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Biking the Wild Coast

Photographer: Nic Bothma


South Africa’s Eastern Cape offers a wide array of attractions, not least 800 kilometers of pristine coastline and wonderful beaches, but is also home to the Transkei – 45,000 square kilometers boasting one of the most beautiful and diverse rural landscapes in all Africa. Birthplace of a number of the country’s notable persons, including Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki; Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo, the ‘area beyond the (river) Kei’ is a biker’s wonderland, offering up challenging cattle trails and single track paths that deny any form of transportation except the two wheel or 4 x 4 variety.


For the adventurous traveler it offers up a glimpse into a spectacular land interwoven with a rich tapestry of flora and fauna as complex as its own history. It was a Bantustan –an area set up as one of the two homelands for Xhosa-speaking people in the Province – and one of the first of four territories to be declared independence of South Africa during the Apartheid era. Never internationally recognized, except by South African, it was re-integrated into the country following the fall of Apartheid in 1994.


Setting off into the Transkei quickly introduces the ‘biker’ to a world of breath-taking views, captivating terrain and an introduction into the rich culture of the Xhosa people that life there, much of which centers around the rituals which adolescent boys known as Abakhwethas – their faces mud covered - have to complete in order to be accepted as men. This includes traditional circumcision, an ancient initiation rite of passage for Xhosa males.


After 100 kilometers of driving on pot-hole-riddle tar roads, the dirt paths begin. With the clocking of each kilometers the road deteriorates rapidly towards the coastline as soil erosion and weathering have scarred through the landscape. By the time the coast is reached the speed of travelling is reduced to around 20 kilometers per hour and the two-wheeled endeavors are rewarded with a multitude of breath-taking views and all those saddle-sore moments are binned to history.


Staying on the Transkei coastline is like stepping back in time. There is no electricity, scant cell phone signal and no internet connections. The shops that exist are sparsely stocked with a few essentials like soap for the locals. Most transport for the locals is by horse or foot.


Hills and valleys covered in thick and varied flora stretch out as the far as the eye can see. The Wild Coast consists of an area approximately 41 000 square kilometers of extremely rugged terrain. Many rivers slice through the undulating landscape to pour out into the warm Indian Ocean. Indigenous forests meet excellent estuaries. Nowhere in South Africa are these landscape features so well preserved as along this stretch of coastline.


Exploring the area on an off-road motorcycle is one of the most effective means of transport imaginable in the harsh terrain. Thousands upon thousands of kilometers of undocumented paths weave through the hills and arrive at unexpected and dramatic vantage points. For days, weeks or even months given you are self-sufficient enough and have enough supplies to last one can tour and explore the area to your heart's content. Ironically due to Apartheid, development in the Transkei has been stunted leaving it in its original pure rural from.