The forests altered between dense indigenous forests and eucalyptus plantations. The area is known as Gxwaleni and provided one of the best forest drives of the entire trip - very slow, but oh so worthwhile.
The first puncture
Once out of the forests our route went past Nzulweni over rolling hills and many flowing streams, where well fed, healthy cattle slaked their thirst. Our route followed the compass directly into the south, where we briefly connected with the tar road between Mqanduli and the Zithulele Mission hospital. It was at this point that the Range Rover's tyre needed to be changed. The most difficult part of the job was getting access to the spare wheel, which was buried deep underneath all the luggage, requiring a complete unpack. Many hands make light work and within 10 minutes the wheel was changed and the convoy ready to roll again. This is just one of the benefits of being in a group. Thanks to Gys, Philip and Iain for assistance.
After a brief period of tar driving and some respite from the dust, we turned south again at Zithulele, crossing a number of rivers, each with its own pass. The first of these was the Mncwasa River after which we drove through the lovely Kumpane Forest. A short while later the Mpane Store is the landmark to confirm your GPS is doing its job. Here we turned inland circumventing some deep gorges as we passed the village of Embekweni and then plunged down another river gorge - the Mboleni River. By now everyone was growing accustomed to the ritual of plunging down into river gorges and ascending the other side, only to repeat the exercise multiples of times each day. These routes are very slow going and for anyone thinking about planning a route through these parts, make sure you have multiple plan B's, as you never know if a bridge will be intact or a river shallow enough to cross. It this element of uncertainty which attracts adventure travellers to this area.
Xhora and Mbashe River Gorges
Next up was a big pass - the traverse of the Xhora River Gorge. The views along this pass are dramatic with craggy cliffs, steep hilly slopes (with plenty of mud in the wetter months) and of course, the Xhora River itself, which is a powerful one as can be evidenced by years of regular flood damage. On the southern side, after completing the ascent, we passed the Emadwaleni Hospital. These scattered hospitals provide an essential health service to the Xhosa people. It was good that all appeared to be in good shape and operational.
The next river gorge to traverse was the Ntlonyabe River, which was a minor one. Once on the far side we passed yet another clinic, the Bomvana Clinic. We turned sharp left past the clinic, and took a minor road that follows a ridge down to the Mbashe River. This was easily the biggest descent of the day in terms of altitude lost/gained and provided guests with marvellous Wild Coast views as far as the eye can see. It's a long and continuous descent, requiring gearing down to save on brakes overheating. At the bottom of the gorge is a long, single lane concrete bridge, known as the Fyfe-King Bridge. Many maps show it as the Five Kings bridge and it's not too difficult to see why so many people have perpetuated this basic cartographic error.
Fyfe-King was the magistrate of Idutywa and Mthatha and it was he who made (by order of the court) the decision to construct this bridge, which proved to greatly improve access in the area. He was a very popular person and his funeral was attended by large numbers of Xhosa mourners.
Once the big climb up the far side of the Mbashe Valley was completed we passed by the Mpozolo Clinic, still resolutely heading south. We did not have time to visit the Dwesa Nature Reserve, but on our next Wild Coast Tour, we will make a point of visiting this much revered reserve.
One thing about this Wild Coast Tour is the sheer volume of mountain passes. Most of them remain undocumented and will require a special two week solo recce trip to document and film all of them - a task we are relishing!
Next up was the Nqabarha River gorge. This is another spectacular gorge with magnificent views that are hard to describe. On all the passes a slow speed is necessary to avoid running into livestock, which are everywhere. After three or four days in the Wild Coast, one grows accustomed to these mini roadblocks. The cattle are exceptionally patient or disinterested in vehicles and generally stand their ground until you are less than a metre away.
At the Mthokwane village, our route went inland once more for a while, before swinging back towards the south as we savoured the next big pass - the Shixini River Pass. The mouth itself, just a few kilometres to the east is one of the most picturesque estuaries along the Wild Coast and well worth a detour if you have the time.
Three smaller valleys are crossed before Kob Inn - the Ngadla, Jujura and KuNkazana. As the afternoon wears on, thoughts turn towards comfortable beds, cold beers or a glass of fine wine. The scenery on the road down to Kob Inn remains beautiful and finally the spotless grounds and warm hospitality on offer at Kob Inn became a reality. Kob Inn is owned by Daan Prinsloo and is one of our favourite stop-overs on this tour. The rooms are very close to the beach and rocks, separated by a healthy strip of lush green lawn.
A modern shipwreck
Whilst we were enjoying sundowners next to the rocks at Kob Inn and sultry, calm weather close to 5.30 pm, the wind suddenly came belting in from the south west at 40 knots and with it came temperatures that plummeted to 16C. Umbrellas went flying as we all scuttled to the comforts of the pub. We were witnessing some history happening under our noses. Earlier a large sailing yacht was seen a few miles offshore heading towards Durban in calm conditions. It had been one of the participants in the annual Vasco da Gama race between Durban and East London.
The next day news filtered in that a yacht "Majimoto" a Farr 38 design, had suffered rudder damage during this storm and despite efforts to jury rig a temporary rudder, the skipper decided to put out a Mayday distress call, which the NSRI in East London responded to. The stricken vessel was located and all crew taken safely on-board. An attempt to tow the yacht back to East London in the rough sea conditions was abandoned. The yacht beached at one of the river mouths near Kob Inn. It will more than likely become yet another of the many shipwrecks that litter this coastline. It is after all called the Wild Coast for good reason.
Kob Inn's surfing dolphins
It's common to see dolphins surfing the waves directly in front of the lawns and pool. We were booked in at Kob Inn for two nights. The food is great, but due to poor acoustics (basically a lack of soft furnishings), noise levels from happy guests can get uncomfortably loud.
Nic, accompanied by our sweep Philip, drove through to Willowmore, to get the Range Rover's tyre fitted with a gaiter - and just as well as the following day, Nic would experience six more punctures in a single day. It was as well that there were several of those plug type repair kits amongst the group. They were put to good use. Adding up all the delays, played havoc with your ETA back at Kob Inn. The leg from Idutywa to Kob Inn was completed in the dark, arriving back at Kob Inn after 7 pm.
Next week we visit Collywobbles and the Mbashe Dam.
Pass of the Week
* * UMZIMVUBU PASS * *
New upgraded videos posted this week:
Tail Piece: "The importance of a country is inversely proportional to the length of its national anthem" ~ Allen Otter