Africa, Birds & Birding, Travel Africa, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Maputaland Beach Walk

The recipe: Fifteen glorious people and forty glorious kilometres of wide open sandy beaches of the Zululand or Maputaland coast. Years earlier I had hiked a section of the Wild Coast, far to the south.

Ten of us were walking; two were guiding – Jabulani and DC walking up and down the dunes ahead and behind to keep an eye on us; two drivers for our vehicles to pick us up at the end of the first and third days; and then there was one Shirley Carey: She plotted and arranged, cooked and drove, organised and made it all happen – well done Shirley! It was a great start to what I hope becomes a thriving ‘slackpacking’ enterprise: Introducing people to a magic, less-traveled part of the coast in adventurous, yet laid-on and comfortable style.  Put-Foot-Shirl in her optical blur Toyota sped us around to and from the hike start and end-points, and looked after us in style!

The vistas were spectacular, the weather varied from perfect to overcast and a cool stiff following breeze to a constant ‘irrelentless’ steady headwind on the last day. Thanks to a few overnight showers and spring tide the sand was hard and we didn’t get sand-blasted. We also had no scorching hot Zululand temperatures, for which I was grateful and relieved. Anyway, we pushed on irregardless under interesting skies.

Sodwana to Lala Nek – 40km of beautiful beaches and rocky shores
Jabulani scouts our route from up high

The recipe also included great meals, snacks and puddings, enough alcohol and plenty ice.  Come to think of it, it was quite saintly of us to leave the kitchen and hit the beach – we could easily have lurked in comfort! Another ingredient was laughter; lots of laughter; loud peals of laughter. Some ribald humour too; you wouldn’t expect that from ladies, would you? Nor snorting with laughter! But it was all there. It would be fascinating to know how many laughs-per-kilometer there were. ‘Many’ would be a conservative estimate.

A whiff of sulphur as the breakfast eggs are unveiled leads to gales of laughter

Now one would think if you went to a remote Maputaland beach, sallied forth in a 4X4 then walked fourteen km without seeing another soul on a deserted beach, that Retail Black Friday would have been escaped and no – zero, none – purchases would have been made. But one would be wrong. These ladies set off after a sweet potato and bought a dress! It’s a mysterious and powerful force, retail:

Shopping Sodwana, complete with photo-bombing shop assistant, plus prêt-à-porter frocks
Panoramas, some with people
Beach Walk Small Stuff, plus cows, which are larger

I find beaches fierce and exposed; trudge, trudge; I find forests peaceful and protective; peer here, peer there. On the Zululand Beach Waddle you get both: Wide vistas of sand and water with moving clouds, trudge trudge; balanced by the green peace of the forests and all the little things hiding in them; even a Jan’s Shovel-snout, a seldom-seen nocturnal burrower who lives just below the loose sandy surface, eating gecko eggs; he was dead; we wouldn’t have seen him alive, he’s shy like me; and also polite.

Forest small stuff
Flies at Mabibi – still to be ID’d

This expedition was supremely relaxing, but there was one very tough part of the trip: Driving out on the last day with four outspoken, astute, well-read and opinionated ladies as ballast in my non-4X4. I made the mistake of telling them we were going to drive on the Most Beautiful Road in Africa. When we finally got onto it and it was a little bit bumpy, swervy, twisty, sandy and their ballast started shifting, they twisted the story to say I had said “The Best Road in Africa”! So with every spin and rock and roll and wobble it was “Oof! So this is the best road in Africa? I’d hate to see the worst!” and other helpful comments.

That Beautiful Road along Lake Sibaya shoreline – pity the lake was so low

There’s Put-Foot-Lizelle in the bottom pic disappearing into the distance in her Landrover which – amazingly – didn’t get stuck. Oh, hang on, it did once. We had to dispatch Musa to find her.

And here’s that demanding committee in my poor Ford Ranger, discussing tactics:

Usually I’d end with a sunset pic, but we were drinking Cactus Jack, Six Dogs Blue Gin, Bubbly, Red, White and Rose wine, genuine Italian-made Lemoncello Ramaccio Pace and other stuff by then, so the sun had to set all by its own self. Here’s a rock pool pic instead: Oh! I’ll follow that with a blurry bird pic by Lou. You’d think with my binocs, telescope and bird book that we would have seen more than a few Sanderlings and a handful of Kittlitz’s plovers! – (BTW, the pics are from everyone – thanks!)

