“You have to understand, there is a romance to Africa. You can see a sunset and believe you have witnessed the hand of God. You watch the slow lope of a lioness and forget to breathe. You marvel at the tripod of a giraffe bent to water. In Africa, there are iridescent blues on the wings of birds that you do not see anywhere else in nature. In Africa, in the midday heat, you can see blisters in the atmosphere. When you are in Africa, you feel primordial, rocked in the cradle of the world.”
It occurred to me that whilst I had conquered the monumental Andes mountain ranges, galloped with abandon amongst the foothills of active volcanoes, traversed across the oldest desert in the world, glided atop a majestic Arabian over the mystical sands of the Wadi Rum, meandered 300kms through rural Rajasthan in India, rode amongst giants in the wilds of Botswana, realised my cowgirl dreams not only once, but twice……….I still hadn’t experienced a beach riding holiday and set about rectifying this problem immediately!!
Stretching some 280kms along South Africa’s Eastern Cape the Wild Coast Region is one of South Africa’s most unspoilt areas showcasing a vast stretch of undulating hills, lush forest and vast stretches of deliciously deserted beaches melting into the aqua-marine waves of the Indian Ocean……a place where not many people visit, South Africa’s best kept secret if you will. This could be partly attributed to the inaccessibility of the the Wild Coast due to lack of infrastructure and past neglect, as included in this area is the Transkei, a region of South Africa that has an interesting political past, particularly during apartheid times. Today the Transkei is undoubtedly part of South Africa, but retains its own unique identity and culture, remains a stronghold for the Xhosa people and possesses the most incredible, stretch of untouched, idyllic coastline that South Africa has to offer.
An area well off the regular tourist routes, rural and rugged with a breath-taking coastline, dizzying, jagged cliff faces, primitive and isolated beaches, where the best way to explore is hiking, riding or biking……. sold!
After a quick overnight stay in Cape Town after a long stream of international flights, I landed in East London airport, met my hosts from Wild Coast Horseback Adventures and continued the path of adventure to Kei Mouth. Even though winter on the Wild Coast is characterised by great weather with mild sunny days and no wind or rain, it was quiet season and I was the only guest booked on the trip………more wilderness for me!
Sunray Farm is a nature enthusiasts and horse lover’s paradise. Owner and proprietor of Wild Coast Horseback Adventures, Julie-Anne Gower, was once a very successful Endurance Rider and is an advocate for natural and holistic horsemanship. Her herd of horses are kept barefoot and out 24/7 consisting of a mix of Part Arabs, Anglo Arabs, Thoroughbreds, Percheron crosses and Boerperds……….and as you turn into the driveway you can see them all happily foraging and enjoying freedom! After a quick introduction and chat over lunch, myself and my guide Nicky headed out for a couple of hours ride around the bush veldt, more of an opportunity to experience the style of riding and of course for Nicky to ascertain if I was the experienced rider I painted myself as on my profile………..you would be surprised at how many people lie about their prowess!
Jet-lag, fresh South African air or perhaps the one or two glasses of red I had with dinner, whatever the reason I was knocked out cold for a mammoth 12-hour sleep, but fully refreshed and ready for the adventure ahead when I arose the following morning. There wasn’t a cloud to taint the big beautiful sky as we left Sunray Farm to make our way to the horse paddocks at Kei Mouth. My four legged partner in crime for the following six day trek was a strikingly beautiful home bred 5 year old bay Anglo-Arab called Tasman, carefully selected for me because of his “quirky” personality and cheeky glint in his eye, I could tell he was going to be a lot of fun and particularly couldn’t wait to let him fly on the long stretches of beach that I envisioned lay ahead…….and I didn’t have to wait long for my dreams to become a reality as we rambled along the twisting sandy path and entered Morgan Bay with it’s endless stretch of glittering, golden sand, the gentle reach of the ocean waves brushing our horses hooves as we sailed across the shore…….can you get any closer to heaven I thought?! Apparently so I soon learned as we headed for the high ground, traipsing over the headlands and cliff-tops, an undisputed view of The Wild Coasts craggy coastline and its hidden gems of secluded bays and lush rolling hills melting into the horizon………. only for the mild creeping pangs of hunger bellowing in my stomach alerting me to the proximity of lunch I could’ve happily sat atop my steed drinking in the captivating beauty of the Wild Coast until sunset! Coastal riding brings with it a lot of technicalities and planning to coincide with tide times and river crossings……….and that afternoon we had our first river crossing, albeit by boat at the Kei Mouth River, the alternative route to reach the other side was 250kms, so despite some trepidation from Tasman he jumped onto the barge and soon we were sailing across to another stretch of beautiful beach and inland exploration before reaching the old world charm and tantalising braai of Trennerys Hotel to rest and relax for the night. A perfect day first day in an idyllic part of the world……..expectations had been set and the bar was placed high………..
