Wild Coast Wonders

The Wild Coast leaves an indelible impression on anyone who travels there

Port Edward coastline

I spent the better part of my youth exploring the Wild Coast, a 300km stretch of coastline between East London and Port Edward, thanks largely to my parents’ wanderlust and father’s historical connection to the area.

His grandfather was William Thomas Strachan aka uBili, described as a highly respected friend and associate of the Pondo people as well as local officials of the day. Many of them sought and followed his advice.

What is now known as Hluleka, 30km south of Port St Johns, used to be a farm known as Strachan’s Grant, which was gifted to uBili in 1860 by Chief
Gwadiso of the Khonjwayo for his role in negotiating a truce between the
warring amaKhonjwayo and amaMpondo tribes.

Strachan’s Grant comprised 1 040 hectares stretching from the Umtakatyi River in the south to the Umnenu River in the north.

Port Edward goat

I grew up listening to those and other stories, including how Strachan’s Grant eventually changed hands and uBili and his family moved to what was then Umthatha.

I’ll never forget the getaway with my father and brother in a cottage that once belonged to uBili in Presley Bay, just north of the Lwandile estuary, in the late 80s. Known for its desolate location and untouched natural splendour, there is often nobody around for miles, except for the young locals flogging crayfish.

I would lie on the beach and read, or watch the Pondo cattle that wandered down during the day, while the men fished and picked mussels off the rocks that we cooked over an open fire.

I’m not sure there was even a flushing toilet or electricity then. We had to
deal with gas lamps and a long drop and stories like my mother’s hasty – and rather undignified – exit from the latter after being joined by a boomslang while there on honeymoon. But that’s another story for the Wild Coast.

Hole in the Wall Coffee Bay
Hole in the Wall, Coffee Bay

My father, with his fluent Xhosa, would make friends up and down that coast as we travelled from East London (where we lived at the time) as far as Port St Johns and back to Hluleka, Coffee Bay, Hole in the Wall, Wavecrest, Trennerys, Morgan Bay and Haga-Haga on various trips during the school holidays.

It’s perhaps Chintsa that I remember best, as it is closest to East London, therefore quickest and easiest to reach. Situated just outside that Wild Coast stretch, the drive there is scenic, and the city soon gives way to rolling grasslands dotted with traditional huts, cattle, goats and their herders.

Thirty years later, I’ve been able to return to Chintsa twice recently and
have been pleasantly surprised to find that it’s lost none of its magic. Yes, it’s a little more developed now but its famed natural beauty is as spectacular as it ever was.

Prana Lodge Private Beach Estate and Spa
Prana Lodge Private Beach Estate and Spa

I saw a different side to it though when I visited the award-winning Prana Lodge Private Beach Estate and Spa. The luxurious style of the eight-suite lodge tucked away into the bush at the top of steep sand dunes leading down to the beach, does nothing to take away from its location. In fact it enhances it.

Underpinned by the down-to-earth personalities of owners Gail and Tim Davidson, you’ll find nothing pretentious here. The Davidsons invite guests, friends and family not only to share their dream lifestyle but to nourish body and soul through a talented team in the kitchen and spa.

Prana Lodge Private Beach Estate and Spa
Spa bath at Prana Lodge

Chef Jaycee Ferreira makes sure he and guests never suffer a boring meal or menu with constantly changing dishes depending on what’s fresh and available locally. The spa treatments are transformational and Mother Nature takes care of the rest.

Propelled by the Davidson’s philosophy of “step lightly, care deeply”, it’s no wonder staff turnover is low and investment in the local community is high.

Prana Lodge is about an hour’s drive from East London Airport. Some guests choose to stay put, not venturing much further than the sparkling swimming pool or the long stretch of beach that even the laziest holidaymaker will be tempted to walk or run along, while those keen on a round of golf can head to the nearby Olivewood Private Estate and Golf Club.

It could be argued that the 19th hole is the estate’s sophisticated Wine Bar, which is open to the public on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 5pm to 9pm; and on Sunday for brunch.

Olivewood Private Estate and Golf Club
Olivewood Private Estate and Golf Club

The residential estate component comprises bespoke homes and sectional title units. Bordering on the Chintsa River, its direct river access allows
residents and visitors to walk all the way to Haga-Haga in one direction and Chintsa West in the other.

The completed development will leave approximately 60% of the estate untouched, retaining that much-desired sense of space. Impala, nyala, waterbuck and blesbuck have been introduced, adding to the resident bushbuck, dyker and warthog population.

I really loved the visit to the Emerald Vale Brewery, which is about a 10-minute drive from Prana Lodge. Owner and brewer Chris Heaton is
charismatic, gives a good, entertaining (read hilarious) brewery tour, and
is developing a thriving business out of what was once his hobby.

Chris bought the site, which is a farm between the Chintsa and Cefani rivers, in April 2000 and two years later decided to build a brewery there.
It might have had something to do with the successful sale of his first keg
of beer, which he took down the road to Barefoot Café. “Three hours later
they phoned to say it was finished,” he says.

His craft brewery produces about 8 000 litres per month, and supplies customers in and around East London. The brewery produces pale, gold, amber or black ales.

Their USP? It has to be the Chintsa rainwater they use – with a dash of hadedah poop. Heaton’s laughing, but serious. “If we were in Joburg, we would not be using rainwater because it’s contaminated, but Chintsa rainwater is absolutely brilliant.

We do need certain minerals in our water and we know rain isn’t going to provide it but when we did our water profile we discovered it contains just the right amount of zinc. It comes from our galvanised roof sheeting, so along with our hadedah poop we have very nutritious water,” he laughs.

Brewing beer is quite simple, but precision is needed. He’s serious again. “We only use natural ingredients, so no sugar, or additives – just the basic old style of brewing beer with barley malt, hops (used to spice the beer and it’s also a very good natural preservative), yeast and rainwater – the most important ingredient.”

Emerald Vale Brewery
Beer tastings at Emerald Vale Brewery

Heaton has since opened a restaurant, which has become extremely popular especially over holiday periods and weekends, and a self-catering cottage is now available for short-term let.

Live music events are a regular attraction (the venue can take up to 850 people) and people love picnicking next to the river, fishing, or testing their fitness on the mountain bike and hiking trails that thread through the property in 5, 10, 15 and 20km loops.

Siblings who tried out the routes early one Sunday morning called it a
trailrunners’ paradise in a social media post, with “great ups and downs,
and good fast, flat sections with more than enough switchbacks to keep you
honest”.

Story by Debbie Hathway

CONTACTS:

•Prana Lodge:
Tel: 043 704 5100, www.pranalodge.co.za

•Olivewood:
Email: golf@olivewoodestate.com and
winebar@olivewoodestate.com
www.olivewoodestate.com

• Emerald Vale Brewery:
Tel: 073 078 96 88 or 043 738 5397
www.emeraldvalebrewery.co.za

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