DISPATCH EVEREST ADVENTURE: walk on the wild side
Visiting Umngazi River Bungalows, Mbotyi Lodge, Magwa Falls and the tourism-friendly town of Port St Johns, as well as Mkhambathi Reserve, the Dispatch Everest Adventure team were thrilled with all they found.
As well as many natural attractions, the team got to experience the friendliest Pondo nation.
To reach the Wild Coast destinations we travelled through Mthatha, Lusikisiki and Flagstaff along the R61.
Our Ford Everest even took us to Mkhambathi Reserve, which is more than 450km from East London.
Our first day of the trip took us to Umngazi River Bungalows, a beautiful river lodge on the banks of the Umngazi River, 12km off the R61 Port St Johns main road.
As we were on a midweek break, we did not expect to find the resort too full, so we were quite surprised to find this was not the case. And, as we arrived, three helicopters were leaving with guests who had apparently flown in for lunch, an apparently common occurrence.
Friendly reception staff greet all arrivals to Umngazi.
And after a quick visit to our rooms to freshen up, we took the opportunity to have lunch.
Starters offered a choice of butternut soup or mango with smoked oyster and sun-dried tomatoes.
For mains we had bobotie and rice with tomato and onion sambals and for dessert, tiramisu and ice-cream with butterscotch chocolate sauce. All delicious!
The resort is an important revenue generator in the area as it employs hundreds of people from villages in and around Umngazi.
“We make sure that the people from the communities around our place benefit from this, we share business with them and we employ them at the Umngazi River Bungalows and Spa,” said Umngazi general manager, Graham Walker.
“Currently we have over 200 dedicated staff from this community who are working shifts here in Umngazi.”
He explained that 6% to 8% of their visitors were international tourists.
“And many are repeat visitors,” he said.
Walker said their visitors loved the fact that they were far removed from today’s world of modern technology, and were free to reconnect with their children, who entertained themselves all day without touching any gadgets.
To ensure visitor safety, guards patrol the property 24/7.
Daily rates at the lodge are about R1300 a night, which includes all three meals.
Walker said when busy, Umngazi accommodated about 154 guests, and up to 190 during the Christmas festive period.
Besides being the biggest employer in the area, Umngazi also supports local schools with fundraising and other activities.
Their most famous visitor yet, Walker said, was Nelson Mandela and Graça Machel back in December 1997.
Umngazi offers a spa and has tennis courts, kiddies’ playgrounds, fishing spots and other attractions.
We spent two nights here and on our last day took a river boat ride to enjoy the best view of the bungalows from the other side of Umngazi river mouth.
We then visited Port St Johns town and were told about the best attractions in the area such as Isinuka, the Gap and Blow Hole, and the airstrip.
However, we elected not to venture into the Blow Hole or the Gap as they looked a little dangerous.
We did, however, take a trip to the airstrip, which offers the best view of the town.
From there we travelled along the R61 to Mkhambathi Reserve, where we spent time at the park’s three waterfalls.
We did not get to see any game as we were told they were grazing on “fresh grass, kilometres away from where we were”.
On our last day in the Wild Coast, we visited Mbotyi River Lodge where we were also met by the friendly staff.
The establishment, which offers hiking trails, horse-riding, as well as fly-fishing, is 26km from Lusikisiki.
It offers 48 double en-suite bedrooms with a choice of a seaview, the lagoon or forest view.
We had a complementary lunch there and got to enjoy stunning scenic views of the ocean and sandy beaches.
Mbotyi Lodge also helps uplift people from 15 villages nearby.
These three popular establishments, Umngazi, Mbotyi and Mkhambathi are the largest employers in this Mpondoland area, offering more than 400 permanent jobs between them and more than 300 indirect jobs when needed. Nannies and gillies are also hired in these establishments.
We spent our last day of the trip at the Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha, where tour guide Zimisele Gamakhulu excitedly took us through Mandela’s life.
Our trip to the area was wonderful and we all wished it could have been extended. But mostly, we made friends and discovered the beauty of this country. — firstname.lastname@example.org