Strandloper Hiking Trail celebrates magical southern Wild Coast

On the cliffs between Morgan Bay and Double Mouth, looking west towards Haga Haga in the distance. Nic Rogers, 18, enjoys the view
WILD WONDER: On the cliffs between Morgan Bay and Double Mouth, looking west towards Haga Haga in the distance. Nic Rogers, 18, enjoys the view
Image: GUY ROGERS

Thunder rumbled over Beacon Valley and we sat on the veranda of our forest hut with the geckoes watching benignly over us and listened to The Rider of Lost Creek on Nic’s phone while I bathed my blistered feet in a tub of water.

Cool air wafted in and our gas cooker hissed beneath a varkpan of water for our tea and the afternoon light dropped another notch, and then the rain came down.

The bush around us quivered as if with joy as the raindrops pummelled the leaves and we broke open our five-star freeze-dried chicken tomato alfredo and dined like kings while we contemplated the final leg of our journey.

We were on the Strandloper Hiking Trail, which runs 60km over four days southwest down the coast from Kei Mouth to Gonubie.

Strandloper manager Bryan Church at the Cape Morgan Ecocentre at the head of the trail
MAP TELLS A STORY: Strandloper manager Bryan Church at the Cape Morgan Ecocentre at the head of the trail
Image: GUY ROGERS

On the first morning after overnighting at the Cape Morgan Eco-Centre and a thorough briefing from trail manager Bryan Church we set out along a grassy path past wild banana trees and humming cicadas keeping an eye out for otters which Bryan had said were often sighted in the area.

At Cape Morgan Lighthouse we turned down out of the forest to the beach and emerged where a spine of gnarled steel and concrete brackets ran over the rocks into the  sea.

The steel and concrete brackets that used to support the pipe that pumped seawater up to the titanium mine at Cape Morgan 60 years ago have become part of the landscape
GONE TO ROCK: The steel and concrete brackets that used to support the pipe that pumped seawater up to the titanium mine at Cape Morgan 60 years ago have become part of the landscape
Image: GUY ROGERS

Sixty years ago this structure supported a pipe which channelled seawater to a nearby titanium mine. The mine failed long ago but the brackets have almost become part of the rock.

This strangely pockmarked log lay across the path near Double Mouth
PATTERNS OF TIME: This strangely pockmarked log lay across the path near Double Mouth
Image: GUY ROGERS

Thick mist descended as we approached Morgan Bay over a long beach and a ghostly woman horse rider cantered past.

By the time we sat down on the deck of the Morgan Bay Hotel the sun was blazing, however, and it took two glasses each of Morgan Bay Mud, a delicious home-brewed cooldrink cocktail, to quench our thirst.

West of Morgan Bay on top of the cliffs we strayed off the path and linked up by mistake with the gravel road to Double Mouth.

Which was just as well because at that moment one of Nic’s boots gave out and we were sitting on the side of the road trying to fix it when help rolled up in a dusty bakkie.

Oscar Willemsen usually piloted yachts around the globe for a living but he had been stranded by the Covid lockdown and was on a trans-Africa road trip and just happened to be passing.

He plunged into a cavernous toolbox and whipped out a roll of duct tape and had Nic reshod in no time.

Double Mouth Camp and Caravan Park Site manager Xolani Xolo, front second from left, leads a proud little team. They are, back from left, Wiseman Ndonyana, Ubuntu Madikizela and Nomawhetu Somjwanxa and, front from left, James Mbodamo, Xolani, Vuyiso Mbem and Thabiso Baartman
IN GOOD HANDS: Double Mouth Camp and Caravan Park Site manager Xolani Xolo, front second from left, leads a proud little team. They are, back from left, Wiseman Ndonyana, Ubuntu Madikizela and Nomawhetu Somjwanxa and, front from left, James Mbodamo, Xolani, Vuyiso Mbem and Thabiso Baartman
Image: GUY ROGES

At idyllic Double Mouth we chatted to Xolani Xolo, manager of the caravan park and the surrounding nature reserve.

He turned out to be the uncle of the young woman who had served us on the hotel deck in Morgan Bay, a small but telling indication of the key role of tourism in the area as an employer.

Another example was Victoria Jamani, who I chatted to the next morning while I was filling our water bottles.

She walked every day from Morgan Bay to Double Mouth to get piece jobs washing dishes and clothes for the caravaners.

During the hard Covid lockdown she had zero income because the site was closed to visitors.

Our Strandloper hut was situated on the far side of the caravan park on the edge of the forest, above the  beach.

Like the ecocentre it was spotlessly clean, everything worked and there was a bag of braai wood waiting.

