Highway sign marking end of pavement on road from Durban to Mbundi
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Today, Day 6 of our South Africa road trip, the Hectic Route, takes us from Durban to Mdumbi—and on an escape from (un-)civilization and into to simpler times.

Anxious to Escape

Waking up around 6 a.m., as we’ve made our custom on this road trip to get the most out of each day, we packed up and bade a hasty and not-so-fond farewell to urban Durban.

We were anxious to get out of town and get started on our 7.5-hour (according to Google Maps, so realistically more like 9-hour-plus) drive to our next destination: Mdumbi, a rustic backpacker accommodation 500 km away on the rugged Wild Coast of South Africa’s Eastern Cape province.

Dreary Beginnings

On the map, the first part of our trip from Durban to Mdumbi looked to go along the Indian Ocean coast, so we looked forward to some nice seaside scenery.

Nope.

All we could see for the first hour and a half was monotonous suburban sprawl until passing Port Shepstone, where we turned inland and entered a thick mist—and the first stage of our escape from (un-)civilization and back to simpler times.

Misty road outside of Durban

The Chaos Before the Calm

After an hour of seeing nothing but thick mist and the backside of the truck in front of us, the clouds lifted.

Shortly thereafter, we pulled off into a strip mall outside of a town called Harding for a bathroom break.

It was chaos.

Black Friday supermarket chaos

Chaos in a supermarket on our way to Mdumbi

Hundreds of people lined up to at ATMs and at a check-cashing counter to get money so they could join the thousands of others in the Spar supermarket who were piling their shopping carts with seemingly whatever they could get their hands on.

The frenzied mass of shopping carts was so gridlocked that we couldn’t even make it to the bathrooms at the back corner of the supermarket.

The whole scene is what I’d imagine it’d be like if an apocalypse was approaching and everyone was stocking up.

But there was no apocalypse.

It was just Black Friday pandemonium to an extreme we had never seen.

A Simpler Life

Back in the calm, protective bubble of our rental car, we continued along our Durban to Mdumbi route inland and up into the mountains.

There, through our windshield, we whizzed by people living a life that wouldn’t be much affected even if an apocalypse were to strike.

Lady walking towards rural houses in the Transkei

As far as we could see in every direction, the green, treeless hillsides were polka-dotted with one little homestead after another where people seemed to live a simple life of subsistence.

We had to remind ourselves, somewhat incredulously, that this region, where life looked to not have changed much in centuries, exists in the same country as modern, cosmopolitan Cape Town.

Guy jammed into the back of a truck.
Next time you think of complaining about leg room in a plane or bus, think of this guy.

(Not Exactly) Hakuna Mthatha

Six-and-a-half hours into our Durban to Mbundi escape, we hit the city of Mthatha.

From a distance, Mthatha’s city center looked like that of any other mid-sized city, with a small downtown of mid-sized office buildings.

Up close, it was more like the chaotic Black Friday supermarket from a few hours ago—a hectic gridlock of barely-moving vehicles with pedestrians and street vendors weaving in and out of them.

Our anxiety rose up again, especially Kim’s, since she was driving.

Even Google seemed to want out of the mess ASAP. It rerouted us away from the epicenter of Mthatha’s madness, down a dirt side street, and the wrong way across a one-lane bridge.

Into the Wild Coast

After a quick lunch of a plain pizza and shitty schnitzel at a fast-food-style restaurant (because, sadly, only crappy fast food restaurants exist in the poorer parts of the country), we left (un-)civilization for good.

Man, goat, road, and rondavels

We even left Google Maps behind.

Our destination, Mdumbi Backpackers, warned us that, unless we wanted “a real adventure,” we should not follow Google’s directions. We took their advice and instead followed their written directions for the final 93 kilometers.

The road steadily devolved from pristine pavement, to perilously potholed, to dirt, to rough and rocky.

We had worried that our little, low-clearance sedan would have issues with the rural road, but it turned out to not be a problem.

Kim driving with cows in the way
As the road deteriorated, livestock became the major traffic hazard.

Rondavel on the Wild Coast

Kids carrying their friend back home
Adorable scene of some little kids carrying their injured friend back home.

Ten hours after setting out from Durban, at last we saw the ocean again and approached our destination.

Driving down towards the Wild Coast with the Indian Ocean in sight.
The Wild Coast, at last.

The Wild Coast

 Rustic Relaxation

As we entered the gates of Mdumbi Backpackers, we fully exhaled and knew we’d escaped to a simpler life once and for all.

We checked into to the safari tent we’d spend our next couple of nights in (no more electric security fences!), stretched our legs by exploring the cliffside views, then sat down for a cozy, communal, candlelight dinner.

Our anxiety vanished.

Mdumbi Backpackers dining area and view of coast
The reception area of Mdumbi Backpackers.

 

Safari tent at Mdumbi Backpackers with view
Our 380 rands-a-night safari tent accommodation had a million-dollar view

Kim eating candlelight dinner at Mdumbi

Dinner at Mdumbi Backpackers

Next Up (South Africa Road Trip Day 7):
Slow But Spectacular Progress Along the Wild Coast

Kim posing on scenic Mdumbi to Coffee Bay hike

How to Have an Even Better South Africa Road Trip than Ours

South Africa Road Trip Planning tips cover image of a sign saying bon voyage in xhosa
“Hamba kakuhle” means “bon voyage” in Xhosa.

For everything from safety tips to how to find the best rental car to what our absolute favorite experiences are, check out our South Africa road trip tips.


Disclosure: Whenever possible, we use special links that earn us a cut if you pay for stuff we'd recommend anyway. It costs you nothing, so we’d be crazy not to.

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