Volunteering In The Wild Coast Of South Africa

My experience volunteering in the Wild Coast of South Africa in September 2019, a beautiful place also known as the Transkei. 

The “Wild Coast” of South Africa is accurately named.

It’s a place where cows are more common than cars, where turquoise circular mud huts house the locals, and where kids can run free without any danger.

It’s a place where the raw, roaring ocean smashes against cliff faces and the soft green hills roll on without end. Between the two, untouched beaches stretch on for miles, with no traffic except for maybe a local fisherman or a few stray goats.

It’s a place where the roads have been gouged away with potholes and kids ride donkeys around town rather than bikes.

Most importantly, it’s a place where traditional, rural South Africa is preserved.

Local communities thrive living the way their ancestors did, with barely any infiltration from globalization or commercialism.

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Volunteering in the Wild Coast of South Africa

In this article, I’ll dive into detail about my experience living and working here for two weeks.

I’ll touch upon the gorgeous scenery of the area, where I volunteered, the local tours and activities I did, and the sustainability and development efforts of this inspiring rural town.

Starting your South Africa adventure in Cape Town? Check out my budget travel guide!

Breathtaking Scenery in the Wild Coast of South Africa

Every South African I met during my trip recommended visiting the Transkei, also known as “Wild Coast”. After living here for two weeks I can see why.

The rugged, picturesque landscape is dotted with rural villages where the dwellings are made out of mud bricks and the inhabitants always wear a smile.

The scenery is charming, with postcard-worthy beaches sitting adjacent to dense forests and sloping hills.

Considering the diversity of natural beauty here, the activities are endless. Fishing, canoeing, swimming, surfing, hiking, and horse riding are all common pastimes in the Transkei.

But the area is so stunning that I was pretty content just walking around, soaking in the views and taking photos.

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Volunteering At Bulungula Lodge

I worked at Bulungula Lodge doing social media in exchange for free food and accommodation. This incredible establishment is entirely owned and run by the local Xhosa community.

Situated on a pristine headland in the Nqileni Village, Bulungula Lodge provides lots of jobs for the locals. It also generates income for the community through tourism.

It’s a win-win situation. Travelers can stay in a colorful, comfy beachfront lodge and experience this gorgeous slice of South Africa. They can eat traditional meals and enjoy the peace and quiet of this isolated rural area.

At the same time, locals can learn about working in hospitality and make enough money to lift themselves out of poverty. In addition to the full-time staff, some locals provide activities for the guests to make some extra money and show tourists the local way of life.

Find out more about work exchanges in my complete guide!

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Activities Hosted by the Local Community

Some popular activities run by locals include sunrise pancakes on the beach, a tour of the village, learning how to play the tribal drums, and a guided hike to Coffee Bay.

Woman Power Tour in the Wild Coast of South Africa

I did a tour called “Women Power”, where I learned about the fascinating lives of the Xhosa women in the Nqileni Village.

I wrote a separate article with all the details about this tour. This article also includes my experience attending the local church.

Local Herbalist Tour in the Wild Coast of South Africa

I also did a tour with the local herbalist, named Meldinga. We visited his home and learned about his natural healing techniques.

He grinds roots, barks, and plants into powders on a stone slab. Then he sweeps up the powder using a bird feather.

He also showed us a large bottle of shark oil, extracted from the shark’s liver. This supposedly helps cleanse people of demons.

Next, Meldinga led us into the forest where he pointed out different plants that serve as remedies for mental illnesses, pregnancy problems, and physical pain.

We saw tree bark that makes you lucky. We also saw a plant that makes others respect you when you bathe with it.

Though the Nqileni Village does have a new health clinic, it’s inspiring that this man can still heal most ailments using the Earth.

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traditional healer transkei

Preserving the Culture of the Wild Coast of South Africa

Bulungula Lodge does an amazing job of maintaining the dignity and culture of the village while promoting tourism.

No aspect of the local culture is altered or enhanced for tourists.

There is no fence around the grounds, separating the guests from the locals.

Rather, we are welcomed to join the community and live amongst the Xhosa people.

We are encouraged to learn their customs and observe their habits.