Di Fabricius, Lizelle Ramaccio Calvino, Mal Bell, Michelle Pace, Shirley Vorster, Joni Kirkland, Lou Kelly, Michelle Graven, Koos Swanepoel, Sheila Swanepoel – pic by Shirley Carey
Another Lou pic with internet-borrowed pics of Sanderling and Kittlitz’s plover
Africa, Aitch, Nostalgia, Travel Africa

Sole Searching Wild Coast Walk

Driving south to the Wild Coast I glanced down at my feet. Right foot on the accelerator, left foot chilling next to the clutch. No shoes. Barefoot.

OK, I’d forgotten to take shoes on our six-day beach walk. Too late to turn back.

It was fine. I’d make do. I said nothing. Didn’t want Aitch cackling about my dodgy 49-yr-old memory glands. I’m not known for being a meticulous packer or planner, so what the hell . . I was used to making do.

Reflections on the Wild Coast
Reflections on the Wild Coast

It was April 2004 and our hiking route was southward. From Kobb Inn about 60km to Morgan Bay. Another group would head north at the same time and the organisers saw to it we met up and swopped vehicles so ours would be waiting for us in Morgans Bay at the end of the hike. Slick. Good friend and colleague Allan Marais happened to be in the other party so he drove my diesel VW kombi and I drove his petrol 4X4 Mitsubishi. He messaged me that evening: “All’s well. Your kombi is parked outside the hotel. I filled it up to the brim with petrol”.

Luckily I know Allan Marais, so I simply replied, “Great. I filled your Mitsi up with diesel. Also to the brim”.

We’d be staying in hotels and cottages on the way. Slackpacking! What a pleasure! Good weather, lonely beaches, light daypacks with only water and lunch in them. Friendly local people acted as porters on each leg and carried our real packs ahead of us. Cold beers, good meals and comfortable beds awaited us each night.

We felt positively Victorian as we surveyed the number of people it takes to make pale city slickers feel like we’re roughing it!

Wild Coast walk_2004 Candys Beach Hse (4)
Tom and daughters, Taylors, Swanies, Gayle & Janice and our porters

A good reminder that few of the famous bold and dashing explorers would have made it out of their ships if it hadn’t been for local guides who showed them the way, found food and water for them, and negotiated safe passage through occupied territory. And who cooked and cleaned for them – sometimes even carried them!

Wild Coast walk_2004 Kobb Inn (18)

Past the Jacaranda thirty three years after its 1971 stranding:

One day was really windy. All the rest were clear and calm. We kept Africa on our right and the Indian Ocean on our left and sauntered along blissfully.

Wild Coast walk_2004 Wild Coast (23)

There’s nothing to eat here, there’s nothing to drink here, so what’s up, bovine beauties? Beach comfortable to lie on? Looking for a furry tan? Wanting to be seen to be seen?

Wild Coast walk_2004 Wild Coast (9)

River crossings – by boats and wading

Wild Coast walk_2004 Wild Coast (31)

Janice had to fly home a day early from a little airstrip near the beach. Work! It’s the curse of the drinking class. There she goes; Look, she’s waving:

Wild Coast walk_2004 Janice flies early

Morgan Bay with its spectacular cliffs

Wild Coast walk_2004 Morgan Bay (2)

~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~

And shoes? Didn’t need ’em. I walked barefoot most of the way, slipping on my yellow flip-flops when the rocks got pointy. Mostly it was beach sand or smooth foot paths, really easy on our feet.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

See the purple arrows for the section we walked? Friends walked from Port Edward to East London in 2016. Way further, and carrying all their kit! Allie Peter and Mike Frizelle wrote about it. A lovely and highly entertaining read of ancient old goats staggering from shebeen to shebeen fuelled on Transkei dumpies, Wild Coast weed and cataflam. Especially cataflam anti-inflammatory pills!

Allie Mike Wild Coast Hairy Hikers
– Drop Outs at the Drop Off? Mike, friend and Allie –

Years later, another beach walk.