My Favourite Place: Coffee Bay

By Sam Robinson, a Travel Enthusiast

Read more on Coffee Bay.

Overall rating:4.5 out of 5 (based on 4 votes)
Enjoyable
4.5
4.5
Useful
3.5
3.5
Inspirational
4.5
4.5
Recommended for:
Activity, Beach, Cultural, Budget

Whilst travelling through South Africa on the Baz Bus we took a trip to Coffee Bay on the 'Wild Coast' and spent 3 days of fun there, making friends, experiencing culture and taking life as it came...

On arrival we were presented with a free beer and had the 'Buffalo Rules' of the bar explained: always drink with your left hand, get caught drinking with your right and you have to 'down' the drink! As it was a Sunday, there was also a free dinner - in our case, chicken potjie (a type of stew with melt in the mouth chicken, vegetables and potatoes) which was amazing. This local dish, cooked in a three legged pot over a fire or barbeque, is one that has to be sampled in South Africa and was fast becoming a favourite. We also ate in the bar area on other nights throughout our stay and the food continued to be tasty, local dishes (including freshly caught fish/seafood, banana bread etc) which were good value (approx 35-40ZAR for 2 courses).

Coffee Shack backpackers is known for its 'party' atmosphere, however it is also a place where peace and serenity can easily be found. The staff are friendly, helpful and seem to enjoy working there as much as we enjoyed visiting. The backpackers hostel offers a wide range of accommodation including camping, dorms, twins and, our choice, rondavels. These round houses are across the Bomvu River which, in itself, presents a unique experience as the mouth is close to the easiest crossing points, so at high tide you can be stranded on either side! All the accommodation is clean, and the ladies bathrooms are amazing - sinks carved out of huge chunks of rock, decorated daily with local flowers! The communal areas are fantastic, plenty of kitchen space, tables and chairs to relax in, a giant hammock for book reading (or sleeping) alongside a fireplace with seating.

The Location

However, the biggest draw the backpackers has is its location. Coffee Bay was named after a ship carrying coffee was wrecked nearby; the beans came ashore and grew for a short while. There is no longer coffee in the area but the name stayed. It is located on the 'Wild Coast’, part of the Transkei region and is home to the Xhosa people. This area of South Africa is where many tribal traditions continue and the snapshots of life seen are more likely to be the stereotypical ‘real’ Africa of mud huts and traditional clothing. This does not in any way detract from the experience, yet visiting this country makes you realise it is a place of many parts, people and ways of life, none of which define South Africa by themselves.

Activities

One of the first activities we did one morning was to walk up the hill behind the backpackers to a view down into the bay and the dense green hills all around. It is a great area for walking and there are a few particular favourites including the hike to the ‘Hole in the Wall’ – a natural rock formation which some people choose to abseil down!

As well as the hikes previously mentioned, there are numerous activities on offer from either the backpackers or self organised including surf lessons, volleyball, drum making workshops and cultural experiences. Unlike many of the mass produced ‘tours’ marketed by other areas we had visited in South Africa, many of the people we met providing these experiences were locals who still continued their way of life but also astutely benefited from the tourism landing on their doorstep. The hostel actively works with the local community to improve education for local children, as well as educating visitors. One of the best examples of this was the Masizone Women’s Project – a local project, which with funding, provided the local women with an opportunity to practice their traditional skills and sell their crafts to help make a living. They had lots of Xhosa crafts on offer including woven baskets, wooden sculptures, bead work, traditional clothing plus stunning hand made paper with drawings depicting local scenes and ways of life.

Sundowners and Drumming

One of the ‘traditions’ we had been frequently told about in South Africa was the ‘sundowner’ – relaxing at the end of a good day with a cold beverage watching the sun go down. After 5 weeks in the country we had still not managed this, yet whilst at Coffee Bay, this became a reality. The staff at the backpackers loaded the majority of guests in to mini-buses (along with the obligatory coolers) and drove us to Mpuzi cliffs which overlook the Bay. We were accompanied by local children who sat and watched us watching them. Next came one of the most memorable parts of our visit – a drumming lesson whilst the sun went down.

Earlier in the day we had purchased a djembe drum from Silas, a member of staff who runs the drum making workshops (and is well known for ‘falling in love’ with at least one female member of the groups which arrive every few days on the Baz Bus!). Although we would have loved to have made it ourselves, time did not permit, however we did choose one of his own made ones, on the promise he would teach us to play. Our palm tree/springbok drum was taken to the cliff top with us, and after a short lesson, the drumming began. It is an enchanting sound and the local children treated us to some dancing to accompany the music, the sun went down, the moon rose and the beers kept flowing! A perfect evening.


Music and Memories


There are many impromptu/semi organised activities that take place in Coffee Bay. The staff are happy to allow guests to relax but will always be willing to arrange an activity if asked. One evening Silas’ brother bought his Mambazo choir to sing before dinner. I had only ever heard this type of music on a CD before and to hear it live is just breathtaking. The power and emotion in their voices was phenomenal. They sang about peace in Africa and I defy anyone who heard them not to be spellbound.

