JUNE 2023 ISSUE
Mike Baker has spent the last 4 years working to create the Umzila Ka Bawo Heritage route, a Camino style walking trail on South Africa’s Wild East Coast and not only that, he’s also photographed it and put it on Google maps.
In October 2020 Mike conceptualised the Tourism Equity Transformation Program and presented it to the Wild Coast Holiday Assocation. It was accepted and WildCoastZA came to life. The foundation of this program is based on attracting adventurers from around the world to the Wild Coast, one of the poorest regions of South Africa.
Venturing into the unknown often leads to the most profound discoveries. The mystery and allure of exploration are at the heart of the Umzila Ka Bawo initiative, a vision translating into “the path of our forefathers” that aims to forge a unique cultural adventure trail along the Wild Coast of South Africa.
Inspired by the model of the Camino de Santiago, Mike has set a daring objective: to carve a 3,000 square kilometre cultural adventure route across the Wild Coast, stretching from Port Edward in the North to East London in the South. It’s a venture that aims to reflect the history, heritage, natural attractions, and accommodation of the region in a never-before-seen way on Google Maps Street View.
Undertaken by Mike and his local guide Unathi Mpinyane, the Umzila Ka Bawo Expedition seeks to capture and upload an astonishing 602,000 images of the Wild Coast onto Google Maps Street View. In doing so, it is giving global visibility to this stunning region and its intriguing cultural, historical, and environmental heritage.
The venture has a clear objective. It wants to enable people around the world to virtually step into the Umzila Ka Bawo, thereby inviting them to explore, understand and appreciate the Wild Coast’s distinctive identity. By showcasing the existence and beauty of the Wild Coast on a global platform, the initiative aims to stimulate interest, invite exploration, and eventually facilitate bookings for a visit to this hidden gem of South Africa.
However, the ambitions of the Umzila Ka Bawo Expedition extend beyond creating a fascinating virtual map. It seeks to transform the Wild Coast into a hotbed of adventure tourism, bringing substantial benefits to the local communities and their enterprises. The Wild Coast has long been a blind spot for Google, leading to many small tourism ventures in this region remaining virtually unknown and marginalized. This expedition is committed to rectifying this and providing a fair and equal platform for all tourism-related enterprises in the region, from the grandest hotel to the humblest homestay hut.
By loading the ‘blue lines’ and Street View images directly to Google Maps, the Umzila Ka Bawo Expedition places the local guides, accommodation providers, and tourism enterprises on the global map. The local people, who live and thrive on this land, will be able to reap the benefits of the influx of adventure-seeking hikers, mountain bikers, and campers, who will now have direct access to their offerings.
Mike and Unathi
Claudia and David from the Netherlands found and booked the homestays on Google Maps.
Noxolile Dwetye of Cutwini Homestay.
Many of the homestays are owned and operated by local women.
The expedition is capturing images of the region’s unmapped roads, tracks, hiking trails, and attractions, allowing future tourists and adventurers to plan their journeys effectively and know exactly what to expect. Besides improving the visibility of the region, this initiative also aims to stimulate economic growth and opportunities for local communities by connecting them with potential visitors around the world.
Mike is deeply committed to equity transformation, aiming to create functional micro-enterprises at the community level and nurture them into profitable businesses. He believes in empowering local communities through education, training, and mentored skills transfer, fostering sustainable tourism that is owned and managed by the locals themselves. The expedition has involved local guides, village elders, tribal authorities, hotels, Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency and the Wild Cost Holiday Association.
The Wild Coast Homestays NPC will officially launch on SA National Womens day on 9 August 2023. The route will officially launch on heritage day 24 September 2023.
The Umzila Ka Bawo initiative thus symbolizes an expedition of discovery and development. As it treads the path of our forefathers, it is set to open the Wild Coast to the world.