Galloping across the endless beaches with your heartbeat matching your horses’ thundering hooves is an adrenaline rush second to none! Karien, headed out on a solo adventure to gallop away her Corona blues.
Just like everyone else, 2020 hit me with a real doozy. By late August, I’d had a rough few months with the lockdown and personal issues leaving me feeling like I was buried under a ton of bricks. Of course, I realise almost everyone on earth had a tough 2020! So, I will not elaborate on my own personal roller coaster that had dealt me a few nasty blows in the preceding months. But by the time August rolled around I could see my birthday looming ominously in the distance. I am usually a huge fan of birthdays and I love celebrating with all my family and friends, but this year I just wanted to wish it all away.
I realised I was craving freedom and space. I was yearning for that exquisite feeling that I have only ever experienced on the back of a horse – Galloping full speed through a spectacular landscape. I’ve been lucky enough to have had a few of those moments in my life, where I manage to escape the mundanities of the everyday and instead live in a completely different world for a while. In these moments I forget about the realities of my normal life and focus completely on the present: the energy between myself and my horse as we drink in the world around us. It’s the closest thing to flying you’ll ever feel. Embracing the feeling of reckless abandon that you usually only find in your dreams.
Decision made: I needed to gallop away the Lock Down Blues! On an impulse, I booked 4 nights riding on the hauntingly beautiful Wild Coast. With no one else to consider, it was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made. Days before, South Africa relaxed some of its strict lockdown regulations, so local travel was a possibility again. With international borders still closed, it was the perfect time to visit more of my own country. I’d never explored this remote region of South Africa before but had always been drawn to the isolation of this largely undeveloped area of rural coastline.
For those that don’t know, South Africa’s Wild Coast is a horse lovers dream. I had been told that riding on the Wild Coast is like being on the very edge of the world. As the name suggests, the waters here can be treacherous with numerous shipwrecks strewn along the shore. You can often see large pods of dolphins frolicking in the surf or whales spouting high up into the air and playfully flapping their fins further out to sea. Riding across rolling green hills, tropical forests and cliff tops that plunge into the ocean promised that this was not going to be just any old beach ride; but an adventure! On the Wild Coast, it is like you’ve travelled back in time. Local villages dot the landscape with the traditional round rondavel hut structures scattered across the hills. And on the beaches, you’re more likely to come across a herd of the beautiful Nguni cattle than other humans.
It was just going to be me, flying solo. And I didn’t mind it one single bit. In fact, that was part of the allure for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love the group dynamics that often play out on riding holidays where you end up meeting other people from all over the world, all with a shared passion for horses and traveling. But for these four days, I was happy to spend my time on the back of a beautiful horse, quietly absorbing the stillness of this remote landscape.
I was met at East London airport by Craig, the jovial local pub owner. As we drove the hour north to Kei Mouth Craig quickly made me feel at ease with his tales of life in the Eastern Cape. As we talked and laughed, I was always drawn back to the wonders of the landscape flashing by the window, browns, greens, blues with bright flashes of colour as we passed through the local villages. I fell silent, and Craig smiled smugly, he knows the spell of the Wild Coast.
As soon as I arrived at the village of Kei Mouth, it was like coming home. I was welcomed by strong women, from Tracy who runs the guest house and restaurant to the riding team of Tertia, Mel and Julie-Ann. The plan for the next few days was simple. Tertia and I would ride two horses the 30km up from Kei Mouth to Wavecrest Hotel, then ride a loop inland before heading south back to Kei Mouth. Mel would drive backup, meeting us with our luggage, feed and gear for the horses. Start times and routes were to be determined by the tides as there are a few rivers to forge along the way.
That intoxicating pre-adventure anticipation was certainly mounting! It is always an exciting moment meeting your equine partner. The 40 strong herd in Kei Mouth are all exquisite, many of whom were homebred by Julie-Ann and her family who are keen endurance riders. The horses are a mix of Arab and Thoroughbred with a few Percherons thrown in too. They all live out in huge fields, coming in daily for food, grooming and tickles. Throughout the Coronavirus lockdown, the team managed to keep a core band of horses trail-fit and rearing to go.
I was partnered with Torstone Tzarina, a flashy chestnut Anglo Arab mare. She rubbed her head on my shoulder, and from that moment on I was beaming from ear to ear. I would later find out just what a rocket she is! That first afternoon was an orientation ride to the breath-taking Morgan Bay Cliffs to make sure that Tzarina and I were a good match, before setting off towards the Wavecrest the following day. Needless to say, we got on swimmingly, and I knew I was in for a brilliant couple of days with this very special mare.