It’s an enriching experience that you won’t get in a normal backpacker hostel run by foreigners.

Read about another cultural experience I had in South Africa: Volunteering at Pachamama Forest Retreat near Knysna.

The Local School: Bulungula Incubator

Nqileni is also home to the Bulungula Incubator, founded in 2004.

This NGO provides education, health and nutrition, and sustainable living methods for the village. The tangible efforts of this project are visible in the community today.

The Bulungula Incubator primary school, located just a ten-minute walk from Bulungula Lodge, is home to three classrooms, a playground, a kitchen, and a thriving garden.

Click here for the Bulungula Incubator Official Website.

There are three full-time teachers who work hard to develop the minds of young children while promoting the importance of education in the village.

Parents in the community help at the school by cooking breakfast and lunch for the kids and sewing materials for the classrooms. They are also encouraged to read at home with their children.

Some adults are still illiterate, so through reading homework the school teaches the parents as well.

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Visiting the Local School in the Wild Coast of South Africa

Visiting the school was a heartwarming experience.

The principal gave us a tour of the colorful complex and passionately shared her vision with us.

Her goal is inspiring: enhancing the village’s education system and turning the children into intelligent, curious, and kind worldly citizens.

I think they’re well on their way.

The Nqileni kids are full of energy and curiosity about the world. They’re always smiling, laughing, and asking for high-fives or hugs.

Even at such a young age, with few of the luxuries that some kids in the world have, these children have hearts and minds beaming with positivity, compassion, and a thirst for knowledge.

“Give A Wave” Surf Project

“Give A Wave” is a new weekly project of the Incubator, which teaches kids how to surf and how to be safe in the ocean.

The fee for a surf lesson is a bag of trash collected from the beach.

Equipment is very limited here. So if you have any old surf gear or want to make a donation to “Give A Wave”, you’d be making some local kids very happy.

Here is the donation link for “Give A Wave”.

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surf lessons

Sustainable Living Techniques in the Wild Coast of South Africa

Bulungula Lodge and Incubator also emphasize the importance of sustainable living.

Solar power, rocket showers, and compost toilets keep the lodge running without damaging the Earth.

Rainwater tanks have introduced consistent access to clean drinking water throughout the village. This has immensely improved infant life expectancy!

There’s still progress to be made.

The biggest environmental problem now is waste management. There’s still quite a bit of litter in the community.

Another problem is the abundance of stray dogs. Without the means to sterilize dogs, they just keep breeding. So there are too many dogs and not enough food or homes available for them.


There’s still work to be done here. But Bulungula Lodge and the Incubator have helped the community make massive strides towards a more developed society.

Education, basic healthcare, and tourism are new to the Nqileni Village, but they are catapulting the people out of poverty.

With these new systems in place, jobs are more available, the standard of living is higher, and more money is flowing into the community.

Read about my experience volunteering on a chicken farm in East London!

Things I’ll Miss About the Wild Coast of South Africa

On my last day in Bulungula, I’m feeling grateful that I got to live with the interesting and vibrant Xhosa community.

I’ll miss the dense Xhosa bread and the intriguing click sounds of the language.

I’ll miss waking up at sunrise to watch dolphins play in the waves. And I’ll miss walking down the beach for hours without seeing another human.

Of course, I’ll miss the hilarious interactions between local puppies, pigs, goats, sheep, and cows. I’ll even miss using washed-up whale vertebrae as chairs.

Overall, I’ll miss the relaxed pace of life here in paradise, but it was amazing while it lasted.

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To read about my other interesting work experiences in South Africa, check out these articles:

Volunteering on a Chicken Farm in East London, South Africa

Learning Permaculture in the South African Forest

For more travel tips for South Africa, check out:

How To Visit The Drakensberg On A Budget

Budget Travel Guide to Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town 3 Day Itinerary

How To Do An African Safari On A Budget

Before traveling to South Africa…

I recommend visiting iVisa.com to check visa requirements

I also recommend buying travel insurance! My favorite company is Squaremouth Insurance, but you can read my Budget Traveler’s Guide To Travel Insurance for more details on this topic.


volunteering in the wild coast of south africa

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