This rugged paradise calls to the unassuming traveller
Coffee Bay calls to the curious traveller. It’s one of many stops along a seemingly endless expanse of lush green hills, clusters of rondavels, and seaside villages along the Wild Coast. But this place stands out. Situated at the mouth of the Nenga River, the area has a population of just a few hundred. If you’re looking for solitude and space to reset, this is it.
While the small town boasts a tarred road off the N2 highway, it’s mostly dirt roads winding through the rugged paradise. The unusual traffic in this part of the Eastern Cape – ambling herds of cows and goats – coupled with the province’s infamous potholes force you to slow down and appreciate the scenery. There aren’t many mapped routes here. But ask a local for directions and follow the well-worn paths of those who’ve gone before, to the very tops of the cliffs or below where sand and sea meet.
The ocean is the core of Coffee Bay’s appeal. Walk to the beach from Sugarloaf Backpackers, or embark on a two-kilometre hike to Mapuzi Cliffs, one of the most renowned spots to dive off. With exceptional swells and numerous reefs surrounding the bay, surfing and snorkelling feature on must-do lists. Hole in the Wall, the extraordinary coastal rock formation that attracts tourists year-round, is a mere 20-minute drive away out of the town.
For those who prefer to sit back, the Ocean View Hotel provides one of the best vantage points to appreciate the abundance of marine life. As temperatures drop in winter, the annual sardine run brings fish to the Indian Ocean in search of warmer seas. Naturally, pods of dolphins and whales follow. The mammals stay on in the following months to mate and raise their calves, putting on a remarkable display as they swim and breach.
A new energy emerges as the sun sets. At Coffee Shack Backpackers, the flickers of a bonfire cast silhouettes while the sound of drumming ushers in the night. Traditional Xhosa performers lead rounds of singing and dancing. Joining in is inevitable. Coffee Bay pulsates with the community’s lively spirit. Come morning, fresh pots of coffee, personalised souvenirs, and the friendly faces of local rastafarians await at The Village Café. Visitors who arrive as strangers leave as family.
Forgo the idea of beach resort luxury in this town. As far as accommodation, dining and shopping go, there is the occasional spaza shop and scatterings of modest backpackers and camping grounds. But this offers the privilege of being fully immersed in the community. From the locals to the landscape, a sense of authenticity prevails. In its craggy, unrefined wonder, Coffee Bay has all the makings of a perfect seaside holiday.