REPORT ON HIKING EXPERIENCE

MBOTYI RIVER LODGE BASE

1 – 6 JUNE 2003

 

 

PREAMBLE

 

Most hikes over a week take the form of a hiking trail with participants going from point A to point B – either overnighting in trail huts/cabins or sleeping out in tents.   This particular experience was quite different in that the party used the Mbotyi River Lodge as a base and then hiked on a daily basis returning to the Lodge in the late afternoon each day.   For the purists this may seem a little too cossetted.   However for the people who participated in this experience – it was undeniably luxurious to be able to relax, have a hot bath/shower, visit the bar and then sit down to a 4-course meal served by very friendly Lodge staff.   It will take some persuasion for people on the experience to return to more traditional (and probably correct) ways!

 

1 JUNE – SUNDAY – DAY 1

 

Keith and Margaret picked up Peter in Howick at 08h00 and then down to PMB to pick up Morris and Noλl at their home in Blackridge.   Merle arrived shortly after to hand over her secretarial portfolio – she will be in UK for 3 months to spend time with her sons in Newquay in Cornwall and also to earn some good old GBP!   Keith and party then on to Kokstad via Umzimkulu (who remembers the hassle of passing through the old Transkei border post here prior to 1994).   The customs building is now completely derelict.   Surely the local authority can turn this facility into something attractive and useful!

 

On to the Port St Johns road which has had a sealed surface now for several years and to Lusikisiki.   This has become quite a bustling sort of place being the largest town in this Northern part of the Wild Coast.   Mbotyi is about 40 kms further on.   Arrival around 14h30 with quite pleasant weather.   Mbotyi River Lodge was built about 12 years ago and abandoned around 1994 at the time of the murder of Chris Hani who came from the Transkei.   The previous owners feared retribution which subsequently proved to be unwarranted and amazingly the lodge remained untouched for 7 years – almost the Mari Celeste of the hotel trade you might say.

 

The new owners took over around the year 2000 and it is now a comfortable and well equipped base for hiking, pony trekking, fishing or just chilling out to coin a phrase!

 

After establishing ourselves in comfortable accommodation – a small party decided to walk along the beach in the direction of Waterfall Bluff.   This is superb country and a taste of what was to come over the ensuing days.   The rest of the party arrived in the late afternoon.    Warwick and Brenda with Selven and Prema.   Anton and Penny quite a bit later, just in time for dinner.

 

All retired to the pub before dinner at 19h30, a 4-course affair and nicely served by very friendly staff.   A good start to the week – all feeling strong about the hiking to come.       

 

2 JUNE – MONDAY – DAY 2

 

Early (ish) breakfast – the Mboyti omelette quite awesome!   This was the first hiking  day with a fairly easy 13 kms to get us all into reasonable fitness and shape for the next few days.   The hotel arranged lunch packs so all the work is done and all you have to do is walk!   Target for today was the Rock of the Bird (in Xhosa Ilityelentaka).   Immediately after leaving the hotel the route climbs to about 150/200m with great views of the surrounding area.   The path then drops down to a river for a pleasant

1½ hours or so across delightful beaches – with no one in sight!   Not for nothing is this area called the Wild Coast.   The Rock itself is about 30/40m high and is visible from at least 4 or 5 kms due to the guano deposited by seabirds – gaunet, shag, cormorant over many years.   Keith and our guide Lennox decided to summit.   This was a fairly difficult climb over a sea gully and then over sharp rocks.   The observers enjoyed the spectacle while eating lunch!

 

On the way back, Brenda spotted a white collared kingfisher which is quite rare and  for most of us a first.   Other birds noted were a Cape rock thrush and a white breasted plover.  The route back to the lodge involves a fairly steep climb to about 300m via several Xhosa hamlets.   Before dinner, Prema challenged people to scrabble – beware, this lady is a killer at this game as other guests outside of our party were to find out later in the week.   Adam then met us (son of Sue – joint owner of the lodge) and received the recommended hikes for the remainder of the week with the hike to Waterfall with No Name being considered the most arduous – we unanimously                  decided to get this over with at the earliest opportunity – like the following day!  

 

Again a very good dinner with most of us retiring by 21h00.

 

3 JUNE  – TUESDAY – DAY 3

 

After breakfast (full works) we set off around 08h30 with Lennox again, down to a river followed with a steep climb to about 300m through dense rain forest.   At the top for a breather we had seemingly “lost” Selven and Prema.   Peter and Warwick went back down to the river but no sign of them.   On return (another 400m climb in total) there they were – in good spirits having taken a wrong turn on the path which admittedly wasn’t obviously marked – but had eventually found the main party.

 

The route was now getting increasingly difficult with a bit of rock hopping and cliff  hanging for about another hour before the waterfall came into view.   This is quite dramatic with the first fall descending from the escarpment by about 70m then a flat rocky section where we had lunch.   The main falls drop to the valley from this area by about 100 – 120m.  After a welcome break, on through a densely forested section  with a fair bit of climbing/descending and back to the river.   Home via further Xhosa settlements.   People in the area are friendly and you don’t get any feeling of hostility which is good for tourism in this part of the E. Cape.   We also saw a flock of Cape parrots in the area, a severely endangered bird and great to see.

