In 1996 the Strandloper Ecotourism Board (SETB) was registered as a non-profit organisation to develop and manage the Strandloper Hiking Trail. It was also established to develop ecotourism initiatives along the coastal areas between Kei Mouth and Gonubie. The trail was originally informally promoted by the Wildlife Society of South Africa (now known as the Wildlife and Environment Society of SA – WESSA).
A business plan tabled in 1994 by the then Eastern Province Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs entitled ‘Ecotourism and Environmental Awareness Centre at Cape Morgan Nature Reserve’ set the proposal in place to formalise the Strandloper Trail. The East London Coast Nature Reserve manager at the time, Div de Villiers, drove the process along with community members from Kei Mouth, Morgans Bay and Chintsa. In 1996 the University of Pretoria, under the hand of Paul Bewsher, tabled a ‘Strandloper Eco-Trail and Strategic Marketing and Management Plan’. This document assisted founder members of the SETB to get the project started.
The trail has grown over the past 2 decades and is rated one of South Africa’s top coastal hikes. During the formative years the relevant provincial coastal conservation component of the province provided a lot of support under the hand of Robert Stegmann (East London Coast Nature Reserve manager) who took over from Div de Villiers. Four overnight facilities were provided for hikers (along the 57 km route from Kei Mouth to Gonubie), the first being at the refurbished pump-house at Cape Morgan (situated on the rocks below the lighthouse), the second was two thatched rondavels at Double Mouth, the third being refurbished rangers huts at Cape Henderson and the final stay at Beacon Valley (near Chintsa).
Over the years the accommodation changed with hikers staying at the base camp at Cape Morgan Nature Reserve (for the 1st night) after the pump-house was destroyed by a storm surge in 2008 and the Cape Henderson chalet (3rd night) burnt down in 2011 resulting in alternative accommodation at the back of the Haga-Haga Hotel.
The success of the trail is largely contributed to very dedicated staff – Trail manager Bryan Church and his wife Erica (Reservations Manager) and two coastal rangers from the Chintsa informal settlement, John Pakamile and Johnson Mila.
The SETB also has dedicated members with a passion for the trail – special mention is made of Dave Marias (an avid outdoor enthusiast and owner along with his wife Linda of the Shipwreck Hiking Trail near Kleinemonde). His commitment to the product has been admirable (representing a great contribution from the Border Hiking Club) and he has been ably supported by long standing and founder member Sean Price of Chinsta, Janna Cooper (an original WESSA member who promoted the trail before it was formalised), Velile Ndlumbini who owns his own tourism company Imonti Tours and Brechta Kopke and avid hiker representing the ‘Let’s Hike’ Club in East London. One of the late founder members and hotelier, Jeff Warren-Smith, also played an enormous role with his generosity of assisting the trail during lean financial times.
The first Chairperson of the SETB, Mr Fritz Nieberding, also made a huge contribution before his retirement. He spent many years on the Board as treasurer after handing over the chair to museum scientist Kevin Cole in 1998. Other role-players to be acknowledged are Pep Saunders, Barbara Harcombe, Janine Vorster, Leigh-Ann Kretzmann, Dave Wilson and Paul Cromhout (the present Managing Director of the Small Projects Foundation in East London).