There is an unwritten law in travel: the bumpier and more difficult the road – whether you do it on foot or engine – the bigger the wow, the more pristine, untouched and less crowded the destination. Dirt paths, those thin unnamed lines on the map and the route with no obvious markers are almost a guarantee that your endurance, determination and perseverance will be rewarded with something spectacular, something handmade by nature, and something that will grab you by the chest and ignite your senses.
The road to Hluleka Nature Reserve was no different; it held a promise of “you’re about to get a whiff of wonder” within its potholes, narrow bridges and villages scattered all over the greenery of the rolling hills.
Situated on the Wild Coast, halfway between Port St Johns, where the blowhole spits out white foam, and Coffee Bay, where the waves gush through the Hole in the Wall, the 772 ha reserve with its rich biodiversity combines indigenous forests with grazing animals and a rocky protected coastline with a secluded golden beach cove with palm trees and local 4-legged, long tailed beach bums monkeying about.
Hluleka lived up to the promise and let out more than just a whiff of wonder, it gave meaning to all those frequently used, and often overused, words; it was off the beaten path, remote quaint, the ideal getaway to disconnect from the world, breathtaking, truly hidden, honestly a gem and tucked away with a great view.
Hluleka Nature reserve is untamed, unbeatable and unapologetically perfect with a supportive relationship with the nearby villages in the form of employment, cultural tours and homestays for those on the over-night Wild Coast hiking trail from Port St. Johns to Coffee Bay. It also offers nature-based activities with numerous paths meandering through the forest and to the hill tops, blue duiker, eland, zebras and abundant bird life with the elusive forest dwelling Narina trogon and the orange-red flapping wings of the Cape parrot.
But best of all, Hluleka Nature Reserve has affordable accommodation.
Oh my Hluleka, where have you been all my life?
There are 7 double-storey wooden chalets at Hluleka and each chalet can accommodate up to four people. All chalets offer sea views, a loft main bedroom (ensuite bathroom) with a big window overlooking the Indian Ocean, a twin bedroom also with its own bathroom, a fully equipped open-plan kitchen, a lounge with TV (if you can tear yourself away from nature’s entertainment) and a balcony with grazing zebras as your next door neighbours.
Sounds and looks cosy, right? If you’re thinking that a place like this can’t be affordable, think again! I nearly fell off the chair when I found out. Accommodation rates for this Eastern Cape Reserve is a steal, in peak season it is R570 (1-2 people) and off-peak it is R450 (1-2 people).
Don’t judge a destination by its road. Even though the dirt road to Hluleka would be easier to manage in a 4×4 it is not a requirement; a vehicle with a decent clearance is all you need with a bit of patience and the golden rule: as slow as possible, as fast as necessary. Your phone’s GPS will come in handy for navigation, so make sure everything is charged before you depart. From Port St Johns you can follow the R61 towards Mthata and make a left just after St Barnabas Hospital Pharmacy. From Coffee Bay, follow the back road towards Mdumbi, pass Mtakatyi Old Trading Post, and make a right turn about 2-3km after the Mthakatye River. The reserve is about 430 km from Durban via the R61 and 315 km from East London via the N2.
If you’re visiting it is best to bring your own drinking water and stock up on food and necessities in Umtata or another big city or town. There is a small trading store not too far from the reserve where you might find a few basics. Fishing is not allowed inside the reserve since it is a MPA (Marine Protected Area), but if you have a permit there is the possibility to dip your rod into the waters outside of the reserve in a designated area.
Disclaimer: My visit to Hluleka Nature Reserve was part of a media trip with ECPTA. As always, all opinions are my own.