Scenery in South Africa: Hidden Gems - Chinta in the Eastern Cape
The Wild Coast of South Africa along the S/E shores of Africa stretches out from East London in the Easter Cape to Port Edward in Kwazulu- Natal, a distance of about 400 km. It consists of kilometer after kilometer of un-spoilt Indian Ocean coastline; white beaches interspersed with rocky cliffs and hilly headlands. Every now and then a river enters the ocean with an estuary of varying size, either open to the sea or separated by a sandy beach and only opens when the river runs strongly after heavy rains.
Chintsa East is one of the first of many coastal resorts that dot the coastline when you approach the Wild Coast from East London. Only 45 km from the only river port in South Africa, it is a popular retirement village or holiday resort with a charm that needs sharing. It also has a small township with a population of Xhosa people who work in the village. The beach is a perfect place to walk, cycle or swim. A gentle sandy bay provides smallish waves and often a perfect wave for surfing. A rocky area between Chintsa East and Chintsa West (about 8km to the SW) is a popular fishing spot for rock and surf fishermen. The rock pools are great for young children to explore and do some “Bully” fishing. “Bullies” is the local generic name for a group of small fish that live in rock pools.
The beach stretching from Chintsa to Cefane, the next little resort about 6km away to the N/E, is a good place to pick up shells and even to find a piece of Chinese pottery that sometimes gets washed up after a period of stormy seas. This part of the African Coast is where ships in ancient times plied their trade between Asia and Europe and were often shipwrecked. Not too far from here lies the site of the “Grosvenor”, a ship that went down with its legendary fortune of gold that has led to many failed attempts to find it.
This morning as I skin dived along the edge of the nearby rocky coast I saw the unmistakable evidence of a shipwreck that has now become part of the reef. All I could recover, however, were a few lead sinkers that had been lost there by fishermen in the recent past. We did pick up a few Cowrie Shells on the beach that in previous times had made up an important item used for currency in Africa, and were also used for decoration of important masks and other traditional items.
As we walked along the beach we passed a group of cows that were resting on the sand and shortly afterwards a group of tourists riding horses along the beach. It looked like a perfect way of creating a memory of the Wild Coast. In the garden in front of the house where we are staying for a few days, we chased away another group of cows on our return from the beach. They were making a meal of the garden flowers and plants but also keeping the lawn trimmed. The ongoing battle between the local residents and the “township” cows has lead to some serious discussion in the village and the township, with no agreement reached as yet
Out in the bay a lonely surfer catches a perfectly shaped wave and just beyond the surf line a group of Cape Gannets dive into the water to catch breakfast. With it being early winter, the Gannets are perhaps the first signs of the sardine run that occurs along this coast line every year between May and August. On the nearby rocks a pair of Oyster Catchers feed while a large group of White- breasted Cormorants sun themselves. A variety of plovers feed along the rock pools or on the sand including some Ruddy Turnstones, Kittlitz’s Plovers and While-fronted Plovers. In the lagoon a couple of different Herons patiently fish for their prey. The cry of an African Fish Eagle draws our attention to the resident raptor that patrols the lagoon looking for food.
Accommodation in Chintsa varies from a really beautiful campground, to a well known back packers resort on the other side of the lagoon and a variety of flats and bungalows. Many holiday homes also provide great options, often with wonderful views of the Indian Ocean and the coastal sand dunes and vegetation. Sunrise to the east over the Indian Ocean can be dramatic and breathtaking, while sunsets to the west can also provide beautiful skies. One of the major plusses of this little coastal village is that it seldom gets very busy, except over the Christmas and New Year holidays, and often you almost feel as if you have the place to yourself. There is a small general dealer where you can buy essentials and The Barefoot Pub and Café offers drinks and meals to hungry and thirsty visitors. Some tennis courts and a bowling lawn provides locals and visitors a place to exercise their skills and spend some time.
The local residents have started an initiative called the “Unstressed Surf School” where young men from the township are taught water skills including surfing and life- saving, supplying much needed skills that could lead to work opportunities in a country where so many are unemployed. On the road down to the beach a couple of locals and a man from a Northern African country are busy making articles that they sell to visitors. Over the sand dunes a huge kite carries a tourist who is feeling adventurous and is piggy-backing with an instructor, who is offering hang gliding outings along the beach and sand dunes. The advert on the local notice board offers these hand gliding experiences for anyone from 5 to 95. Although I qualify by age I will rather skin dive, fish and just walk along the beach. Perhaps I will find another piece of Ming Dynasty pottery to add to my collection of pottery shards, or who knows, I might even find the gold treasure of the Grosvenor. Meanwhile the golden sky of another sunrise will remind me that I am fortunate to experience this hidden gem along the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape, only about a 40 minutes drive from East London.