Mdumbi Adventures based at Mdumbi Village offers sea kayaking and hiking trips on the Wild Coast of South Africa.

Notshana Gxala first went canoeing on a school trip aged 18 and remembers, “I never stopped dreaming of canoeing afterwards. It was on my mind the whole time.” He kept wondering, “Maybe I could do this for a living, after all the river is free!” He’s from Mdumbi Village, deep in the Eastern Cape’s Transkei, an area with few facilities and less job opportunities.

Notshana got his break when Mdumbi Backpackers saw his potential to run a kayak operation on the Mdumbi River, after three others had failed before him. Hyman van Zyl and Johan Stadler had a business model for Mdumbi Backpackers that doesn’t just employ people, it enriches them. They wanted all the activities to be owned and run by people from the local AmaXhosa communities, and in Notshana they found someone both motivated and capable.

He wasn’t just in the right place at the right time, he had the personality of an entrepreneur, it just needed honing. Hyman Van Zyl recalls, “Notshana wasn’t shy to speak to tourists. He’d been hanging around the backpackers as a boy, gaining confidence, entertaining visitors and improving his English.”  But tourism isn’t part of the isiXhosa culture and Notshana’s family had no idea what he was talking about when he told them he wanted to run kayaking trips. Regardless, when the opportunity arose, he didn’t hesitate.

He soaked up the business mentoring, kayak instruction, tour guide training and first aid course.  Van Zyl could see that Notshana had a mind for business and soon understood profit and loss, how to invest and how to grow his business. Starting with a donation to buy three kayaks in 2008, Notshana kept re-investing after every good run of business and sought whatever Government grants and support was available. This led him to the point of now owning 44 double kayaks, with some well-trained staff to help him. Not relying on seasonal kayaking, he scouted out fishing spots, hiking routes and slackpacking tours, now part of his Mdumbi Adventures guided offerings.

“I’m one of the lucky guys,” he says, “I didn’t need to look for a job in the city and can still live in Mdumbi Village where I was born, close to the river and the Indian Ocean. We are a close community, where everyone knows each other and there’s no crime. I love what I do.”

This part of the Wild Coast requires effort to reach, but this means those that do venture here, share Notshana’s appreciation of the incredible scenery, a storied coastline littered with shipwrecks, magnificent rivers and a rich Xhosa culture.
The unique atmosphere in this part of the world is unlike anywhere else in South Africa, so plan your trip and be sure to support Notshana Gxala and his Mdumbi Adventures, as well as the benefactors that gave him his start, Mdumbi Backpackers.

By ©Carrie Hampton