Dwesa – A dilemma destination on the Wild Coast

Grasslands meet the ocean at Dwesa. (Photograph: EC Parks.)

DWESA is what you might call a dilemma destination. It is one of those delightful, out-of-the-way places that so enchant you that you want to tell everyone about it. But, because a good deal of its appeal is its pristine seclusion, you also want to keep it to yourself. Then again, given that this particular spot is not easily accessible to many, it may be worth the risk of revealing. So, I throw caution to the wind…

The Dwesa Nature Reserve, which covers 3 900 hectares between the Nqabara and Mbashe rivers on the central Wild Coast, was revealed to me by the organisers of an annual four-day mountain bike race. The more than 200 kilometre route, from the Kei River Mouth to Port St Johns, includes the reserve. Television coverage thereof shows the most magnificently dramatic helicopter footage of cyclists traversing creamy broad stretches of beach and then peddling alongside herds of galloping blue wildebeest, as the animals race through the smooth green grass that seems to flow above the spectacular sea cliffs.

The pictures on the small screen were enough to induce a visit, albeit by car and not, in my case, by bicycle.

The turn-off to Dwesa is in the Eastern Cape town of Idutywa, which is on the N2 almost 90 kilometres southwest of Umtata. From there, the approximately 70-kilometre road is passable gravel, which can apparently get rather perilous during the rainy season.

Accommodation – beautifully located only metres from the beach alongside a small estuary that spills into the Indian Ocean – includes five five-bed and three four-bed self-catering log cabins that are tucked into the edge of a pretty indigenous forest, and a well-maintained, grassy campsite with 20 stands and communal ablution.

The campsite at Dwesa. (Photograph: EC Parks.)

Unspoiled lowland forest that is largely evergreen covers much of the reserve. Closer to the coastline, the cool wooded area gives way to more rugged acacia scrub that opens on to the softer grassland. Little estuaries weave through the forests and stream out on a sandy shoreline with wide, flat stretches of rock that reach into the ocean. The Mbashe River slices its way through cliffs and gorges, and spills into a mangrove swamp near the mouth.

Dwesa’s rich and diverse habitat and vegetation support many of small mammals and birds. Almost 300 bird species have been recorded in the reserve, into which a number of game species have been introduced in recent years. Red hartebeest, blesbok, buffalo, eland, zebra and blue wildebeest roam the grassland, and warthogs scurry through the forests.

Zebra are among a variety of wildlife re-introduced to Dwesa. (Photograph: EC Parks.)

Although there are a few trails that can be undertaken by 4×4 to shorten hikes, the reserve is pretty undeveloped and only footpaths give access to most areas. This encourages long walks that begin on the largely deserted beach with its wonderful array of shells, and then navigate the rocks and river. Secluded rock pools invite invigorating skinny-dips before you climb up onto the cliffs to watch the game graze on the grassland above and admire the sea crashing into the rock face below. The scenery is superb and it is worth packing lunch and refreshments for a day-long hike. On the way back, you can take a detour through the forest. Take care though. It is easy to get lost in these deep green jungles with the many confusing pathways made by the animals that wander through them.

Dwesa is, for me, a dilemma destination. The dilemma? How to get back there soon.

(First published in The Weekender in 2006. If you’d like more information on the Imana Wild Ride (mountain bike race) that goes through Dwesa, go to http://www.wildride.co.za.)

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Freelance writer based in Hout Bay near Cape Town in South Africa.
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