On the south east coast of South Africa, along the Elephant Coast, there is a campground called Mabibi…
On the south east coast of South Africa, along the Elephant Coast, there is a campground called Mabibi. It is the ideal escape, hours from civilisation, across the semi-tropical coastline. Disclaimer: if you dislike finding sand in your clothing for weeks to come, stay away. Mabibi is not glamping. It is rugged, wild and untamed. There is no cell phone service. Duiker, monkeys and other small mammals explore the campground at night; the call of birds awakens you.
If your stress melts the further into the wilderness you travel, you should go. If you appreciate the little things and enjoy basic, minimalist living, you should go. If you sit at your 8-5 job and you can hear nature calling you, you should go. Or, if like me you recently quit your job and you’re an expat trying to figure out life in South Africa, you should definitely go.
You need a 4×4 to get to Mabibi camp, which is at the end of 30 kilometres of sand road. There are eight campsites, a few chalets, and communal ablutions. You have to pack in your own water and food, as the tap water is not safe to drink, and there are no shops or restaurants nearby. It requires significant planning and coordination to pull off a holiday at Mabibi, but if you are willing to put in the effort, it is one of the most miraculous places in South Africa.
If your stress melts the further into the wilderness you travel, you should go.
I was lucky enough to tag along with an already organised group of people – a cycling friend of mine, her husband and in-laws, and three other couples. The invitation was extended to me in the eleventh hour, and because I was recently unemployed and in great need of a distraction, I signed up.
We left Johannesburg at 5am on a Saturday morning, packed tightly into cars loaded down with containers of water, food for ten days, and our camping equipment. As we drove, it seemed to me, each hour represented a degree of magnitude away from the urban sprawl of Johannesburg. The landscape shifted from tall grey buildings and city streets, to wheat and corn fields, sprinkled with rural villages.
It took eight hours to reach the sand road turn off, in an area that brings to mind Mozambique – powdery white sand, bushy trees, loud birds and salty air. We followed the 30 kilometre road to the campground, stopping three times to pull one of the vehicles (a 2×4 minivan) out of the deepest sand stretches. We opened the sunroof and stood inside the car, letting the warm air rush through our hair.
Each hour represented a degree of magnitude away from the urban sprawl of Johannesburg.
By the time we arrived in camp it was late afternoon, but we had enough time to set up tents and cooking areas before sunset. After I unpacked, I pulled off shoes and threw them in the back of the car, where they would remain for the next week. The sand felt amazing between my toes, exfoliating away the life of a city dweller, welcoming me back to nature.
Once camp was prepared, we poured sundowners and hurried to see the purple and orange sunset fall over the ocean. The beachfront at Mabibi is a 500-metre walk from camp, including a wooden staircase of 100 steps. The beach itself is pristine; it is 40-kilometres south of Mozambique and 30-kilometres north of Sodwana Bay, the closest tourist destination. Because of its isolation, even when the campground is full, you often have the entire beachfront to yourselves. We visited in winter, so for a whole week we only saw a handful of other people.
We fell into a satisfying routine: we woke with the sunrise or the call of the Knysna turaco (enchanting green and blue bird); took a barefoot jog along the coast followed by a dip in the warm ocean waters; shared a big fry-up breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast; spent a few hours on the beach, playing ball, snorkelling and reading; had an afternoon nap or explored the camp trails looking for wildlife; sipped sundowners on a sand dune watching the sun set; and finished the day with a big braai (barbeque) at the campsite, washed down with wine and whiskey.
One overcast morning during a barefoot beach jog, I saw a spray of water on the horizon. I jumped and yelled to my friends: a group of humpback whales was swimming just off shore! We watched as the pod swam and splashed, lifting their huge tails out of the water. The scene was overwhelming – the darkening sky created a dramatic backdrop, white water sprayed into the air, whales breached; and we were the only humans around to capture this experience.
Even when the campground is full, you often have the entire beachfront to yourselves.
The week went by far too quickly. I’m not normally one to sit still and relax on a beach, but there is something enchanting and magical about Mabibi. It is a place that escapes the world – when you are there, you can be whomever you wish, return to nature, be born again. The realities of your life mean nothing in Mabibi; you are simply another pair of feet leaving footprints in the sand.
On our final morning, I rose before the sun and took one last barefoot walk across the campground, down the wooden stairs and onto the white beach. I sat with my notebook, watching the red glow of the sun peak above the calm blue-grey ocean. Before this trip, after I quit my job, I was nervous and restless. Yet sitting on the beach that morning, barefoot and grateful, I felt a renewed sense of value. I wrote my last journal entry for the trip, which ended with this thought:
Life is fleeting, it is temporary, none of us get out alive. Let us waste not the moments we have, but return to nature barefoot as we came, open heart and eyes, willing the wind and the rain and the sun to renew us.