A few weeks ago, a friend and I hiked Pondoland on the Wild Coast, starting from the Wild Coast Sun and ending at Mbotji Lodge, just 30km from Port Saint Johns. This was an incredible experience, but it took me a long time to figure out if doing this trail unguided was still a possibility. After extensive research, I finally nailed it down, and I have a strong desire in my heart to share everything I’ve learned with other hikers so you can make an informed decision about hiking this absolute gem of South Africa.
This hike has earned the top spot among my favorite hikes, and I believe every hiker can and should experience this trail. From towering waterfalls and freshwater swimming pools to shipwrecks, tropical beaches, and meandering rivers, this journey is filled with history, diversity, and incredible culture.
Here is a video of our experience doing this coastline:
When it comes to hiking this section of the Wild Coast, there is an option for anyone wanting to do it. Whether you want to slackpack on a fully guided and catered trip or backpack unsupported, I don’t have all the answers. However, the couple of days I spent on this trail have taught me enough to hopefully help you make a wise decision on how to experience Pondoland and this magical part of South Africa.
Because there were just two of us, and we had limited time to complete this trail, a guided tour wasn’t an option. This left us with no other choice than to hike on our own, organizing our own accommodations along the route and gathering all the information we needed to make it possible.
This is possibly the trendiest way to hike in Pondoland. If you’re considering this option, Wild Child is the first one that comes to mind and has introduced many newcomers to this historic trail. I’ve only heard incredible things from people who have hiked with them. While this is the most expensive choice, Wild Child takes care of everything you need, including accommodation, bag transportation between camps, organizing transport, providing food, and even meeting you on the beach at the end of your day’s hike with a G&T.
Wild Child’s Pondo experience tends to book out a year in advance, and though it may be costly for some, I genuinely believe you get what you pay for. For more information, check out Wild Child here. Unfortunately, we were unable to use Wild Child due to our limited time and their lack of availability.
Local tour guides like PondoTours offer a truly unique experience in Pondoland, staying in different villages with the Pondo people. Local families provide accommodation, bedding, and three meals a day, and because it’s fully guided, you don’t need to worry about a thing. When booking, they typically also include transport back to the starting point.
I can only imagine this being an incredible cultural experience and would have loved to hike this route in this manner. However, because there were only two of us, we didn’t meet the minimum group requirement.
Hiking South Africa has an excellent write-up on this, which you can read here. PondoTours, guided by a local guide named Bongani, has consistently come up as a recommended choice and seems to be highly regarded. You can contact Bongani on WhatsApp at +27837282007.
Quick Note: A quick Google search will bring up other tour companies and local guides who can offer something similar.
In recent years, finding information on how to do this route self-guided has become increasingly challenging. My hope with this write-up is to change that. I believe everyone should experience this incredible coastline, no matter how or when they wish to hike it. I also believe that the more hikers on it, the more it will uplift the Pondo people.
For many years, this is exactly how this hike was traveled. You’d book accommodations along the coastline and stay in beach camps that were built by the British in the 1800s but are now owned by the Mpondo tribe and rented out to groups that manage the camps, providing a portion of the income back to the Pondo people, whose land the camps sit on.
From what I’ve been told by locals, one of the very popular and recommended slackpacking organizers seems to be aiming to take over the trail, limiting others from hiking it solo, like we did. I experienced this when I tried to book accommodations at Msikba, Luphathana, and Manteku but was refused once they found out we were hiking solo. This upset me because these camps used to be Drifter’s Adventure Camps, and anyone hiking this route could stay there without question. However, I was also told by some that this group does incredible things for the community, and I believe this group will be the ones fighting to keep this trail open. I just hope they do it for all hikers, including local guides and solo travelers like us.
Hiking Pondoland self-guided requires a lot of research. You will need to navigate yourself without any trail markings, cross potentially dangerous rivers, book accommodations, carry your own food, and organize transport back to the starting point. I do not necessarily recommend this option, but as mentioned, it shouldn’t be something you cannot do, especially on a stretch of South Africa where this has been done for decades.