Life in the Eastern Cape is never rushed – and it certainly is the ideal antidote to my busy city girl roots! No alarm clocks, no deadlines, no rush. As our schedule was to be ruled by the tides, our mornings were relaxed with enough time for a leisurely breakfast and a chit chat before we set off for the days adventure.
By the time I arrived at the stables on the morning of day two, our horses had been tacked up and were eager to get going on their first trail in a long (lockdown) while. We clip-clopped our way through Kei Mouth village before heading down to the Kei River to cross into the old Transkei. The Kei River is too wide and too deep to swim with the horses, so we stood in line with a few locals to take the small ferry across. We were probably quite a sight: 24 people, 2 horses, a truck, and a cow, all on the ferry together! This really is a superb way to start the adventure, signalling the departure from ‘civilization’ as you enter the secluded coastline to the north.
On the other side of the river, we mounted up again and set-off up the first of the glorious beaches, heading off into the undeveloped coastal wilderness. Just two women and two horses winding their way up the coast. Even though Tertia had ridden here many times before, to me it felt like we were two badass adventurers exploring the unknown! We kept an easy pace with some relaxed walking interspersed with effortless canters. Tzarina was certainly eager to let off some steam and I was only too happy to let her! The white beaches are broken up periodically by tumbled rock formations that the horses carefully pick their way through. Other times we would veer away from the beach, taking one of the cattle paths through the sand dunes to the grasslands beyond. Being high above the ocean makes you feel like you’re on top of the world and is the perfect vantage point to spot whales or dolphins beyond the breakers.
After an unforgettable four-and-a-half-hour ride, we could see Wavecrest resort tucked on the side of a hill overlooking the Inzaxo and Ngqusi River mouth. There are a handful of these holiday resorts along the coast built in the 60’s and 70’s. Do not expect any high-end pretentious accommodation here – These resorts have a charming, albeit quirky, feel of yesteryear. Rooms are comfortable and the team is warm and welcoming. What more could you wish for than pub-style meals and a deck with views for days? Life on the Wild Coast is simple and uncomplicated.
The following day Tertia and I explored further north, wading across the river to get to the beach of legendary gallops. Tzarina was anticipating this beach and I could feel her excitement running just under the skin. We started off on an easy canter until Tertia signalled for me to give Tzarina her head. She shifted gears and blasted off across the seemingly never-ending beach. I can usually film canters while riding with one hand, but I quickly abandoned any attempt to aim the GoPro and focussed on enjoying the ride instead. There just is no better feeling in the world! I let go of any fear and just immersed myself in the adrenalin of the moment. In those few minutes, nothing else mattered. We seemed to just go on and on, galloping at full tilt, flying across the sand. Eventually, the rocks marking the end of the gallop appeared in the distance and we slowly slowed down to a breathless walk. All four of us buzzing with the thrill of the gallop!
Turning inland we meandered through the shade of the tropical forests before rising up the rolling hillside. It’s so rare that you can explore for miles and miles without seeing another human being – only the bird life keeping us company. Every once in a while, we came across a herd of Nguni cattle signalling a local village nearby. Up on the side of the hills, the round huts are spaced far apart with goats and chickens scratching away. The women work in the fields and the sound of their songs and children’s laughter carry to you on the wind. The next two days followed similar patterns, alternating between riding along the beaches or over mountains, crossing back over the river to reach the steamily bustling Kei Mouth village after four days of quiet.
And so, the five days of riding passed quietly with Tertia and I chatting easily about and everything and nothing, but also falling into silence as we breathed in kilometres of uninhabited beauty. It was exactly this ease, this openness, and the anonymity that I needed to really clear the Corona cobwebs from my head.
Written by Karien Trengove
Karien is one of our Safari Specialist at African Horse Safaris. When Karien is not helping riders realise their equestrian and travel dreams, you can find her on a horse somewhere on the African continent. Be it galloping down the beaches in South Africa, or weaving along the elephant paths in Botswana’s Tuli Block. Karien changed careers from Architecture to Travel after a life-changing horse safari in Namibia and hasn’t looked back. Living in Cape Town, she enjoys long hikes in the forest, beach runs with her dog Heuy, and long trail rides through the winelands when not out on safari.