Hiking Central Transkei with Conscious Journeys.
As I’ve made my way through the country, I often get invited to join in on experiences or stay at places that I would never have had the chance to see otherwise. There’s always a sense of excitement when someone reaches out, but some invites have me counting the days on my calendar more often than others.
The latest example of such an invite was the message that came from Nico Fourie. Back in August of this year, Nico asked if I’d be keen to join a facilitated hike along the coast of the Transkei with his newfound company, Conscious Journeys. Without hesitation (or a clear idea of just where I’ll be at that point), I said yes.
Nico is an executive coach and leadership facilitator and, for the past 12 years, he has been facilitating individuals, teams, and organizations to step into a way of life that co-creates a brighter future for the collective.
He passionately believes that every human being on the planet should have the opportunity to step into their full potential. That he is in service of this cause through his coaching and why he set out to create these “hiking retreats”. The aim is to create space for others to connect with themselves and the larger-than-human environment. In a way that forces you to ground in the ups and- often challenging or uncomfortable- downs that come with the human experience.
The retreat is structured as a 3-day/5-night hike along the Central Wild Coast in the Transkei, Eastern Cape, South Africa.
Day 1 : Everyone arrives at Mdumbi Backpackers, a day to settle in and get everything packed into our backpacks for the walk (cars, valuables, and everything you wouldn’t like to carry in your pack can be left at Mdumbi).
We have our first dinner together once everyone has settled in. The daily itinerary is shared with us and everyone gets properly aquatinted before having an early night, as we were warned that the wake-up alarm is set for 6 AM the next morning.
Day 2 : The hike officially starts as we set out from Mdumbi Backpackers to Coffee Shack Backpackers in Coffee Bay.
A 6 AM wake-up call to get ready for our first guided meditation and a chance to journal, set intentions, and gather our thoughts before we start the walk. Prompts were given by Nico and his brother, Jaco, who co-facilitated the mindfulness aspect of the retreat. Everyone was invited to share anything that came up, with the option not to do so, should they not feel called to.
Highlights of this leg of the walk included a ferry crossing over the mighty Mthatha River, long stretches of beach walks, the Coffee Bay caves, and whale spotting along the coast.
The name of Coffee Bay supposedly comes from a ship that was wrecked in the bay with a cargo of coffee beans. It is said that the beans grew into short-lived coffee bushes that gave the bay its name. www.wildcoast.co.za
It’s a half-day hike that took us about 4 hours. Leaving enough time to grab lunch at Zac’s Seafood Kitchen in Coffee Bay and have the opportunity to wander around town before settling in at Coffee Shack Backpackers for the evening.
There, we gratefully set our backpacks down and headed to the bar for a couple of drinks and a game of pool. Dinner was a joyous occasion as we all gathered together, quartz in hand, to swap out stories of our walk that day, banter about walking speeds, and generally just reflect on the first taste of the Transkei.
Day 3 : Our longest stretch to cover, from Coffee Bay to Hole in The Wall for lunch, to Wild Lubanzi Backpackers where we’d spend the night.
Yet another 6 AM wake-up for our daily meditation and journal session, followed by breakfast at the backpackers before we hit the road.
We reached Hole In The Wall after a hectic couple of hills from the Coffee Bay side, but the lunch waiting for us on arrival quickly lifted our spirits. We spent about an hour here, resting up, fuelling up, and taking a dip in the warm Indian Ocean.
The most intense river crossing of the trip came just after lunch. The entire team came together to carry bags, cameras, jackets, shoes, and Nahla (the Hungarian Vizsla), over the river mouth.
Local legend has it that the river running through the Hole-in-the-Wall (Mpako River) once formed a landlocked lagoon as its access to the sea was blocked by a cliff. A beautiful girl lived in a village near the lagoon cut off from the sea by the mighty cliff. One day she was seen by one of the sea people - semi deities who look like humans but have supple wrists and ankles and flipperlike hands and feet - who became overwhelmed by her beauty and tried to woo her. When the girl’s father found out he forbade her to see her lover. So at high tide one night, the sea people came to the cliff and, with the help of a huge fish, rammed a hole through the centre of the cliff. As they swam into the lagoon they shouted and sang, causing the villagers to hide in fear. In the commotion the girl and her lover were reunited and disappeared into the sea. At certain times of the year, it is said, the music and singing of the sea people can be heard.Xhosa legend holds that this is the gateway to the world of their ancestors. - www.wildcoast.co.za
The last 5km from Hole In The Wall to Wild Lubanzi proved to test us the most. The hills are steep and the wind was harsh, but the beers waiting for us on arrival at the grown-up treehouse that is Wild Lubanzi Backpackers quickly made us forget of the complaints we had just an hour before.
