The Wild Coast and Berg
The region of the Eastern Cape known as the Wild Coast and Berg is probably the most beautiful part of South Africa, much of it untouched by the development. The region stretches from the Great Kei River mouth along the Indian Ocean coastline as far as the Kwazulu-Natal border, follows the border to the Lesotho border and that until it reaches the Orange River. It then cuts South following the Tsomo River to the coast. The region includes the area that used to be called the Transkei and the coastal strip cannot be equalled for its wild beauty and offers what can be argued as the best hiking, fishing and swimming in South Africa. There is no tarmacked road following the coast all roads to the coast from the N2 are gravel and the visitor should expect possible delays in bad weather.
High in the Drakensberg Mountains just to the North of the historic picturesque town of Rhodes is situated the only ski resort in South Africa, Tiffindell. The resort is at an altitude of 3000 metres and is situated on the South facing slopes of the Berg. The main piste is backed up by a snow-making system and is some 600 metres long. Some of the roads in the area can only be reached by 4x4s and visitors should check beforehand about driving conditions. Also handy for the ski resort is the Berg town of Barkly East, which has the dubious reputation of being the coldest place in South Africa. This part of the region is well known for its trout fishing and partridge shooting. This region of the Berg is renowned for its many unique caves, some large enough to shelter a herd of sheep.
The coastal region of the Wild Coast is dotted with small resorts, all with a tale to tell. There is Coffee Bay, situated at the mouth of the Nenga (whale) River and named after the cargo of a ship which ran aground there in 1863. Just up the coast from Coffee Bay is the Hluleka Nature Reserve, resplendent with its Coral trees, Quinine trees and Natal figs. The trees attract dozens of species of birds, many of which emerge from the forest to feed on wild figs. Just along the coast from Coffee Bay is Hole-in-the-Wall where an extraordinary rock formation has been fashioned over millions of years to form a tunnel big enough for a fishing boat to pass through.
At the extreme north-eastern end of the Wild Coast region is the picturesque small coastal resort of Port St Johns sitting at the mouth of the large Mzimvubu River. Over millions of years the river has carved its way through ancient rocks to leave a 300 metre wide gap around which the town has been built. The settlement originated in 1846 when the British ship Rosebud slipped across the sandbar at the mouth of the river to open up the area for trade. In those early days Port St Johns was considered to be one of the best ports in South Africa but silting of the river has proved to be too overwhelming.
The largest town in the Wild Coast and Berg region of the Eastern Cape is Umtata, named after the river on which it sits. Umtata was the capital of what was known as the Transkei homeland in days gone by. The town was originally built as a buffer between the Mpondo and Thembu, two warring Xhosa tribes in the region. The town boasts two cathedrals and is renowned for its fish restaurants. President Nelson Mandela was born in the area in a small village near to Umtata, and his clan is related to the Thembu royal family.
Other small towns of note in the Wild Coast and Berg region of the Eastern Cape include Lady Grey with its trout streams, rock art and rich fossil beds, Maclear and the nearby village of Ugie, an area rich in stock and dairy farms and excellent timber, and Mount Frere, surrounded by indigenous forests.