Simpiwe Piliso

While the well-heeled fork out big bucks to wallow in sulphur springs at luxury health hydros, South Africa's less affluent are flocking to a Transkei forest cave to be cured by a bubbling spring.

According to local legend, whether you are suffering from a mysterious rash, a cold or bad skin, the sulphur springs deep in the Isinuka forest will cure whatever ails you.

As news of the mysterious healing powers of Isinuka spreads quicker than a Transkei veld fire, villagers living on the edge of the forest are cashing in on the bakkie loads of people coming to be cured, even selling containers of the muddy water for "pilgrims" to take home.

Every week, hundreds of people arrive at Isinuka, "the place of the smell", near Port St Johns, to treat their illnesses by plastering themselves with the thick sulphur mud and washing it off with the spring water.

For the past century, Xhosa communities have put great stock in the healing powers of Isinuka and for residents it is a "sacred area".

Isinuka is about as far from a luxury resort as you are likely to get.

When we visited the hallowed place, a group of people had just arrived in several bakkies. They were welcomed by villagers who live in a small cluster of mud huts on the edge of the thick forest.

They are the self-appointed custodians of Isinuka, who say their job is to safeguard the miracle pond and help visitors be cured - for a small fee.

Villager Gcinikhaya Mpinda said people travelled more than 100km from towns like Qumbu and Idutywa to be cured or get mud and water from Isinuka.

She said the water and mud could cure all illnesses, from strokes, fits, stomach cramps and headaches to rashes, itchy skin and many more.

"Isinuka has been here for several generations, even before my great-grandmother," she said.

Villagers tell tales of seriously ill people being cured by the mud after Western doctors failed to get results.