At the end of a long and pretty awful road, is a 70 square hectare reserve, Mkambati, a place of infinite natural treasure, stunning scenery and bio diversity. The reserve has arguably, the finest scenery on the Wild Coast. The rivers Mtentu and Msikaba have crystal clean drinkable water. With gorge walls of 300 meters and incredible birdlife, paddling 2 kms. up the Mtentu in a hired canoe is blissful. Hike to some of the 20 different waterfalls amongst incredible biodiversity. The lovely Mkambati Falls flow off the cliff edge into the sea (there are just 17 in the world which do this) and the Horseshoe Falls have created a wonderful huge natural swimming area in the large plunge pool. There are some 2200 plant species and 10% of these occur nowhere else. It is a bio diversity hot spot.
Swim in beautiful protected sandy coves with surf ponding the protecting rocks. The beach isn’t accessible by road. Visitors either canoe along the coast, past the 16th-century shipwreck of the Sao Bento, or hike along a trail that follows the river.
Eland, red hartebeest, blue wildebeest, blesbok and zebra graze the grasslands on the plains. Spring clothes the hills in wonderful flowers and orchids. The forested ravines attract a wide range of birdlife and the rivers have fish eagle gliding and calling overhead. Among birds which may be seen in this terrain are the Redshouldered Window, Yellow throated Longclaw, Common Waxbill, Croaking Cisticola, Orange Throated Long-Claw, Ground Hornbill with Gurneys Sugarbird and the Greater Double Collared Sunbird, seeking nectar from the flowering strelitzias.
Two sizeable vulture colonies thrive in the cliff faces of the Msikaba and Mtentu gorges. Crowned eagles can be seen.
“Pockets of thick coastal forest echo with Knysna loeries, while shy kudu …hide away in the blanket of greenness. The most extensive forest lies in the north-west of the reserve, in an area known as “The Superbowl”. Here, a massive amphitheatre of sandstone cliffs surrounds several hectares of luminous high-canopy forest. Birds including Trumpeter Hornbill, Rameron Pigeon and many more are abundant.
In the middle of the crescent of cliffs, a river cascades thirty metres down on its way into the gorge below. You can stand on the edge of the cliffs, listening to the crash of water, and hundreds of birds tweeting, looking down at a scene that is simply breath taking.”
There are also incredible areas of swamp forest where wild frangipani grow side by side with arum lilies and several sedge species grow in the water beneath the trees.
The rivers are now protected and are important nursery areas for ocean fish such as steenbrass.
It is owned by the community but managed by San Parks who have allowed a developer to build a 5* eco lodge of 15 rooms in the northern section. We are unsure if visitors will be able to see much of this section now, so this should be a must go soon, place. The northern section has been fenced and will be private once the new Gwe Gwe Lodge opens in July 2022.
Presently there are only seven simple rondavels for self- catering and a single basic cabin, the stone house, as accommodation. It is basic and geyzers and toilets may not work plus cutlery may be absent, so make a specific request to staff in advance!
“In 1782 one of Britain’s finest vessels, the Grosvenor, struck a submerged reef at Lambasi Bay nearby. Most of the 100-odd survivors attempted an arduous trek back to Port Elizabeth, but a few of the women stayed put. They settled among the local Mpondo people, bearing children and entrenching themselves in the Xhosa customs.”
This for now, is “ still a largely untouched place, a place which could almost be described in Utopian terms. It is probably what most of the east coast of South Africa once looked like a few hundred years ago: plenty of wildlife sharing their space with cattle, while locals lived a life deeply connected to the rhythms of nature, pastoralists and fishermen living off the land and sea, wanting for nothing, yet receiving everything they needed- all the food, water and health they required.”
Mkambati used to be a leper colony until the mid- 20th century. The name comes from the local term for leprosy…but its exact origin is not known.
A 4×4 or a high clearance vehicle is necessary.