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Backpacker Magazine – November 2013

best culture hike: Wild Coast Hiking Trail, Silaka and Huleka Nature Reserves, South Africa

Visit eight rural villages on this five-day tour along an undeveloped stretch of coast.

by: Fiona McIntosh

Follow footpaths worn by villagers and livestock on this five-day, 39-mile hike through farming hamlets below the 11,000-foot Drakensberg Mountains. It’s a primo cultural experience—you’ll hear the rhythmic, tonal clicking of a unique language as you pass through eight Xhosa communi- ties, with the option to camp or hut along the easy path. But this Wild Coast trek comes with eye- popping scenery, too, including sandy beaches and grassy hills dotted with colorful huts above the sparkling Indian Ocean. From the Port St. Johns trailhead, climb 300 feet in 1.5 miles through coastal forest to an overlook from which you can see waves beating striated promontories and sandy bays. Follow the trail out of the reserve, cutting inland and descending to the Umngazi River via a primitive cart path that you’ll share with oxen-pulled wagons loaded with firewood and wide-eyed boys. Ferry across to overnight amid a cluster of sky-blue rondavels (round huts) in the Madakeni village (mile 7.5). After meeting your colorfully-cloaked hosts, explore a series of Bushman caves near the river mouth. Next day, hike 7.5 miles under 120-foot-tall basalt walls (decorated in red-spiked aloes in winter) amid mauve ground orchids, yellow daisies, and white everlasting nettles to Tsweleni (mile 15). After feasting on samp (maize meal porridge) and beans or saucy pap (ground dry corn kernels), listen to local folklore, and bed down in a simple mud hut. Day three, plan to hit the knee-high Mpande River at low tide, and wade across, looking out for ancient shell middens (refuse dumps). Continue over rolling grasslands laden with isolated huts, called sutu, where adolescents—with faces painted in white clay—live during the final stages of their coming-of-age rituals. Dive into Huleka Nature Reserve’s stretch of coastal forest (look for zebra and antelope), and spend the night in the Huleka village (mile 24), where you can watch traditional dancing and drink local, milky-white beer at the shebeen (bar). Next day, complete 10 miles over rolling, green hills en route to the beachside Mdumbi village. Look for for crater-like, primitive silos that are used to store grain, and cross four shallow rivers. Last day, traverse 230-foot-tall cliffs above the Indian Ocean (look for dolphins) to the Mthatha River (mile 39), where you’ll cross via a shaky, aluminum rowboat to touristy Coffee Bay.

Guide Wild Tours & Hikes ($180/person; Note Guide recommended (trails are poorly marked), but not necessary; camping allowed in lieu of huts (but seek permission from the village chief before pitching your tent).

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