Year in the Wild Blog

Days 19 to 24 – Year in the Wild 2013-14 – Mkambati Nature Reserve and Mtentu River Lodge

After the high mountains of the Drakensberg, where the air was cold and dry, the rocks hard and unforgiving, the hiking tough, and the bodies sore, we made our way to the land of soft air, warm water and rolling hills of honey-coloured grass. The northern Wild Coast is as close to paradise as you can get in South Africa

Bathed in gentle temperatures, the coastline between Port Edward and East London is caressed by tropical climes all year round, courtesy of the warm Agulhas Current which flows powerfully from near the equator to the tip of Africa in the south. (It’s the fastest moving ocean current in the world, apparently.)

The most untouched part of the Wild Coast (so named for the huge waves that pound the coast) is Pondoland, between Port Edward in the north and Port St John’s in the south. And the undoubted gem in this special area is Mkambati Nature Reserve, a small reserve deserving big superlatives.

This photogenic protected area is one of South Africa’s most special, even if it is only 70 square kilometres. It’s one of only two protected areas that conserves the Pondoland Centre of Endemism, a unique collection of 2 200 species of flora that has adapted to the isolated sandstone soils in a subtropical climate. Here are at least 196 endemic species, found only here and nowhere else on Earth.

The sandstone geology found in the northern part Wild Coast has also given Mkambati it’s defining waterfalls and deep gorges, carved out by clear rivers. On the southern boundary is the Msikaba gorge, and on the northern is the Mtentu River. Both are untouched and rarely visited. A few of the falls on the Wild Coast plummet directly into the ocean, including Mkambati Falls.

In winter the rivers are low, so the falls aren’t as spectacular as during the rainy summers. Nevertheless, there is always water in the rivers, so don’t let that stop you from visiting them.

The few chalets at Mkambati were already booked up when we arrived, so we stayed at Mtentu River Lodge, just across the northern boundary of Mkambati. You can access the reserve from Mtentu – just borrow one of the lodge’s canoes, and cross the river. From there you can walk all over the reserve if you wish (there are no gates or fences here – although you are expected to pay an admission fee if you happen to bump into a ranger.)

What I liked most about Mtentu River Lodge was it’s laid-back style. It’s very relaxed, almost like your own beach home – it’s perfectly suited to unwinding and destressing. Manager Bridgette Duffy and her friendly staff keep guests well-fed with wholesome catering, while the thatched tented chalets are basic but comfortable. (Watch out for thieving vervet monkeys!)

Although you can definitely get used to “chillaxing” at Mtentu, everyone should paddle up the Mtentu River gorge, and explore the small tributaries on foot, where there seem to be waterfalls at every turn. It’s one of the most pristine river systems I have seen on my journeys, and one of the most beautiful.

When we paddled up the Mtentu, fish eagles called above us, their echoing cries richocheting off the sandstone cliffs. A pair of Knysna loeries watched us from a tree above the river bank as we drifted past. The thick indigenous forest hums constantly with birdsong. Fish broke the surface of the shallows near the river banks.

On another day, we walked to Mkambati Falls, and also Strandloper and Horseshoe Falls, all of which are worth visiting, even if there was little water in the river. As we walked, we kept noticing new flowers and plants…Mkambati is a fascinating place for botanists and flower photographers. Have a look at the photos…

Then there are the people, who I think don’t receive enough credit. Everyone always talks about the scenery and beauty of the Wild Coast, but to me, the most beautiful part of Pondoland is the people. They are the friendliest and most courteous I have met on my extensive travels around South Africa. They are also some of the most beautiful and dignified. I really do have a soft spot for the Pondo people, including the rangers and reserve staff. Extra special thanks to Mr Vuyani Mapiya and to senior ranger Mbuyiseli Mzayiwa for helping me with my work.

