The Wild Coast of South Africa is reputed to offer some of the best beach riding in the world and I was keen to discover if this really was the case. I joined a Wild Coast Trail – a 7 night mobile ride along the coast – but so that I could experience all of the different options in the area, we actually spent our first night at Endalweni, which is a lovely lodge used on the Endalweni Horse Safari and Surf and Turf rides.
Endalweni is a private reserve which is well stocked with plains game and on our first afternoon ride we saw zebra, wildebeest, impala and red hartebeest grazing together on a plain. We also rode past the resident giraffe and discovered waterbuck in the paddock outside the lodge when we returned. It was a lovely introduction to this hidden gem on the Eastern Cape.
The following day we set out on our trail along the coast – our start was delayed by an impressive rainstorm and so we took a shorter route to our next night’s accommodation. Fortunately the rest of the week was warm and sunny and perfect for riding.
Our first beach canter was amazing – everyone was happy and in control so we had a second canter and before long we arrived at the wreck of the Jacaranda – the ship is eroding quickly and only a section of the bow remains now. We clambered around some rocky headlands but then had to head inland for a little while and enjoyed some long trots and canters as we rode through the Transkei and past rural African villages with their adobe thatched huts and small fenced paddocks of goats, cows and chickens. After a picnic lunch we rode back onto the beach for another little canter. The beach is very rocky in places and so we rode along the headland but close to the crashing waves and there was a small pod of dolphins playing in the waves. We dropped down onto the shore again and the beach was unbroken onto the horizon and we cantered all of it. Everyone was grinning like idiots when we finally pulled up. At the hotel that night, we could see a plume from a whale blowing out to sea – Humpback and Southern Right whales migrate through this area from June to November, with peak sightings from July onwards.
The following morning we could again see whales on the horizon as well as a large pod of dolphins which swam north along the coast, surfing in the waves. It was hot and we had to ride inland to time the river crossings well with the tides. We had a few trots and rode past the villages and huts – some of the slopes we could see were covered in forest and it was very pretty but apparently dense and thorny so not nice to ride through. We eventually dropped down onto the beach and had a lovely canter along the water’s edge until reaching the inlet/river. We rode across the river in water which reached the horses knees, but we all stayed nice and dry on top. After lunch at our hotel, we were offered the option of an afternoon ride but all opted for a relaxing afternoon walking along the beach, paddling in the shallows and relaxing on the lawns above the rocks -– we watched a humpback whale breaching on the horizon – a long way away but we could clearly see his white belly and a huge splash!
We spent two nights at this hotel (the Kob Inn) and so the next day’s ride was a day ride returning to the hotel. We set off along the coastline – mainly inland but with short stretches on rocky beaches. After a beach canter we then headed back inland – riding past the usual assortment of rural African houses before eventually dropping downhill to cross a little stream and climb steeply on the other side. We had some long trots and canters on the grasslands before eventually dropping back to the coast where there was another little wreck. After lunch we re-mounted and picked our way along the coast a little before having a fast canter along the beach. We tried to cross the river here, but the tides were on their way in and the river had risen faster than anticipated due to the rain earlier in the week. So we had to re-trace our steps on the inland route – it was a long way and so we trotted or cantered wherever possible to make up ground. By the time we were in sight of our hotel, the sun had already set behind the hills and it was getting dark so we trotted/cantered all the way home, down onto the beach, up the other side, along grassy tracks and over tussocks. A long and exhilarating ride!
Fortunately we had a more leisurely start in the morning so that we could cross the river at low tide, and start heading back towards base. We had a fabulous morning’s ride along the beaches to our next hotel, cantering wherever possible. We saw rock hyrax (dassies) on the rocks and the odd whale blowing but no dolphins. We came around a promontory and could see our hotel – Wavecrest – at the far end of the bay. Our guide, Nicky told us that this was a long canter where we could open them up a bit. So we set off in a steady canter and about halfway along the beach Nicky gave the signal and we all accelerated up the beach. Eventually we pulled up by the river outside Wavecrest, dismounted and took the horses saddles off. We crossed the river in a little boat whilst the horses swam across.
Our final day of riding started with us heading inland for some trots and then a lovely long canter through the grasslands. We dropped back to the coast and visited the wreck of the Jacaranda again before continuing along the coast, cantering wherever possible, until reaching Trennery’s where we put the horses into the paddock and had lunch from the bar. After lunch we set off along the beaches towards home – the horses were all keen and we had some fabulous canters. Eventually we reached the ferry across the Great Kei River and dismounted to load the horses to cross. We re-mounted on the other side and all thought we were heading straight back up the road to the horse paddocks, but we turned onto the beach and had a final unexpected canter which was a fabulous end.
This area of South Africa is a popular destination for South Africans to take their holidays and is relatively unknown amongst foreigners. It was a delight to ride through such rural areas and to experience the real Africa. The beaches were deserted and as we were there during winter, so were the hotels. The accommodation is not grand or very smart as this is not an area which is normally frequented by overseas visitors, but each hotel is clean, comfortable and in an amazing location. The horses we rode were amazing – they were forward going but sensible and all of them were impeccably behaved, happy to walk along the beach unless asked to canter – a true delight.
So, is this the best beach ride in the world? Well, it’s certainly the best one I’ve ever done and the memory of cantering down deserted stretches of golden sand with the ocean crashing beside me, will stay with me forever.