If you are going to organize hiking Pondoland self-guided, you need to be aware of river crossings, as crossing rivers can be extremely dangerous. According to locals, there are often ferrymen at these river crossings; however, we never saw anyone at the major rivers when we crossed them. This could have been because we were fortunate enough to cross all the major rivers at low tide, so we didn’t have to worry. The exception was Mtentu, where there was a ferryman whom we paid cash to transport us across the river. If you do get to a river crossing and there is someone on the other side of the river, a loud whistle will get their attention, and they will come to collect you.
With all that said, be prepared to swim with your bags across these rivers. My recommendation is to try to time your crossings with low tide when possible and speak to locals and staff where you are staying to get their recommendations.
If you are slack-packing or going on a guided tour, your guide will arrange ferries beforehand, so you will not have to worry.
Finding map information, routes, and points of interest for our hike was one of the most time-consuming tasks. I compiled tons of data during my research, and I am sharing it all with you so that you have everything you need and more to explore. I load all my maps into an app called Gaia, so I have all the information I need offline on my phone to continue navigating without a cellphone signal.
IMPORTANT NOTE ON MAP DATA
Whenever using GPX and POI waypoints, always use them as a guide as they may not be 100% accurate or correct. This is self-generated data, and it’s up to you to navigate from one point to the other.
Have something to add?
Do you have a point of interest to include in this map? Post it below and I will add it!
I will list all the accommodations I was able to find below that would allow us to stay there. At this point in time, Pondo Beach camps that own Msikba, Luphathana, and Manteku camps will not let hikers stay there. If anything changes, I will update this.
All accommodations have been listed from Port Edward towards Port Saint Johns. If there is a star next to it, then we stayed at this accommodation.
- Mtentu Lodge* (Fully catered)
- Mtentu Campsite (Camping only)
Mkambati Nature Reserve
- GewGwe Boutique beach lodge (Coming soon)
- Msikaba Mkhambathi Lodge* (self-catered) - Run by Eastern Cape Tourism. We stayed here and booked online here. For more info, watch my YouTube video above.
- Msikaba - Pondo Beach Camp (Will not accept hikers not hiking with them)
- Lambazi Lodge* (Fully catered or self-catered)
- Luphuthana Beach Camp (Will not accept hikers not hiking with them)
- Mbotyi River Lodge* (fully catered)
- Mbotyi Camp Site
- Manteku beach Camp (Will not accept hikers not hiking with them)
- Beach Camp @ Ntafufu
Transport back to the Wild Coast Sun from Mbotji or Port Saint Johns is not cheap, and unfortunately, our organized transport tried to increase the price the day before, claiming one vehicle was in use and the other was broken, which meant it would cost more Luckily for us, the only other couple staying at Mbotji were driving past The Wild Coast Sun the next day and had a 1.5 Bakkie that the two of us squeezed into the back of, allowing us to avoid the increase and save money.
Recommendation: Ask the place you are staying at what they would recommend.
With all that said, here are the contacts I was given:
- Tovey – Mbotyi based – 076 567 8423 / 078 777 4103
- Jola – Psj transfer provider – 078 322 7777
- Chippa Transport Shuttle - 078 637 0109
The route we took and the places we stayed are all documented in the video above; however, a quick summary would be as follows:
Day 1: 27KM from The Wild Coast Sun to Mtentu Lodge.
Day 2: 14KM from Mtentu to Msikaba Mkhambathi Lodge.
Day 3: 12KM from Mkhambathi to Port Grosvenor Lambazi Lodge.
Day 4: 24KM from Port Grosvenor to Mbotji Lodge.
I sincerely hope that the information provided above helps you embark on this trail in a way that aligns with your preferred hiking style. With the N2 being constructed so close to the Wild Coast, reducing travel time from hours to minutes, there is a growing concern about how long this section of South Africa will continue to live up to its name, “Wild”. When you step onto this trail, it feels like you’ve been transported to another country. While the N2 is still years away, my hope is that you can experience this trail in its current, unspoiled form, just as it has been hiked for decades.
If you have something to share with others for this route, please post it below, and I will add it to the mapping data and modify the above post accordingly.
Post it below and see if someone can answer it!