Day 4 : Our final day of walking, Wild Lubanzi to Bulungula Lodge.
Another long hiking day, but breakfast was had, our bags were packed, and we were ready to go.
We struck lucky on several occasions on this day. The wind came from behind, providing somewhat of a push for those neverending climbs up the hills. The rivers were low, so the most intense river crossing we had bearly touched our knees, and we had long stretches of hard beach sand which made for an easy walk.
We arrived at Bulungula Lodge around 3 PM and, as per usual, the quartz was cold and ready to welcome us as we took our backpacks off of slightly more sensitive shoulders, for the very last time.
Now, if you've never had the absolute privilege of tasting Xhosa bread, I urge you to visit the Transkei for no other reason but that. I'd love to blame my ability to eat that entire sandwich on the 3 PM hunger after a full day of walking, but there's just no way around it, it's flippen delicious.
Our last night was celebrated with beers, a traditional Xhosa meal, and endless conversations as we watched the waves crashing below.
Day 5 : The taxi back to Mdumbi
We all hopped into the shuttle to start the 3-hour drive back to Mdumbi. It proved to be one of the best car rides I've ever had, as we swapped out stories from the hike, exclaiming multiple times how we can't believe we walked this entire distance, and laughed at some of the good bits (and by now, at some of the not-so-good bits).
You'd think that we'd just want to rush back to a hot shower, more than three pairs of clothes, and wifi but upon arrival, I secretly wished that ride could've gone on for a little while longer.
Gathering for one final sunset together on Mdumbi's roof (each one of us with a, yes you guessed it, quartz in hand). And seeing that it was National Braai Day, it felt criminal not to make a fire. So we headed down to Mdumbi beach, backpacks now filled with braaiwood, and spent the rest of the evening down there.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE DAILY SCHEDULE
Your day starts with a wake-up call at 6 AM and by 6:45 AM the group gathers for a guided mindfulness session. An opportunity is given to journal, set intentions, and gather your thoughts before you start the daily walk. Followed by a 15-minute meditation, guided by Jaco Fourie who co-facilitated the mindfulness aspect of the retreat. Everyone is invited to share anything that comes up, with the option not to do so, should they not feel called to.
Breakfast follows and by 9 AM the walk starts. Daily distances are between 10-18km and takes about 4-6 hours to complete. Lunch stops are included on the days were we’d be walking past lunchtime and ample opportunity is given breaks or photo-stops along the route.
All meals, which includes a drink on arrival, are included and provided by the backpackers, eco lodges, or local restaurants that we stayed at.
Your accommodation is covered by the hike fee and you can expect to stay in a number of backpackers and community-owned fair trade eco-lodges along the coast. Bedding is provided and you’ll be sharing dorm rooms with the rest of the hiking group. Which, in all honesty, ended up being one of my favourite parts.
WHAT SHOULD YOU PACK?
Backpack (not bigger than 50L)
Hiking Boots/Running Shoes (although I ended up walking in hiking sandals most of the way).
Snacks according to your own preference (three meals a day are included in the cost).
Toiletries and chronic medication - Towel (Microfiber towel)
Clothing (for three days on walking + the last day back to Mdumbi)
Cash for Spaza shops and Shebeens (not more than R500)
Please don’t bring sleeping bags as bedding is provided.
You can read more about my entire packing list HERE.
They require a full payment in advance.
The cost for the September hike was R7 500 per person, all inclusive.
If you’re keen on experiencing the Transkei with Conscious Journeys or if you’d simply like to learn more about Nico’s work, his courses, and future hikes that he has planned; feel free to contact him directly via email on firstname.lastname@example.org or follow their social media pages on @_consciousjourneys.
All images in this post shot by: Grant Payne