Another evening had Silas bring his drums around the fire and a group of us played. Silas led for a while then I was promoted to playing the bass and leading – nerve wracking but amazing nonetheless, all you need is a bit of rhythm and the rest seems to happen by itself. I did not play any recognisable tunes but the sound coming from the fire area was one which will remain inside me for a long time.

Silas now has his own tour guide company which is based in Coffee Bay and he can take you on some of the most popular hikes in the area as well as introducing you to some of the local Xhosa culture. For more information and details of prices check out his website www.coffeebaytours.com 

In all, our time at Coffee Bay was relaxed and full of experiences with like-minded people. The backpackers was perfect for whatever you want it to be; you can party, you can relax, you can learn about the culture, keep busy, do nothing, whatever you choose, it will be.

Useful Bits

We travelled on The Baz Bus (a backpacker mini bus which travels most of the major routes around SA, taking you door to door between hostels; www.bazbus.com) which drops off at Umtata Shell City service station and the Coffee Bay hostels can arrange to pick you up from there. Although we stayed in Coffee Shack backpackers (see below), there are two hotels as well as another backpackers and home stays can also be arranged. Coffee Bay is in an isolated area so don't expect TV, great phone signal or other mod-cons. It is one place where you can see some of how the 'real' South Africa is.

We stayed in a double rondavel at Coffee Shack (camping 70ZAR pp, dorms 120ZAR pp, rooms from 320ZAR) but there is at least one other backpackers - Bomvu Paradise (camping 60ZAR, dorms from 100ZARpp) and two hotels – Ocean View Hotel and the Coffee Bay Hotel (both rooms from 400ZAR/night).
As the area is quite isolated you need to ensure you have enough cash and provisions (if self catering in backpackers) to last your stay!

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More information on My Favourite Place: Coffee Bay:

Author:
Sam Robinson
Traveller type:
Travel Enthusiast
Guide rating:
4.5
Average: 4.5 (4 votes)
Total views:
202
First uploaded:
20 September 2010
Last updated:
1 year 16 weeks 1 day 11 hours 29 min 59 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Activity, Beach, Cultural
Budget level:
Budget
Free tags / Keywords:
backpacker hostel, African culture

Sam recommends

Hotels

Price from Rating
(out of 5)
1. Coffee Shack
N/A
2. Ocean View Hotel
N/A
3. Coffee Bay Hotel
N/A
4. Bomvu Paradise
N/A

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Community comments (7)

Rating:
4
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Hey guys,

Nice story about a great place! You mention Silas, the tourist guide. He now has his own website: www.coffeebaytours.com. Could you maybe post a link somewhere on your site? Maybe in the part where you mention all the possible activities. That would be kindly appreciated!

Thanks a lot!

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Rating:
5
1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Another great guide, Sam, that really captures the African vibe; something that must be experienced to be truly appreciated. You really sell the location with your list of activities and personal anecdotes.

I particularly enjoyed your description of the Sundowners and Drumming – I instantly recognised one of those African experiences that burrows deep into your soul and remains with you forever. And the Mambazo choir... ahh, the memories!

I would suggest adding a sentence to say what the Baz Bus is in addition to providing a link to the website. Also, you could use ‘Heading’ format to make your sub-titles stand out.

A fantastic contribution though. Hope to read more from you soon!

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Thank you Jon,

I have changed the headings - been meaning to do so for ages!

I also added a line about the baz bus, thanks for the suggestion.

Sam

Rating:
5
1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

The photos are really nice and show the natural beauty of the place perfectly. Those bathrooms look amazing!

I loved the opening paragraph with the drinking rules and the enticingly described dinner. The write up on the hostel accommodation is also brilliant and makes me want to consider staying there if I visit.

Your passion and interest for this area really shines through with the history lesson, the Women's Project, the Mambazo Choir and describing the range of activities on offer. The sundowner sounds wonderful and to have this accompanied by drumming makes it a unique experience that many readers will wish to try. This guide certainly inspired me.

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Thank you for your kind words. It truely was an inspirational place to visit and I am glad this has come across.

Rating:
4
1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Sounds like a truly memorable stay. I loved the sundown photos and then when you went on to describe the drumming evenings and the choir I was hooked. I expect there are more guides to come, and will possibly cover the transport issue in more detail?
The only thing I wasn't clear about was the food- I presume you could purchase it in the bars, (approximate price?) so it wasn't purely a self-catering option? A lovely emotive piece- thanks Sam

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Thank you for your comments Johanna.

Some of the text in the main body of the 'useful bits' section does not seem to be appearing in the actual guide which means it is not quite making sense (I mention transfers from the main road to the hostels).

I will edit the section about food too!