Views on a new highway are split, writes Max Marx.
The Eastern Cape’s rugged Wild Coast, which stretches from the Mtamvuna River in the north to the Great Kei River in the south, is one of the world’s most untouched scenic locations. This unspoiled natural treasure is a superb destination for those seeking something less crowded.
The Wild Coast is Xhosa tribal country, the birthplace of Nelson Mandela, with a landscape dotted by tribal huts and gentle rolling hills. Cattle roam freely, even on the beaches. Intriguing shipwrecks, spectacular rock formations, pristine white sands, dolphins flashing in the waves and charming family hotels make this a must-visit destination for international travellers.
Visitors can explore its renowned beauty on foot, by horse or 4x4 before embarking on fishing expeditions or snorkelling and diving outings. There are also numerous spots along the coast that are great for whale-watching from May to December and over 320 bird species are found in this area.
Renier Friis, General Manager: Business Development & Contracting at Tourvest DMC, says the sheer wildness and the untouched nature of the Wild Coast makes the destination an itinerary “must-have”. “This is truly off the beaten track and away from mainstream tourism, which makes for an amazing secluded getaway.”
However, the proposed building of a Wild Coast highway from Durban to East London, which includes a section from Port Edward to Mtentu is causing major controversy.
The Port Edward/Mtentu portion cuts right through the ancestral lands of some Wild Coast communities. It also cuts through the Pondoland Centre of Plant Endemism, which has been recognised as one of the most important areas of plant diversity in Africa, with a host of species found nowhere else in the world.
While some believe it will bring much-needed economic development to the region, others believe it will destroy this untouched region of South Africa.
Karien le Grand, Product Development Manager at Tourvest Destination Management says the highway will allow more tourists to experience the hospitality and breathtaking scenery of the Wild Coast, offering sustainability to local communities.
Dave Martin, founder of Bulungula Lodge, is ambivalent about the highway. “While improved access will help tourism in the area, it will also enable access for mining companies to create environmental and community damage.”
The Amadiba community in Pondoland has waged a 10-year battle against mining companies that want to mine the 24km stretch of beach between Mtentu and the Wild Coast Sun for lucrative titanium. The land belongs to the Amadiba community, who have lived on it for centuries.
According to Russel Hartshorne, co-owner of Mtentu Lodge, the villagers believe the only reason government wants to build the highway is to enable the mining company to get its mined material out of the area.
“Mining here would force the resettlement of the people of the area and forever change the traditional way of life of these amaPondo communities, who’ve lived a crime-free, subsistence lifestyle for hundreds of years. Yes, we do need the roads upgraded and maintained in the area so that tourists have better access and people can preserve their way of life, but we don't need gigantic highways and fly-offs that cut directly through the most pristine part of South Africa.
“They want to build two enormous bridges over the Mtentu and Msikaba rivers. Our rivers are exceptionally special, full of Kingfish, Loggerhead turtles and otters and among the few pristine estuaries left in South Africa.”
Things to do at the Wild Coast
*Spend the night in a traditional homestead and experience a traditional Xhosa culture.
*Visit Qunu and Mvesa where Mandela spent his youth.
*Visit the Mandela Museum in Mthatha and Qunu
*The iconic Hole in the Wall rock formation, a geological phenomenon, south of Coffee Bay. Visitors can also buy African arts and crafts here.
*Mkambati Nature Reserve is one of the most beautiful nature reserves in South Africa. One of the most popular activities is a walk along the Mkambti River to the Horseshoe Falls, which plunges into the sea.
*For a more ‘tame’ Wild Coast experience, visitors can stay at the Wild Coast Sun in Port Edward with its waterpark, restaurants and bars, casino, golf course and conference facilities.
*Take a drive along the Wild Coast Jikeleza Route, which offers more than 50 tourist attractions and a variety of accommodation establishments from five-star luxury boutique hotels to backpacker lodges. Attractions include the Big 5 Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve, horse riding and swimming along the 17 km beach at Cintsa, and the Kwelera National Botanical Garden, great for birdwatching. The Kwelera River estuary is good for watersports.