South Africa’s Wild, Wild Coast: Part 3 (With Donkeys)

by | Jun 24, 2015 | Eastern Cape | 10 comments

Read Part 1.
Read Part 2.

Our epic trip to Dwesa Nature Reserve wasn’t the end of our Wild Coast adventure; we still had another stop at the Amapondo Backpacker Lodge in Port St. Johns.


View from “the Gap” at Port St. Johns.

Port St. Johns, a town of 6,000, is the unofficial capital of tourism in the Wild Coast. We intentionally planned it for the end of our Wild Coast trip because we knew it would be an easier, more relaxing place to visit than the remote, wild Dwesa Nature Reserve.

Also, a friend recommended Amapondo and when we googled it, we found out that there is a donkey living there. That pretty much sealed the deal.

Before I get into Amapondo and the donkey, I’ll say a few words about our journey from Dwesa to Port St. Johns. After our crazy adventure on the way into Dwesa, we were apprehensive about the trip out. So we planned everything as carefully as we could, asking advice from locals on the best road out of Dwesa and leaving super-early in the morning.

We did pretty well for the first part of the drive. Our first hour that morning, driving on a smooth gravel road and watching the countryside wake up around us, was one of my favorite parts of the trip.


Crossing the Mbhashe River on our way out of Dwesa.


I met this man while shooting the photo above. He is a pastor and was on his way to church. I’m guessing he’s been riding to church on horseback every Sunday for at least 30 years. 

But after that first blissful hour, we still somehow lost our way (damn you, Google Maps) and wound up on another bumpy, horrendous road. It took us four excruciating hours to drive the 60 kilometers back to the N2 highway. Then we headed back to Mthatha, where we traded in our rental car. (We’d gotten a flat two days earlier and were driving on the spare.)

I’ll have more to say about our rental car experience — which has turned into an ordeal of note — in a future post.

So we got our new car and at last, we were on our way to Port St. Johns. The roads are paved all the way in to Port St. Johns but the trip still took forever due to road works. Another reminder to always double the time you think it will take to get anywhere in the Wild Coast.

Incidentally, unlike Dwesa, Port St. Johns is a pretty doable one-day drive from Durban and you won’t need an SUV to get there.

In keeping with the pattern of this trip, we arrived at Amapondo just before sunset. Then we had to carry our luggage and food up 75 rickety steps to our hilltop chalet. There was much grunting and swearing along the way, and I should mention that carrying all of our stuff back down those steps when we left two days later was even more horrible. I think I almost cried a few times.

The view from the top was worth it.


Sunset from our deck at Amapondo. See the abandoned building in the middle of the frame? File that for later.


Our chalet (on the right). It cost R550 ($45) per night for two people.


Inside the chalet. It was cozy and nice for that price. Although I do wish the fridge was a little quieter and the curtains were a little heavier — a lot of light filtered in throughout the night from the bright lights that illuminate the pathway outside.

As I said though, we chose Amapondo mainly for the donkey. And we were not disappointed.


Two donkeys for the price of one!

Turns out there are two donkeys living at Amapondo. The older one is Donkeylizwe (pronounced “don-key-LEEZ-way) and the younger one is Charlie. They like to hang around the restaurant and knock over coffee cups. There are many other animals at Amapondo as well, including a cat, which Ray and I named Patches, and a pack of rambunctious dogs.


Typical Amapondo scene.

Ray and the donkey duo.

As for the rest of Port St. Johns, we once again did not allow ourselves enough time to explore. We got up late (it was Ray’s birthday), had a leisurely breakfast (Amapondo serves decent food) and I spent an hour or two on my computer while Ray walked around looking for a place to paint graffiti.

In the early afternoon we drove up to one of the highest points in Port St. Johns — an airstrip that lands a few small planes a week — to check out the view.


We were lucky to catch a microlite taking off from the airstrip.


Me, looking over the mouth of the Umzimvubu River. (Photo: Ray)

Then we headed over to the Gap and the Blowhole, to check out a different view.


“The Gap” is the V-shaped formation on that rock jutting out into the sea. The Blowhole is beyond it somewhere.


This sign makes me laugh. The only way to actually see anything is to go beyond this point, and everyone does (except for people like Ray who are afraid of heights). These ladies have set up shop to make a bit of cash from passing tourists.


I think these kids spent the whole day running up and down the hill, chasing tourists. They are very fit. I walked as far as the people at the bottom of the photo.

I walked down to the edge of the Gap but wasn’t brave enough to climb down the rope ladder to the Blowhole. At least not by myself, in flip flops.

Our last activity of the day was climbing up to that abandoned building near Amapondo, which I instructed you to file away earlier, where Ray painted a birthday graffiti piece.


Ray’s birthday present to himself. See more photos of it — and other graffiti by Ray — on Ray’s Instagram feed and mine.

We left Port St. Johns the next morning, bound for Durban.

Thus, the long tale of our Wild Coast adventure is finished. I still have more to say though — about the time we spent in Durban on our way to and from the Wild Coast, and also about our rental car debacle. You still have a bit more 2Summers holiday whining to look forward to.


Thanks Port St. Johns, it was fun. (Except for the 75 steps. The steps really sucked.) 


  1. Gail

    You could write a book on this adventure. Really enjoyed reading about it.

    • 2summers

      Thanks Gail. Maybe I should! It would be easier than this other book I’m laboring on 🙂

  2. UnderAnAfricanSun

    I am really enjoying reading about your trip and Amapondo looks fab. Just wondering, how long does it take Ray to paint a piece like that ? It is really beautiful, love the colors.

    • 2summers

      Thanks so much, Kelly. Ray paints very fast for a graffiti artist – he painted this in about 90 minutes, maybe a bit less. He sometimes spends up to two days on larger pieces, though.

  3. mvschulze

    Beautiful pics, (and Graffiti, Ray!) This place seems A LOT more hospitable than Dwesa. Thanks for the glimpse of the Wild Coast. M 🙂

    • 2summers

      Haha, yes I suppose you could say the Port St. John’s is more hospitable. But despite everything that happened I would still go back to Dwesa first. I loved the remoteness — I just wish we’d had a bit better luck on the journey.

  4. Namz

    Despite all the adventure and ‘hardships’ you guys endured, Wild Coast looks like a fab place to visit. I will most definitely head that way…next year! Loved Ray’s birthday graffiti 🙂

  5. Lani

    Ahh, finally closure. Sort of. I didn’t know he was an artist, too! I suppose that makes sense if he does tours. I suppose you’ll be staying home for a while now, eh?

    • 2summers

      Well…Actually I’m going to Zanzibar next week 🙂


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