This year, we wanted to get as far away from the city as possible (for the Christmas holidays). Far… far… far away from malls, fake Santas, manic Christmas consumerism and all the hype, noise and chaos… (well, you get the picture).
Fortunately for us, our friend Ryley and her French hubby, Stephane – had invited us to join them at the family “shack” at Ntafufu – which is buried deep within the remote forests of the Wild Coast… and probably as far away from civilisation that one can get (whilst remaining in the country).
Ryley warned us that we’d be “roughing it”. She told us that the shack had no electricity, no hot water and that the water we’d be using had been collected in rain water tanks.
“Flushing toilet?”, I wanted to know.
“Then it’s perfect. Let’s go!”.
Ntafufu is far from Joburg. We first had to drive to Durban (6 hours) – and stayed the night at my aunt’s home on the Bluff.
The following morning, we spent another 7 hours in the car (mostly on bad, winding roads) driving towards Port St. John in the Eastern Cape. It is, without a doubt, one of the most gorgeous parts of our country. Untouched, undeveloped… breathtakingly beautiful.
I found myself constantly counting my blessings that we had borrowed my father-in-law’s 4-wheel-drive vehicle. Our little Renault Modus would never have coped!
Eventually, after negotiating some particularly bad, muddy, very steep roads (or rather – paths)… which were even a struggle for the big 4X4… we eventually ended up at a small camp site on the banks of the Ntafufu River.
Only hard-core campers go there. Definitely no electricity, running water, cell phone signals – or any such thing… plus… it’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere… and you cannot get there without a sturdy off-road vehicle (city cars need not apply).
We unloaded our small mountain of stuff… food… gas bottles… candles… paraffin… clothes… toiletries… more food… first aid kit… and we loaded everything into a tiny boat (we needed to make a couple of trips to get 4 adults, 2 kids and all our supplies over to the shack).
Ryley’s family shack is accessible only by the Ntafufu River.
It can’t be reached by car (or any off-road vehicle, for that matter). We had to take a 10 minute boat drive down the river (heading towards the sea). The boat trip, in itself, was a beautiful experience; enormous cliffs and dense, green vegetation towered on each side of us. We were completely surrounded by the wild… no cell phones! No alarm sirens! No traffic noise! No pollution! No barking dogs! No TV! No city noise whatsoever! Blissful bliss!
After our boat ride, we arrived at a secluded wooden jetty, anchored on the edge of the lagoon. Another 10 minute walk into the thick of the forest, and we were there: The Shack! A little house built in 1921 by Ryley’s great grandfather (using the remains of a wrecked ship). It was perfect!
The next couple of days were spent relaxing… walking on the beach… sleeping… swimming… catching crabs… chatting around the fire… floating in the lagoon…
Ntafufu is a wildlife paradise (and a popular spot for international entomologists) – bugs everywhere (and thus… birds, snakes, geckos, and so on…).
We encountered 2 snakes. One was in the kitchen and one was in our outdoor cooking area. We originally thought they were green mambas (a very poisonous snake that I would prefer NOT to have around my small children) – but they turned out to be Natal Green Snakes (or… so we think)… (and I felt VERY guilty for participating in their demise!). Natal Green Snakes are completely harmless and were probably after the geckos on the wall. If we’d known (for certain) that they weren’t mambas, we would have just left them alone and lived harmoniously in their company (I hate killing wildlife for no reason).
We also had a huge golden orb spider that lived at the entrance of our outdoor cooking area. We called him Roy Orbison (Nick’s idea). Originally, it spun it’s web right in the middle of the entrance to our cooking area – but since none of us wanted to walk into it’s web at night (or end up with a big spider in our hair), Nick gently facilitated Roy’s removal to a more convenient spot.
We had a family of 4 small bats who lived in the bathroom during the day – and one bigger bat who hung from the ceiling above our heads (and occasionally poo’d on our bedding).
There were all kinds of fascinating beetles and bugs – including the kinds that bite and sting… and, in spite of lugging along a small hoard of Tabard and Peaceful Sleep… all of us were bitten (mostly by mozzies and horse flies… and the occasional tick).
There were a few adventures too (apart from the snake incidents).
The boat engine gave up the ghost (on our first trip down the river)… the gas stove had a leak and caught on fire (thankfully, Stephane came to the rescue with a fire hydrant)… I locked the one and only key to our room… IN… the room (and – obviously – a locksmith is out of the question in that part of the world). Using wire and some impressive Mac Gyver manoeuvres, we were able to get the key off the table (inside the room) and drag it back out underneath the door.
But mostly… the experience was wonderful. We had the beach and the lagoon to ourselves. We discovered a deep, warm rock pool where we wallowed and played for hours (and caught crabs with the kids). We slathered ourselves in lagoon mud. We roasted marshmallows on the fire… and enjoyed long discussions by campfire while listening to the calls of the nagapies.
And we enjoyed a wonderfully, relaxed Christmas day… a lovely spread of food… a huge shady tree… hammock and good book… and children painting pictures and building lego. Probably the best Christmas day I’ve had in a very long time.
Sadly – all good things come to an end, and on the 26th December, it was time for us to go. Next stop: East London…