Just south of Coffee Bay, a tiny resort town along South Africa’s Wild Coast, a massive rocky sentinel sits astride the surf, as if guarding the mouth of the Mpako River.
The well over 200 foot (80 meters) high, 1 000 foot (300 meters) long shore-side cliff is composed of 260 million-year-old sandstone and shale, and capped with volcanic dolerite. At its base, the Indian Ocean thunders and roars through a gaping, almost-round hole through the rock. It is known to the amaXhosa as esiKhaleni, the “Place of Sound,” but is commonly known as the Hole-in-the-Wall.
According to geologists, the ocean eroded the soft dolerite underbelly of the cliff to form the iconic archway. The indigenous amaXhosa people however tell a different story about its creation.
Local Bomvana folklore states that a beautiful girl once lived in the village along the banks of the Mpako, when it was still a landlocked lagoon protected from the sea by the cliff.
One day, one of the legendary semi-aquatic sea-people saw the girl sunning on the rock against her father’s wishes. The two fell instantly in love.
The girl’s father strictly forbade her from seeing her lover. One night during high tide, the sea-people gathered at the base of the cliff. With the help of a giant fish, the sea-people rammed the hole into the base of the rock and swam into the lagoon.
They sang, shouted, and screamed. Frightened villagers ran and hid in fear. In the midst of the confusion as the story goes, the girl slipped back into the sea with them, never to be seen again. It’s said that at high tide on a full moon, the song of the sea-people can still be heard reverberating through the hole.
Some amaXhosa also believe the hole is the gateway to the world of their ancestors.
Know Before You Go
The Wild Coast is truly one of South Africa's wildest and remotest places, with Coffee Bay as one of its famed destinations. Roads in the region can vary from dilapidated and unpredictable, to cattle-covered and dangerous.
The route south from Coffee Bay to the Hole was formerly only accessible with an off-road vehicle, but has recently seen major improvements.
It is advisable to not leave valuables exposed in parked vehicles when visiting, but the area is generally safe. The cliff is easily reached after a short hike from the indicated parking area close to the beach, but can also be seen in its breathtaking entirety from the high bluff overlooking the river mouth. Both vantage points are highly recommended.