We had left our candles behind at the ecocentre but a young member of Xolani’s crew, Ubuntu Madikizela, true to his name, found us some replacements and after dinner by the flickering light I read Laurie Lee's A Rose for Winter about a far away long ago adventure in Spain, before I fell asleep.

Cows on the beach at Double Mouth apparently licking salt off the rocks
DOUBLE TAKE: Cows on the beach at Double Mouth apparently licking salt off the rocks
Image: GUY ROGERS

On the trail west of Double Mouth we kept our eyes peeled for cowrie “money shells”, Chinese Ming dynasty porcelain shards and red-brown cornelian beads, remnants of the Santo Espiritu.

The Portuguese ship foundered off this coastline  in 1608, and these artefacts from her hold still litter the area.

The cowries were used as currency and the beads are made of silicone dioxide, originally mined in India.  

We found none of these items but the beaches on either side of the Quko River, richly carpeted with shells and shingle, were treasure enough.

Situated on the edge of coastal forest, surrounded by Strelitzia nicolai, the Strandloper overnight hut at Double Mouth overlooks the beach
WAVES AND WILD BANANAS: Situated on the edge of coastal forest, surrounded by Strelitzia nicolai, the Strandloper overnight hut at Double Mouth overlooks the beach
Image: GUY ROGERS

With Strandloper having lost its second night hut in a fire they have partnered with the Haga Haga Hotel.

Late that afternoon we checked into our allotted room there and enjoyed the splendour of a shower followed by the added luxury of a meal in the hotel dining room.

After the duct tape came loose from the front of his boot, Nic used fishing line to bind on the errant sole
TRYING AGAIN: After the duct tape came loose from the front of his boot, Nic used fishing line to bind on the errant sole
Image: GUY ROGERS

A few kilometres out of Haga the next day the sole of Nic’s other boot came adrift and we used a length of gut from a friendly fisherman to bind it together.

It wasn’t ideal and it was a long way to go but after a difficult time over the rocks we stepped down onto a gorgeous expanse of sand.

The beaches between Double Mouth and Haga Haga were richly carpeted with shells and pebbles
TREASURE ENOUGH: The beaches between Double Mouth and Haga Haga were richly carpeted with shells and pebbles
Image: GUY ROGERS

Bosbokstrand is surely one of the longest most beautiful beaches in SA.

It stretches 10km in a gentle anticlockwise arc, intersected by the Nara, Kwenxura, Kefane and Cintsa rivers.

 We had been prepared to swim them but because of the drought and weak inflow from upriver they were blind or reduced to a stream.

A fisherman’s chariot at Haga Haga
DON’T BUG ME: A fisherman’s chariot at Haga Haga
Image: GUY ROGERS

We walked through vast emptiness with just the wash of the waves and company of white breasted cormorants, oystercatchers, seagulls and herons.

Then striations in the sand where fishermen had scratched for mussels started appearing then the anglers themselves and even cyclists. We were approaching civilisation.

At a certain point Strandloper guide John Phakamile, a quiet man with a long stride, came down out of the dunes from where he had been keeping a lookout for us, and he escorted us right through to Cintsa East.

He left us at the Village Bistro where we were welcomed like royalty and served a delicious currie while an assistant was dispatched to try to find us some more duct tape at the nearby store.

East of Haga Haga the rocks shelf looks like it has been prepared by a pastry chef
DRAWN AND QUARTERED: East of Haga Haga the rocks shelf looks like it has been prepared by a pastry chef
Image: GUY ROGERS

There was none but it was getting late and we wanted to get to Beacon Valley before the predicted storm. So we pushed on around the Cintsa West promontory and then into the trees.

Strandloper guide John Phakamile left us in Cintsa East
LONG STRIDER: Strandloper guide John Phakamile left us in Cintsa East
Image: GUY ROGERS

I dreamed that night of a squiggle of rocks and sand and the smell of the sea and the forest.

A spider crab danced with a gecko and a single file of Strandlopers, the first people who walked these shores 600 years ago, showed me their bare feet and smiled.

On the last leg of the trail, a mere 15km, we strode past Queensbury Bay and Glen Gariff, waded through the waist-deep Kwelera River, traversed a beach at Rainbow Valley that was covered in large pebbles that clattered loudly as each wave retreated, and finally swam the Gonubie, using our raincovers to float our packs.

The author using his splash cover to float his rucksack across the Gonubie River
FINAL SWIM: The author using his splash cover to float his rucksack across the Gonubie River
Image: NIC ROGERS

We trudged up the boardwalk off the beach and a group of young women in weekend party attire eyed our bedraggled appearance doubtfully and then asked Nic to take a photo of them.

He did so happily, positioning them framed by the magical coastline along which we had forged.

His subjects beamed, flashing their sunglasses at him, and for a moment virtual and physical reality met and it was good.

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