reserve

The beautiful Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve is a great place to stay in the Transkei. Encompassing five distinct biomes and a tidal estuary along the Eastern Cape's Wild Coast, the private, luxury reserve provides access to diverse coastal landscapes and some magnificent beaches. The reserve is home to the big five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo) and numerous other animals. However, the main attraction from a wildlife point of view is the presence of some extremely rare white lions. Inkwenkwezi is a Xhosa word meaning 'under the stars' and the reserve prides itself on good service and attention to detail as well as natural beauty. Visitors can interact with elephants at the Elephant Sanctuary, take guided game drives, hikes and quad bike tours, and enjoy canoeing and mountain biking activities. The reserve's Sunset Lapa is a dreamy spot to sip on cocktails while admiring the stunning view, and the Emthombeni Restaurant serves a variety of South African cuisine. The accommodation is of a high standard and the venue is extremely popular for weddings. Inkwenkwezi is a short drive northeast of the East London airport, making it an easily accessible destination in a region notorious for bad roads.

Website: www.inkwenkwezi.com


Port St Johns beach
Port St Johns beach © garethphoto

Port St Johns

Port St Johns is a good travel base in the Transkei region and is the central tourism hub on the Wild Coast. The destination has lovely beaches, great surfing opportunities, fantastic fishing (deep sea and shore angling), and some fun and atmospheric backpackers lodges for budget travellers. A town of about 7,000 people, Port St Johns is situated at the mouth of the Umzimvubu River. The estuary is one of the main reasons why this stretch of coast is so picturesque. Sadly, it's also a contributing factor to the frequency of shark attacks on the town's beaches, making swimming and surfing a bit nerve-racking despite the idyllic conditions. The Umzimvubu River flows through an impressive sandstone gorge named the Gates of St John and visitors should make the effort to drive up to Mount Thesiger. Located just above the town, it offers stunning views of the estuary. Some of the backpackers and lodges offer the ride up for sundowners free of charge. Dense, jungle-like vegetation dotted with scenic walking trails surround the town, which is endearingly laid back and sleepy. Visitors will find a Xhosa flavour and some basic shops and bohemian-style restaurants.