A little piece of heaven in Mbotyi

I had a laugh yesterday, Jon and I were working in the garden when we heard the sound of a baby crying coming from one of our neighbour’s houses (which is of course not funny in itself obviously).  We looked at each other and I commented on how it was definitely a baby this time and not a baby goat.  Having just spent a week in Mbotyi in the Eastern Cape where there are kids (offspring of the goat kind) running amok constantly calling for an absent family member, we quickly grew accustomed to the sound coming from lost little goats and not from a baby, if you can forgive my sound comparison.  When I travel I tend to associate sounds to places as a means to relive and invoke the memories made in that place, and the sound of goats calling is going to forever represent the amazing spot of Mbotyi for me now.

A couple of years ago we spent a few days in Coffee Bay which is also on the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape and from then on we always knew that we wanted to come back to this magical part of South Africa.  This time we were lucky enough to spend a week in Mbotyi which is situated further North of Coffee Bay on the Wild Coast.  It’s quite a drive from Cape Town but we made a road trip of it and stopped over for two nights in Hogsback on the way there (another magical spot in itself), and then joined up with friends in St Francis for four nights on our way back.  Side note:  VW really needs to market the off-road abilities of the Golf 7 a little more.  In Hogsback it had to tackle muddy and wet mountain dirt roads that any 4×4 would feel right at home on, and did so with great enthusiasm.  This was not the first time we had put it on a tricky dirt road either – it proved itself to be a fearless adventurer in Coffee Bay those couple of years ago where it had to tackle potholed and puddled roads with all the 4×4’s looking on dubiously from the side.  Go VW!  Side note over, back to the topic at hand – Mbotyi.

We arrived there late afternoon tired but excited.  The last bit of the drive through a seemingly endless tea plantation which eventually gave way to a beautiful winding forest descent down to the pristine coastline, gave us a glimpse of what we could expect over the next week and we were excited.  I feel like whenever I arrive somewhere new I want to scope out the place immediately and take it all in at once but on arriving here I knew that this was a place to be savoured and explored without the usual rush.  The ocean was just a few metres away and the evening became one of those proper warm summer nights where you sit outside in a t-shirt and shorts and star gaze with the surround sound of waves crashing and crickets chirping.

Over the next week we had amazing sunny weather bar two of the days on which it rained, but even that could not keep us inside.  There is nothing quite like warm summer rain when you are outside hiking.  In addition, coming from Cape Town this was especially invigorating for us given the lack of rain we have been experiencing here, as well as the fact that Cape Town is generally known for cold winter rain which we do not venture out much in.

Hiking in Mbotyi and surrounds is something else.  The landscape ranges from tropical forest to open grassland and onto rolling coastal hills.  Goats, cows and sheep are everywhere – you will see them hanging out on the beach, roaming through the grasslands and grazing on the hills seemingly unattended and unconfined.  There is actually so much open space and minimal human development out there that I asked our guide who took us out on a hike to the Waterfall bluff on the one day, who all the livestock belongs to as we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere with barely any people and houses around us.  Coming from a city where I am constantly surrounded by buildings and people and development of some sort, it is hugely rewarding to go to a place where as far as the eye can see there is just unspoilt nature.  The grasslands are rolling meadows of green, upon green, upon more green.  On our drive out to the Waterfall Bluff our guide pointed out some vultures and a bunch of Southern Ground Hornbills, but that unfortunately was the extent of the wildlife we encountered there which is a pity considering the available space, but understandable considering the proximity of the livestock.

Cows on beach

Of all the hikes we did whilst in Mbotyi, two really made an impression.  The first one was to Waterfall Bluff which involved about four hours of 4×4 driving and three hours of hiking altogether.  It was a really long and hot day, but the views were amazing and the adventure factor high.  After parking the 4×4, an hour of hiking got us to the spot where the water falls into the sea.  The size and drop of the waterfall is incredible and it is as if the flowing river falls into the sea that rushes up to meet it with a force that says ‘I too am worthy of being wild and reckless like you’.  The resulting alliance of the sea and the river creates a whirling pool of moody water that beats upon the rocks to form the cliff face that brings the two forces together.  It is an absolute sight (and sound) when you are sitting in the cave overlooking it, and I found myself filled with a sense of awe.

Waterfall bluff 1

But wait, the views are not yet over on this one as the next stop on the hike held another impressive sight for us – Cathedral Rock.  Again, the eroding power of the ocean is demonstrated here by this high-rise of an island, now permanently separated from the shoreline.  Countered by the eroding power is the resilience of the plants that grow on this tiny but tall island.  It never ceases to astound me how nature will find a way to conquer – on this sheer and narrow outcrop of rocks grows your usual bit of greenery of course!

Cathedral rock.jpeg

The second hike that was like nothing else on earth was a really simple one.  It involved a simple walk to the beach, a turn to the right, and a follow of the path that traverses the coastline.  No 4×4 drives needed this time and in fact, you barely even need shoes to do this one.  The path follows the sea and winds along the rolling hills, past one or two houses, a couple of cows, goats and sheep, and takes you to the most magnificent views.  Jon and I found a perfect sitting rock and spent about an hour there overlooking the ocean and the hills.  Everything is so unspoilt and so open and spacious.  As I mentioned previously, the need to rush around in order to get it all in did not exist here, instead this place instilled a sense of calm within me and it allowed me to appreciate each moment and each view that was put in front of me.  I was present and happy and did not need to wonder what we were going to do or see next.  I am sure the ocean has this effect on most people but to have views like this with not another person (aside from my person) in sight is something quite special.  It made me feel honoured to be there, as if the place had chosen to show me its’ best side in a way that spoke to me only.

Beach to right

To say that this place stole my heart is an understatement and we will go back, of that I have no doubt.  I know that in this post I have not touched much on the amazing people who live in Mbotyi, as we did meet a few, and this is mainly because I am aware that there are many people who live in poverty there and because I do not know the full extent of the daily reality of how they cope I am reluctant to narrow their experience down and generalise by saying that we crossed paths with a bunch of happy, super friendly and great people whilst staying there, as it might be a different reality for different people.  That being said, my experience of Mbotyi was shaped by the friendly and welcoming people we met along the way who made us feel at totally at home in their beautiful corner of this earth.

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