David Bristow: Umngazi – jewel of the Wild Coast

By , 5 August 2015

I’ve been around the block a few times, in just about every sense of the phrase. So much so that some people say my epitaph should read, “He sure got around”.

So it is to be expected that all too frequently boozy breathed people corner me at parties (usually in the kitchen where you’ll find me) to pick my brain. “Good luck with that,” I usually counter. But they insist, so I reveal to them my favourite places for a holiday. What I tell them depends on what fate I wish them.

I like to send the really belligerent ones off into the high Karoo, to places like Loxton, Fraserburg and Sutherland. In summer they fry and in winter they freeze. But I also like to think they some of them might actually discover the soul of that barren place, and later maybe even thank me for it. These are not places many refined people otherwise would go.

To people I like, people who I think might get the place, I say just two words – Wild Coast. Of course they press me, so I add things like beaches, glorious beaches, all to yourself usually, with maybe a few Nguni cows. And fresh crayfish and oysters straight from the ocean. Forests and waterfalls, rolling grassy hills and cowherds, or kwedin’, as they are locally called, women in red shawls and turbans smoking corncob pipes, faces painted with white clay. Huts with chickens and children kicking up dust.

What I like most about the place is that it is a very African tableau, right in our back yard. How lucky are we who were born in these parts and had the place to explore when the world and we wuz a lot younger. I usually omit the part about the best dagga in the region, and relegate that to a bygone day. Let those who will find it.

The other thing I like best about the place are the small hotels that cling like limpets to the shoreline, each to its own private stretch of paradise. The weather here is so mild, Durbanites visit in mid-summer to escape the feverishly humid climate there, while Joburgers and Kaapenaars prefer it around autumn, winter and spring time to escape whatever it is they have to run away from.

UmngaziI’ve driven, walked and cycled the entire Wild Coast and names such as Seagulls, Trenneries, Wavecrest, Kob Inn, The Haven, Mazeppa Bay, Mboyti and Mkambathi are hard-wired into my psychic DNA. But above all these in the pantheon of Transkei wonderlands stands one very special place, one that you only whisper lest some yobbo overhears. The word “Umngazi” (sotto voce).

The name comes from the blood that was spilled in a battle on the river bank in a time long forgotten, and today it represents my very, absolutely favourite place in all of the Zanyskei (as we used to call the place), indeed, in all of Azanialand. It is owned and run by the same family Goss that made its mark running general stores in the area way back when the place was still referred to as Kaffraria by many.

I’ve been there several times and recently was privileged to share the wedding of two very dear friends who booked out the place for a very African style wedding: three days and three nights of festivities and ceremonies that rank as the finest jol, with heart and soul, that I recall experiencing. And, like I said, I’ve been around a bit.

But all that fun and games aside, what struck me and my partner in crime, drinking and mountain biking, apart from everything else, was the wedding wine list (bar open from around sunrise to 3 am every day). Not only don’t you get to go to Umngazi every day (many holiday-makers simply block off the next year’s dates each time they visit, to ensure they get in), you don’t often get to go to a three-day wedding in such a place.

Then, to boot, it would be a blue moon around Saturn to get a seven-page wine list like this, the simple reading of which is poetry to a vinophile’s heart. So without further time wasting, I’ll simply put it into line, verse and stanza:

Cap Classique
Pierre Jourdan Brut
Pongracz Brut Petit
Pongracz Rosé
Villera Tradtion Brut
Villiera Tradition Rosé Brut
Colmant Brut Reserve

Wooded Chardonnay
De Wetshof Finesse
Paul Cluver
Lourensford Garden

Unwooded Chardonnay
Constantia Uitsig

Unwooded Sauvignon Blanc
Strandveld Poffadderbos
Kleine Zalze Selection
Pecan Stream
La Motte
Springfield Life from Stone
Paul Cluver Elgin
Tokara Elgin
Ken Forrester
Ken Forrester Petit
The Berrio
Bartinney Private Cellar

Wooded Sauvignon Blanc
Hermanuspietersfontein Wingerde Classic Range No. 5
Backsberg John Martin Reserve

Chenin Blanc
Diemersfonterin Carpe Diem
Botanica Old Vine
Du Toutskloof
Ken Forrester Petit
Pecan Stream
Kleine Zalze Barrel Fermented
Pecan Stream
Villiera Barrel Fermented
Boland Kelder Five Climates

Pinot Grigio
L’Ormarins Terra Del Capo

Cape Riesling (Crouchen Blanc)
Theuniskraal Riesling

Klein Constantia

Zevenwacht Z Collection


The Winery of Good Hope Radford Dale Range

White blends
Nabygelegen Lady Anna
Nederburg Lyric
Buitenverwachting Buiten Blanc
Newton Johnson Resonance
De Morgenson Maestro

Light white blend
Fleur du Cap Natural Light

Blanc de Noir
Ken Forrester Petit
Kleine Rust
White Semi Sweet

Blanc de Noir

Pierre Jourdan Tranquille
Ken Forrester Petit
Tokara Grenache
Waterford Estate Rosé Mary
Lanzerac Alma Mater
Claime d’Or Cabernet Sauvignon –

Cabernet Sauvignon
Nederburg Winemaster’s Reserve
Graham Beck The Game Reserve
Du Toitskloof

Meinert Printers Ink
Diemersfontein Carpe Diem Range

Hillcrest Estate Quarry
Boland Kelder
Du Toitskloof
Ken Forrester

Du Toitskloof
Nederburg Winemaster’s Reserve
Rust en Vrede
Milleneux Family Wines Syrah

Pinot Noir
Cape Chamonix Reserve
Oak Valey

Red blends
La Motte Millennium
Nabygelegen Scaramanga
Ken Forrester Petit
Villiera Down to Earth
Pecan Stream Pebble Hill
Guardian Peak Frontier
Alto Rouge
Muratie Melck
Clos Malverne
Saronsberg Provenance Rooi


Not bad for a boytjie from Tekweni and his liefie from Tshwane, we all agreed as we sipped our way through yet another bottle of delicious Springfield Whole Berry, where they know more about beer, boerewors and rugby (or, as that great late scribe John Steinbeck so succinctly put it, they know more about tickling carburetors than their wives’ clitorises) than they do about barrel fermentation.

The resort prides itself in having achieved Diamond Status in the Diners Club Wine List Awards for the past five years. But really, Theuniskraal Riesling! I dimly recall the GM Graham saying something about having to please all the people all the time.

Umngazi River Bungalows and Spa 047 564 1115; Mgazi, Port St Johns, 5120, South Africa; www.umngazi.co.za

  • David Bristow has written multiple books and magazine features on travel, nature and African culture. He also one of the Racontours.co.za guides.


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