 

Back to the Lodge by late afternoon with 16 hard earned kilometres under our belt.

 

Usual banter around the bar and an excellent dinner again.   Earlyish night once more for us all.   You sleep well after good exercise, company and food.

 

4 JUNE – WEDNESDAY – DAY 4

 

This was the day for the big one – Waterfall Bluff – distances estimated between 22 and 28 kms but probably 24 kms would be about right.   We had both guides Lennox and Siphiwe for the day - principally for the possibility of anyone wanting to cut short the distance.   On the top of the cliffs one could quite easily get lost without directions.

 

Noλl decided not to go on this hike – the weather had changed and was quite chilly and overcast.   Earlyish start around 08h30 and after about 3 kms Prema decided enough was enough and returned to base with Anton kindly looking after her and accompanying her back.   Penny shortly after also decided to return – but with Anton and Prema in sight we all felt comfortable with this.

 

We pushed on to the end of the 4th beach from base and then a fairly steep rise up a conical shaped hill and onto the cliff top area.   This part of the coast is riven with deep faults and we crossed a natural bridge over such a chasm at least 150 m deep but probably only 2m wide – quite dramatic.   On to Cathedral Rock about 2 kms further.   This is a spectacular rock formation – which does have a look reminiscent of a church or ecclesiastical building.  With the sea breaking around the base – this is the Wild Coast at its best.  The weather had now turned wet and cold so on with wet weather gear and over the cliffs – moorland really – to the river which becomes the lengendary Waterfall Bluff.   We had lunch on the river bank – the banks are really rock formations with several quite deep pools no more than 200 – 300m from the sea.  

 

To view the Waterfall, walk northwards for about 1 km to the cliff face and then down a gully ending in an enormous cave structure – evidence of weather erosion of the sand stone prevalent in the area.   The Waterfall itself is a dramatic scene – this is one of only a very few in the world which drop directly into the sea and certainly the only one in Southern Africa.   The fall is about 50m and with a heavy sea running you appreciate the forces of nature.

 

Back home along the same route in worsening weather – although by the time we reached the beaches it had cleared somewhat.   This was a long hike and most of us were pretty tired and looking forward to hot showers, an hour or so at the pub and then the usual very welcome dinner.

 

One amusing encounter during the day was Lennox’s observation that Keith, Margaret and Peter didn’t speak English!   Clearly their north country accents had him confused.   Please speak up anyone else who had difficulty in communicating with our Chairman and his fellow Lancastrians!

 

5 JUNE - THURSDAY – DAY 5

 

This was the final hike of the week to Magwa falls – distance about 16 kms one way so fairly easy after the previous day.   However the weather was again unsettled.

 

This was Lennox’s day off so Siphiwe led the hike.   He became increasingly talkative and helpful as the day progressed – he was probably taking a bit of a back seat to Lennox on the two previous days.

 

Initially we took the path to the Waterfall with no name – again climbing to about 300m.  On through a fairly rocky patch and into a pine forest until we reached the edges of the Magwa Tea Estates, a huge area which seems to go on forever although there seemed to be little activity.   Clearly if only the tips of the tea bushes are picked for tea blending then a lot of bushes are required!   It had become quite cold as we approached the falls.   Again these are a magnificent sight – a sort of mini Victoria Falls.   In full flood they must be quite spectacular.

 

The arrangement following Falls viewing was that we would be picked up by the lodge people (Adam and friends) around 13h00.   However they didn’t appear until around 13h30 but the good news was that they had kept a hot lunch for us all.   This was most welcome on arrival.

 

Easy afternoon for most of us with the French Open ladies final being the focus – an all Belgian affair with a good win for the underdog.   It was the final evening with Prema again the undisputed queen of scrabble and Margaret table tennis  champion of the week.

 

The team from Blue Planet – who had been there for several days were also in festive mood.   The were preparing a video shoot of the area including the coast line from the seaward side.    Dinner up to usual standard and then all retiring a little later with no serious activity for the following day other than the journey home.

 

6 JUNE – FRIDAY - DAY 6

 

After a relaxing breakfast and sorting out our final accounts – several deciding to visit Msikaba.   This is a renowned spot for fishing and camping and we were not to be disappointed.

 

There’s a small community – almost certainly holiday cottages and a camp site with ablutions.  It would be superb for a week of fishing, walking and just relaxing.   We got details from the camp office – bookings are through the E. Cape capital of Bisho.

 

Eventually all back home arriving late afternoon.

 

SUMMARY

 

This is deluxe hiking and the club should seriously consider at least one such experience annually.   However there is still enormous attraction in the more purist way of camping, overnighting in caves and rough back packing and we should not forget this as being the mainstay of club activities.

 

As a group at Mbotyi we all bonded well and the attractions of the Wild Coast continue to endure.

 

Peter Wedge