By the way, there is always debate around the spelling of Mkambati (or Mkhambathi, as per all the official marketing material!). According to expert Jim Feely, the correct spelling is Mkambati. He writes: “Mkambati is the spelling given by C.J. Skead, author of The Pilot Gazetteer of Xhosa Place Names. Skead was very careful to distinguish between the aspirated and unaspirated consonants This is clearly described in the introduction to the gazetteer. He co-operated very closely with H W Pahl of the Xhosa dictionary project at Ft Hare University (see also the introduction to vol. 3 of Greater Dictionary of Xhosa, for which Pahl was editor-in-chief). When in doubt stick to Skead. This way you stand on broad shoulders. Leave speculation to the linguists.”

So there we have it.

Pondo horsemen near Mkambati

Old and new technology...comparing horsepower stats.

Like much of Africa, cattle are symbols of wealth and prosperity in Pondoland

Scenery north of Mkambati, near Mtentu River

Pondoland gentleman

Mtentu River Lodge

Checking out the view from Mtentu River Lodge, looking south towards Mkambati

The braai area at Mtentu River Lodge...

Mtentu River lodge manager Bridgette Duffy and Cash the friendliest dog on the wild coast

Our cabin at Mtentu...

Ferns of Mkambati

Lichen growing on sandstone...always an indicator of a very healthy, pristine environment!

Waterfall on Mtentu tributary

One of the smaller rivers in Mkambati, with Indian Ocean in background

Golden grasslands and ocean and sky - in summer the grass is bright green!

Checking out the area near Mkambati Falls

Waterfall on Mtentu tributary

Waterfall and rock pool...awesome for swimming!

Looking up the Mtentu River gorge

Rach going airborne...

Little Pondo homes near Mtentu

Paddling up the Mtentu River

Our view from the cabin at Mtentu River Lodge

Cabin at Mtentu River Lodge

Mkambati Flower

Mkambati Flower

Coral trees are blooming all over the Wild Coast at this time of year!

Mkambati Flower

Mkambati Flower

Mkambati Flower

Mkambati Flower

Mkambati Flower

Mkambati Flower

Mkambati Flower

Mkambati Flower

Mkambati Flower

Mkambati Flower

Mkambati Flower

Mkambati grass

Mkambati Flower

Mkambati Flower

Mkambati Flower

Mkambati Flower

For more, go to and Check out my Flickr photos at and my Instagram photos at Twitter on

Thanks to my partners Cape Union MartFord EverestGoodyear, and K-Way.

As well as EeziAwnFrontrunnerGlobecommHetznerNational LunaOutdoor PhotoSafari Centre Cape Town, Tracks 4 Africa, and Vodacom.

Conservation partners BirdLife South AfricaBotswana Department of Wildlife and National ParksCapeNatureEastern Cape Parks and TourismEzemvelo KZN WildlifeGorongosa National ParkiSimangaliso Wetland Park, Namibia Wildlife Resorts, Parque Nacional do Limpopo, South African National Parks and Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.


  • I love it! Just love it! Awesome photography! Beautiful place! Thank you for sharing it!

  • Ah, but it looks and sounds wonderful, Scott. I can’t believe that in all our travels we haven’t been there yet. Shall have to remedy that very soon!

    • Yes Roxanne and Peter! You guys MUST get to Mkambati, it’s top ten in my list of reserves in South Africa. Call me before you go, will set you up with the right people.

      • Hi Scott, we want to go to Mkambati and Hluleka from the 27th of October to tthe 1st of November, but I dont know where to book. We are 4 Adults. Can you please provide me with booking details. Regards

        • The best place to stay is Mtentu River Lodge, just across the northern border of Mkambati. I have cc’d Bridgette the owner, so get in touch with her.

          For Hluleka, contact Emma Canniford at Eastern Cape Parks in the reservation dept. She is the best person to talk to. 074-078-6593.

          I highly recommend both places! Enjoy your trip.

  • Pingback: Mkambati – where waterfalls and oceans meet | Bush-bound Girl

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