Eastern Cape Tourist AttractionsPondoland Marine Protected Area
Where? Pondoland Marine Protected Area sprawls over and includes Mkhambathi Nature Reserve, Wild Coast, Eastern Cape
It stretches for 90 km between the Mzamba River, just south of the Wild Coast Sun, and the Umzimvubu River, at Port St Johns. This most northerly part of the Eastern Cape was proclaimed a Marine Protected Area to protect and rebuild vulnerable and depleted reef-fish stocks.
That the Marine Protected Area is a success is evident in research done by the reef-fish monitoring project, a research team that compares the number and sizes of fish caught in the Marine Protected Area's restricted no-take zone with fish caught in the adjacent zone. Results show that those reef-fish that were heavily exploited, like red steenbras and black musselcracker, are now considerably larger and more abundant in the no-take area where no fishing is allowed.
Pondoland is largely rural and undeveloped. The people who live here are directly dependent on the natural environment for their needs. Many of them live simply, in rural villages. The Mzamba and Umzimvubu are not the only rivers on this coastline. It is rife with rivers, streams, waterfalls and tributaries. At least another 10 rivers, with names like Mtakatye, Sinangwana, Mntafufu and Mplahlane, have some of the most pristine estuaries in the country.
What it means for visitors is that some of the densest concentrations of large marine mammals in the world are in evidence along this coastline, as a result. Humpback whales and dolphins, in particular, are seen in great numbers. Rocky shores and sandy beaches with large subtidal reefs extend for miles.
There are no roads, and not much infrastructure, although a new sustainable bridge across the Mzamba River now connects the rural community to education, jobs and medical facilities. There are thus only two ways to explore the area. Either you stay at Mkhambathi Nature Reserve, or you walk the coastline on a hike like the Pondo-Explorer trail.
The 7 000 hectare Mkhambathi is an untouched paradise, the site of three forested ravines of the Msikaba, Mkhambathi and Mtentu rivers. Extensive grasslands support not only a diverse number of plants, but also grazing herds of eland, blue wildebeest, blesbuck and gemsbok. Two vulture colonies live in the cliff faces of two of the gorges. The waterfalls, including Horseshoe Falls, Strandloper Falls and Mkhambathi Falls, and the rich forests of what is known as 'The Superbowl' with its huge sandstone cliffs that form an amphitheatre looming over the gorge make this an one of the most priceless spaces in which to be.
To walk this coastline contact Active Escapes. Walking it is probably easier than getting here. The roads of the Wild Coast are in a terrible condition. There are pros and cons to this. On the one hand, it keeps visitors away. On the other, it makes getting there, for those who really want to experience it, very difficult.
Mkhambathi and Pondoland are under threat from mining companies after titanium in the sands of these shores even though the Pondoland community and their king, have forbidden mining.