Chintsa Buccaneers and South Africa's Wild Coast
After the drought-ridden hills of Grahamstown, we were ready for a change of scenery. 200-ish kilometers to the northeast, South Africa’s Wild Coast region may as well have been on a different continent in terms of tropical vegetation and sprawling beaches. For the next week, we’d live the laid back beach life at one of the coolest backpackers in the world: the Chintsa Buccaneers.
An Overview of South Africa’s Wild Coast and the Chintsa Buccaneers
Similar to the Garden Route, the Wild Coast serves as a stunning stretch of seaside in South Africa. But, it’s far less frequently traveled by outsiders - and far more sparsely populated. Spanning the Indian Ocean from East London to the border of the KwaZulu-Natal province, the Wild Coast looks like something out of Jurassic Park - lush, green hills, pristine beaches, and a series of deep gorges cutting out to the water.
Speaking with locals, many said that it was an absolute “must-visit” part of the country. And, we were fortunate to have an insider’s perspective on one of the best places to stay in this region. Our friend Yanga, who was our guide on the Cape Town Peninsula Tour, used to work at a backpackers’ lodge and hostel - the Chintsa Buccaneers - along the Wild Coast.
Yanga absolutely raved about the Buccaneers - enough so that we altered our itinerary to spend a week there. Great call.
The Buccaneers is nestled into the green hills of a peninsula overlooking the Chintsa Lagoon and, in the distance, the Indian Ocean. Made up of a series of outlying private lodges, hostel-style buildings, a pool and cabana, central common areas, and plenty of beachfront, we couldn’t have asked for a cooler escape.
The central buildings include a bar with a massive, panoramic-view-from-paradise deck, and guests receive a PIN at the beginning of the stay. For the duration, anytime you want a drink, throw it on your PIN - made for a convenient way to punt financial reality down the line to “future us!” Like the Highlands Bungalow in Zanzibar, it became very easy to grab a cold beer in the middle of the day...
But, as cool as the physical layout of the Buccaneers was, the people truly made it. Our first day, we met Sal, one of the current owners. In the early 80s, Sal and her brother Sean (the co-owner) set out with their parents to find a place outside of the big city (Johannesburg). Six months later, they planted roots along the Wild Coast. For the next decade, they built the initial footprint of the Buccaneers.
Now, Sal, Sean, and the other folks who run the place treat visitors more like houseguests than random outsiders - family dinners every night, little kids from the local Waldorf School having art class looking out over the lagoon, and chats about all sorts of topics over coffee and breakfast every morning in the dining room. Honestly, our time at the Buccaneers felt more like adult summer camp than a stay at a generic lodge.
Exploring Chintsa East and a “Shout!” SNAFU
During our stay, we also met some awesome fellow guests. In particular, a few South African software developers who opted for remote work along the Wild Coast rather than city life would be great companions for exploring the area.
Across the lagoon from the Buccaneers, the town of Chintsa East seemed a sleepy little place - more of a quiet retirement escape than a beach party town. As we’d soon discover, looks could be deceiving.
The Chintsa Deli - one of the few places to eat in town - also hosts a Friday night pizza pop-up. They wheel out pizza ovens, sell beer and wine, and people hang out, eat, and drink in a beautiful, bistro-light-lined courtyard. With our friend Lona, one of the software developers doing the remote work thing at the Buccaneers, we had some pizza, some wine, some more wine, and decided to turn things into a proper Friday night.
To the Deli owner: “So… Is there a bar in town?”
Deli owner: “Not quite, but if you head down that road, you’ll get to Crawfords Beach Lodge - couple good bars there.”
It was surreal. Walking down a windy, pitch-black, jungle-lined street, we eventually reached the gates of - what we’d soon discover to be - an all-inclusive-style beach resort hidden from view by a geographic quirk.
Understandably, the guard at the Crawfords gate was startled when three somewhat drunk folks strolled out of the darkness. But, a “we’re just looking for a bar” comment put him at ease, and he pointed us to a tiki-style beach bar overlooking the crashing waves of the Indian Ocean.
For the next [insert time here], we drank massive tiki drinks, danced with people there for a wedding, and just basically acted like we were guests at a wedding. Naturally, Chipp deemed it necessary to request “Shout!” from the DJ. With a wink and a “yeah man I got you” from the DJ, Chipp was pretty sure they were set for a little Isley Brothers.
When Tears for Fears’ “Shout” came on, Chipp knew he’d been duped. The DJ’s shit-eating grin said it all.
Local Breweries, Beach Volleyball, and Bad Top Gun Jokes
The Buccaneers bar was fully stocked with some delicious beers from a brewery - Emerald Vale - that we’d yet to see in our travels. After a couple days of (Chipp) drinking copious amounts, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that the brewery was a local one - only 10ish minutes away.
Enter another example of outstanding South African hospitality. Before we left Cape Town, Yanga - in addition to recommending Buccaneers - connected us with his good friend, Tobz, who still works there (and who runs an awesome guide company - Traveloma - if you're ever in the area!).
Tobz generously offered to take a ride with us, show us the area, and play guide on an afternoon brewery trip. Don’t have to twist our arms! So, the two of us, Tobz, and Lona loaded up in the rental and drove out to Emerald Vale.
What a spot. Located on a functioning farm, the brewery’s perched up on a grassy hill and surrounded by pastures and bubbling streams - hard to imagine a more idyllic place to hang out and drink beers. Taking full advantage of this gorgeous scenery, Emerald Vale has a bunch of open-air picnic tables under the shade of a large awning, which definitely helps with staying cool in the middle of a South African summer.
For the next couple hours, we sampled the different Emerald Vale beers, chatted, and worked through some absolutely massive - and delicious! - snacks. Yep, we quickly discovered that the kitchen is just as incredible as the brewery itself.
Alas, if we stayed any longer, we probably would’ve been sleeping there… Next stop, Buccaneers for some beach volleyball. Every Saturday, they round up guests and locals for some afternoon games. Continuing the backpackers’ theme, the volleyball games usually overlap with some drinking, too (typically more emphasis on the latter).
We played until the sun went down, and Chipp learned two important lessons. One, he’s old (needed ice and ibuprofen for his back, shoulder, and knees the next day). Two, South Africa, while importing some American culture, has yet to - and likely never will - encounter the absurdity/awesomeness that is Top Gun. As a result, despite Chipp’s best efforts, no one picked up on his Top Gun jokes or bought into his requests for Kenny Loggins…
Oude the Doggie - What a Life!
Jenna may be a sucker for cats, but even she fell in love with Oude the Doggie (“oude” is Afrikaans for old), one of several sweet dogs who call Buccaneers home.
We touched on it above, but you have to walk across the lagoon and beach to get to the town of Chintsa East. For years, the Buccaneers dogs would “guide” guests along this route. In return, they were pretty much guaranteed some sausage scraps from the local market.
Well, Oude - who did not live at the Buccaneers - picked up on this little tradition. He’d bolt from his owners’ home at the sight of these “guide” dogs, snag some sausages, then follow them back to the hostel. After enough trips driving the long way around the lagoon to retrieve their enterprising dog, Oude’s owners finally decided to just let him stay at the Buccaneers.
Now - living up to his name - the old doggie doesn’t move so well, but what a life. Seems like the bulk of the day Oude naps just outside the bar, opening his eyes up a crack when someone walks by and seeming to ask himself, “will this one pet me for a while?” If Oude thinks you’re a sucker, he’ll make a show of pulling himself onto four paws, sauntering over to you, and plopping down at your feet with his belly in the air. How can you say no to that?
Not bad being a backpacker dog!