Port Alfred in the Eastern Cape
South Africa is a large country covering some 1.2m square hectares in size and this can lead to many people choosing to fly in order to get from places like East London to Cape Town. However this also means you are missing out on enjoying the beautiful coastline that stretches down the east coast of South Africa all the way down to Cape Town. A drive out of East London on the R72 will lead you all the way to Port Elizabeth where you can then join the main N2 route taking you along the Garden Route all the way to the Mother City.
The distance from East London to Cape Town is approximately 1,000km and roughly a 13 hour drive however the best way to negotiate this drive is to split it up with several stops along the way. There are many seaside coastal towns along the route including the town of Port Alfred situated in an area known as the Sunshine Coast about 1.5 hours from East London.
Port Alfred is a relatively small town of about 20,000 inhabitants which attracts many tourists and holiday makers. The town lies on the Kowie River which flows directly into the Indian Ocean. The pretty small boat harbour is a feature of the town and South Africans that holiday here make use of the harbour to launch their boats which they bring with them. During the summer season the Kowie River hums to the sounds of small boats filled with families riding up the river to enjoy water-skiing, wake-boarding or just a pleasant cruise.
To the left and the right of the entrance to the sea sandy beaches spread for miles. Kelly’s Beach to the west offers safe swimming and has lifeguards normally during the summer season. For walking and sand-boarding the best beach is East Beach with its huge sand dunes. It’s also the best spot for surfing.
Port Alfred accommodation is in plentiful supply with many guest houses, B&Bs and self-catering establishments. Self-catering is an easy option with plenty of local amenities such as large Spar supermarket, pharmacies, Woolworths and other major retailers. There are a number of good restaurants such as the Ocean Basket which lies right on the banks of the Kowie River and is an idyllic place to eat and watch the boats going up and down the river.
The town also hosts major sporting events such as the Inter-Schools Rowing Championships and the University Rowing Championships. Both take part annually and attract huge numbers of people over different weekends. Port Alfred also has a dive school and a number of boats offering deep-sea fishing charters.
Just 25km further down the R72 from Port Alfred, heading towards Port Elizabeth, is another pretty seaside town called Kenton-on-Sea. Although smaller than Port Alfred with only about 1,000 inhabitants it is still a very popular seaside holiday spot. Kenton is bordered on two sides by two rivers – the Kariega River and Bushman’s River. Between Kenton-on-Sea and the lovely sandy beaches you will find the Joan Muirhead Nature Reserve but you can drive down through the town to a choice of car parks close to the beach. There is a car park by Kareiga Main Beach, one at Middle Beach and one on the Bushman’s River entrance.
If you head to the car park at Kariega Main Beach, on Eastbourne Road, you will also pass Homewoods which is an a la carte and pizzeria restaurant with a wonderful deck that has lovely views across the Kariega River and out to the Indian Ocean. This is a popular lunchtime snack spot with a nice vibe.
The beaches at Kenton-on-Sea are a mix of wonderful sheltered bays and long sandy beaches. The beach at Shelly Bay is a real gem and a great family spot to enjoy a day out on the beach. The rocks around the bay almost form an amphitheatre and create a perfect windbreak for those occasional windy days along the Eastern Cape. Mermaid’s Pool is also a good spot and a great place to get some family seaside photos. The rock formations along the beaches here are stunning especially the Carriage Rock close to Shelly Beach.
We love Kenton-on-Sea as the incoming and outgoing tides create an ever changing environment and the early morning and late afternoon sun create wonderful views across the sand and water along the Kariega River. During Whale season it’s possible to stand on the cliffs of Shelly Bay and watch these amazing creatures and dolphins too.
The whole family will enjoy hiring canoes and taking a trip up the Bushman’s River. Canoes can be hired at Kenton Marina. Kenton-on-Sea is very close to Kariega Game Reserve and Sibuya Game Reserve but if you can afford to stay at one of these private reserves you could always try a ‘poor man’s game drive’. This basically entails driving along the public roads that pass through these game reserves and seeing whether you can spot any animals. It’s good fun and you never know you might be lucky enough to see one of the Big 5.
You will find lovely self-catering accommodation in Kenton such as Wagtail Cottage whose owners epitomise the friendly folk that live in this area.
Useful Telephone Numbers:
Homewoods Restaurant: +27 (0)46 648 2700
Kenton Marina: +27 (0) 46 648 1223