The Wild Coast | 275km

Mpako River.

UMTATA

...lies on the banks of the Mtata River, after which it has been named. Although the name was already in existence in 1688, there are several explanations for its origin. Among these is the abundance of umThathi trees, or sneezewood, growing along the river. Another explanation is that the name is derived from the custom of the Thembu people to place their dead in the river. The bodies were cast into the river with the words 'mThathe Bawo' (take them, Father), and it has been suggested that the noun 'Umtata' was evolved to name the river.

Situated in Thembuland, the South African holiday town of Umtata developed around the settlement founded on the river's south bank in 1871. The Paramount Chief of the Thembu, Ngangelizwe, granted land to a group of white settlers to act as a buffer against attacks by the Pondo living north of the river. The settlement expanded steadily after the Anglican Church founded a mission, and an influx of traders and a group of Voortrekkers also swelled the number of inhabitants. Umtata became the administrative centre of the General Council for the Transkeian Territories, established in 1902 to combine the various territorial councils under a single authority.

When Transkei became 'independent' from South Africa on 26 October 1976, Umtata became the capital. Among the places of interest are the dome-shaped Bunga, which served as the Transkeian 'parliament' for over 50 years, and the sandstone Town Hall, built in 1908. The mounted cannon in front of the Town Hall is one of several salvaged from the famed wreck of the Grosvenor, which ran aground south of the Msikaba River on the night of 2 August 1782.

BOMVANALAND

The coastal area between the Mtata and the Mbashe rivers is mainly inhabited by the Bomvana people, one of 12 clusters or complexes of the Southern Nguni or Xhosa-speaking people of the Eastern Cape. Bomvanaland was ceded to the British government in February 1878, and became known as the Elliotdale District. In December the same year it was incorporated into Thembuland. From Viedgesville the road to Hole-in-the-Wall and Coffee Bay meanders across an undulating landscape characterised by round mud and thatch homesteads perched on grassy hill slopes and crests. The homes generally face east and often only the east-facing aspect is painted white, while the remainder of the house is left a natural grey colour.

In the early mornings, smoke from wood fires drifts into the air and cattle bellow in their wooden stockades as villagers prepare to go about their daily tasks: tending to small patches of maize, grazing their herds and fetching water and firewood. At bus stops, groups of people engage in conversation while waiting patiently for transport, while women balancing heavy loads on their heads are a familiar sight outside trading stores, as are Xhosa initiates. Stray animals are a constant threat, and motorists are thus cautioned to be alert at all times.

MQANDULI

...was proclaimed a magistracy in 1876, and was once an important administrative and commercial centre of Bomvanaland. The South African holiday village owes its name to a nearby hill, and the name is said to mean 'grindstone-maker' - a reference to a craftsman who once lived there.

DICK KING MEMORIAL

This memorial is one of several erected on the route taken by Richard Philip King, better known as Dick King, during his epic ride from Port Natal (now Durban) to Grahamstown. Following the second British occupation of Natal in May 1842, a 250-strong British force under Captain TC Smith was besieged by the Natal Voortrekkers. Realising their desperate situation, King and his attendant made the 960 km journey in ten days to summon help. The siege of Port Natal was lifted in late June when a relief force arrived by sea.

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL

...is one of the most impressive South African holiday landmarks along the Wild Coast. Standing at the mouth of the Mpako River, the cliff consists of dark-blue shales, mudstones and sandstones of the Ecca Group, dating back some 260 million years. These rocks were subsequently intruded by a dolerite sheet, and the 'hole' was created over millions of years by the buffeting waves, which eroded away the softer rocks underneath the dolerite to form an arch. The same process also eventually separated the cliff from the mainland.

Hole-in-the-Wall was named by Captain Vidal of the vessel Barracouta, sent by the British Admiralty in 1823 to survey the coastline between the Keiskamma River and Lourenšo Marques (now Maputo). Vidal took his ship to within 800 m of the coast, '... where two ponderous black rocks above the water's edge, upwards of 80 feet above its surface, exhibiting through the phenomenon of a natural archway', prompting him to name it the Hole-in-the-Wall. The local Bomvana people named the formation 'EsiKhaleni', or the Place of the Sound. Many ships, such as the Jacaranda near Qolora Mouth, have been wrecked along this treacherous coastline.

Local legend has it that the Mpako River once formed a landlocked lagoon as its access to the sea was blocked by the cliff. When one of the 'sea people' fell in love with a beautiful girl living in a village on the edge of the lagoon, the girl's father forbade her to see her lover. At high tide one night, the sea people came to the cliff and, with the help of a huge fish, rammed a hole through the centre of the cliff. As they swam into the lagoon they shouted and sang, causing the villagers to hide in fear. In the commotion the girl and her lover were reunited and disappeared into the sea. On certain nights, it is said, the singing and shouting of the sea people can still be heard.

COFFEE BAY

...is a well-known South African holiday resort on the Wild Coast nestling below grassy hills and coastal dunes at the mouths of the Nenga and Mbomvu rivers. The rocky coastline here is popular with rock and surf anglers, while sunbathers are attracted to the 1-km-long stretch of sheltered beach. Coffee Bay is said to owe its name to a cargo of coffee beans that was washed ashore after a ship ran aground nearby. Some of the beans were washed into the lagoon of the Nenga River where they took root and stuggled for many years to grow. The date and name of the ship are obscure, but it has been suggested that it could have been the Hercules, which was wrecked near the mouth of the Mtata River in 1852, or a vessel which ran aground in the bay in 1863.

MTATA RIVER MOUTH

...is typical of the magnificent coastal scenery of the Wild Coast. Here, a large sandbar forces the Mtata River into a narrow channel overlooked by a rocky outcrop with a profusion of tree euphorbias. On the river's eastern bank, the rocky coastline gives way to a 2-km stretch of white sandy beach. Before setting off on this detour, motorists are advised to enquire about the condition of the track.

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