The following days only proved to surpass any expectations I could possibly have held. Despite having slight apprehension about being the only guest booked on the trip, it really worked out to my advantage. I’m chilled and laid back and love getting off the beaten track and exploring, and whilst myself and Nicky did stick to the itinerary for the most part, we also had a lot of fun and adventure exploring some new routes for possible future trails.
The beaches were akin to those depicted in holiday brochures, ones that you assume are too perfect to exist, but I promise you, they do exist in all their natural unspoilt beauty on The Wild Coast. Deserted and desolate, no sign of life only the trail of hoof prints we left in our wake, the gentle breeze filling in the slight imperfections we left on the sand, covering our tracks as if we floated across the golden sands, maintaining the perception of an untouched paradise. But paradise too can hold some wrath and vengefulness and our challenges came in the form of the many beach rivers that intersect the seamless golden sands. Due to some serious freak rain, wind and unsettled weather, what’s usually a lagoon with a trickle had magically transformed into a full-blown river, complete with swell and waves………. we had to cross it or face riding inland for hours under the cover of darkness……and cross it our courageous horses did only to face another challenge……..sheer rock-face! To get back on track we literally had to scramble up a slippery, stone precipice all the while avoiding being bashed by waves, thankfully the only casualty was my camera! But the Wild Coast had more adventure in store for us, another freak beach river that we ended up swimming across, our horse’s angels on hooves! Deemed worthy with our challenges complete the beaches of the Wild Coast rewarded us once again with sightings of pods of dolphins frolicking in the ocean as our horses flew without abandon along the infamous Wavecrest stretch.
Our inland ventures took us over headlands and ridges, following the easy, rolling wave of the mountainous landscapes, lush and verdant, a peacock’s tapestry of velvety greens and emerald blooms. Navigating boulder strewn, jagged gorges to discover mysterious, secluded lagoons at the end of our rocky descent. Rondavels and cattle kraals speckled the landscape, the local Xhosa people living traditionally as they always have, untouched and untarnished by time, a welcome smile and the rhythmic sing song click of the local tongue enveloped us as we rode.
By night we rested in a selection of the Wild Coasts finest……..from Trennerys quaint old-world charm to the enchanted paradise of the Mazeppa Bay Hotel, from the rustic sea front beauty of Kob Inn to the unbelievable pristine beach views of The Wave Crest Hotel………and dined on South Africa’s distinctly infamous diet of red meat, sea food and full bodied red wine. Returning to Sunray Farm after an unbelievable adventure we celebrated at Kei Mouths premier party venue “The Shed”, imagine my surprise when I saw pinned to the wall of this rural South African Bar a copy of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic………it is true what they say, there’s only two types of people in this world, those who are fortunate enough to have been born Irish, and those who wish they were!!!!!
Despite a mild hangover the following day (you cannot bring an Irish person to a bar where drinks are less than €1 and expect them to show restraint!), I hauled myself back in the saddle and took a quick jaunt up the road with Nicky to visit her farm and project, Peas on Earth, an idyllic sanctuary for lovers of the great outdoors and animals. An amazing horse woman and rider she has now branched out into an exciting new venture with Amra Arabians……….check it out http://www.peasonearth.co.za/.
The Wild Coasts picturesque beauty still held me in its mesmerizing grasp as it unfolded beneath the wings of my Cape Town bound flight……. rugged, wild, desolate, alluring, captivating and adventurous……I thought such places only existed in my dreams, but once again the great continent of Africa proved me wrong.
The Wild Coast Horse Trail, May 2014.
Author: Janine Whyte (Indiananeeners Globetrotting Cowgirl).