Wild Coast: Mkambati
This small reserve on the Wild Coast doesn’t have many facilities – and perhaps that’s the way it should remain.
WORDS LEON-BEN LAMPRECHT PICTURES RUVAN BOSHOFF
Accommodation: The six Gwe Gwe rondavels, which are right on the sea, sleep two each; rates start at R250 per rondavel. There’s bedding and towels and basic facilities, but you have to provide your own crockery and cutlery. The Gwe Gwe Riverside Lodge sleeps 20 people and the rate is R1500 for up to 10 people, and R145 per person extra. It’s fully equipped.
Electricity: Yes, solar power.
Cellphone reception: Only at the entrance gate.
Braai facilities: Yes.
Pets: Not allowed.
Peak season: If you want to see the waterfalls in full spate, visit in March, the wettest month (the rainy season is from September to February). Just remember that the roads can be muddy and dangerous in the rainy season. June is the driest month.
How to get there: Mkambati is about 70 km from Flagstaff. The first 22 km to Holy Cross Mission is tar, and from there it’s good gravel road to the reserve gate.
Hours: Office hours are from 8 am to 4 pm. The main entrance is open 24 hours a day.
Contact: 043 705 4400; www.ecparks.co.za
(Note: Prices are accurate for December 2009)
3 things to do at Mkambati
1. Lots of fish in the sea
We’ve said it already: Mkambati is a fisherman’s dream destination, so pack your fishing gear when you go. Fishing is allowed only at the Point and Gwe Gwe (between the beacons).
If you’ve left your rod at home, this is prime sardine run territory. During the winter holidays, you might spot shoals of up to 10 km long, with thousands of gannets, common dolphins and sharks in tow. Some years, though, the shoals stay out to sea. Humpback whales also migrate past here during winter and can sometimes be seen breaching close to shore.
Go! says: Ask at reception about the reserve’s fishing regulations and buy a licence at any post office.
While you’re waiting for a bite, keep an eye out for whales. Humpbacks have distinctive white patches on the underside of the tail.
2. Waterfalls, rock pools and rivers
If you like water and waterfalls, this is the place for you. The most spectacular spot in the reserve is the Horsehoe Falls. Park your car about 7,7 km from the Riverside Lodge (the sign is on the left). From there it’s a 10-minute walk to the falls. It’s an awesome sight, even when the Mkambati River isn’t flowing strongly. The pool below the falls is big enough for a leisurely swim. It’s only a 1,8 km walk from the Horseshoe to the Strandloper Falls – or you can drive. We arrive at the Strandloper Falls together with a herd of eland, which scatters when we approach. The waterfall has three tiers, the last of which tumbles into the sea. It’s a great place to spend a few hours, relaxing, admiring the view and enjoying sandwiches and cold chicken drumsticks.
Go! says: There are some lovely pools in the reserve to float in. Daza Pool in the Daza River is next to the dirt road about 1 km from reception. Olympic Pool is about 1 km further, towards the beach.
The Mkambati River tumbles to the sea in a series of waterfalls, of which the Horseshoe Falls are the most spectacular. You can swim in the pool, but it’s probably not a good idea to dive in from the top.
3. Walk to the vulture eatery
Sit and watch the Cape vultures at the vulture restaurant at the confluence of the Msikaba and KwaDlambu rivers, and you’ll get a new appreciation for these birds. They may seem more ungainly than eagles, but they make up for it with attitude. The beginning of the trail to the vulture restaurant is next to the main gate, where you can leave your vehicle.
The path is not maintained very well, so in places there’s some guessing required. You can also start hiking from the gravel road at the entrance gate, but then you miss the semiswamp (which is surely home to a few undocumented species). The trail crosses undulating grassy hills and skirts the Superbowl, a large mountain basin surrounded by cliffs. Down below, the KwaDlambu River cuts the forest in two. A little further you pass the Splits, a rock shard leaning away from the cliff, looking like a piece of firewood nearly hacked off with an axe.
The crevice is about 2 m wide, but it’s so deep that you can’t see the bottom. Just follow the sign, but take care not to fall. The hike to the vulture restaurant takes an hour-and-a-half to two hours. When we get there, about 10 vultures slowly circle above the restaurant. The bleached bones have been picked dry. They’re waiting for the next delivery.
Go! says: Like great white sharks, vultures have an undeservedly bad reputation (and they’re not known to bite surfers). Set aside at least an hour to watch these birds.
The Cape culture breedein site at Mkambati is home to one of the largest colonies of htese birds in the Eastern Cape
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You’d have to travel a long way to find a more pristine reserve than Mkambati, between Port St Johns and Port Edward in the Eastern Cape. It spans only 80 km², but it has everything that makes the Wild Coast special: those rolling grassy hills, beautiful waterfalls and lovely coastline, with a vlei and a forest here and there to mix things up a little. You can reach nearly every part of the reserve on foot, without worrying about being stalked by a lion. In fact, that’s the only way to get to some of Mkambati’s best-known waterfalls.
The reserve has fairly good roads, but your car has to have good ground clearance, otherwise you might end up perched on a middelmannetjie. Some stretches require a 4×4. As far as maintenance goes, however, it is evident that the A-team isn’t on duty here any more: The reception building could do with a lick of paint, and the sign indicating the way to the Horseshoe Falls has been bleached by the sun.
It wouldn’t take much to spruce things up a little bit. The animals, however, go about their business undisturbed. Eland and red hartebeest graze on the grassy plains. And there are lots of birds, including yellowthroated longclaws, common waxbills, croaking cisticolas, Southern-ground hornbills and Gurney’s sugarbirds. We’re also fortunate to see an otter. Just as we come through the gate, the little guy peeks at us through the bush before hightailing it back to the Msikaba River.
And fishermen could hardly hope for a better destination.
We run into David Jonck from Pietermaritzburg on the rocks near the Gwe Gwe rondavels, tying a hook to his line while sucking on a Peter Stuyvesant. “I’ve been coming here for 25 years,” David tells us. His friends, Christo and Freddie van Tonder, are tinkering with their fishing rods.
“There’s nothing here, you see. I think that’s the thing about this place. There aren’t loads of people on the rocks while you’re fishing. This place, this is where you find some peace for your soul.”
A wave crashes on the rocks and a fine spray rains down on us. David is still fiddling with the hook. He’s worried about the rumours of development at Mkambati: “They mustn’t come and build hotels here. Once they build a tar road here, everything will change. Yes, the roads are bad, but we accept it like that. It’s part of the attraction.”
Later, I hear the development stories are true. Some of the old buildings at Mkambati are being upgraded, and there are rumours that the idyllic rondavels right on the sea will be knocked down to make place for new, larger overnight accommodation. Eastern Cape Parks director Adnaan Abrahams reassures us, though, that a thorough environmental impact assessment will be done.
This development may be what the reserve needs, or it may permanently disrupt Mkambati’s peace.