Port Alfred in the Eastern Cape
South Africa is a large country covering roughly 1.2 million square hectares and this may cause many people to choose to fly to get from places like East London to Cape Town. However, this also means that you are missing out on the beautiful coastline that stretches from the east coast of South Africa to Cape Town. A trip from East London on the R72 will take you to Port Elizabeth, where you can then join the main N2 route that will take you along the Garden Route to the Mother City.
The distance from East London to Cape Town is about 1,000km and about 13 hours by car, however the best way to negotiate this trip is to break it up into several stops along the way. There are many coastal towns along the route, including the city 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 city of about 20,000 inhabitants that attracts many tourists and vacationers. The city is located on the Kowie River, which empties directly into the Indian Ocean. The pretty small ship port is a feature of the city and South Africans who vacation here use the port to launch their ships that they bring with them. During the summer season, the Kowie River hums with the sounds of small boats filled with families traveling upriver to enjoy water skiing, wakeboarding, or just a nice cruise.
To the left and right of the entrance to the sea, the sandy beaches stretch for miles. Kelly’s Beach to the west offers safe swimming and is usually staffed with lifeguards during the summer season. For walking and sandboarding, the best beach is East Beach with its huge sand dunes. It is also the best place to surf.
Accommodation in Port Alfred is in abundance with many guesthouses, B & Bs and self-catering establishments. Self-service is an easy option with many local amenities including a large Spar supermarket, drug stores, Woolworths, and other major retailers. There are a number of good restaurants, such as the Ocean Basket, which sits on the banks of the Kowie River and is an idyllic place to eat and watch the boats go up and down the river.
The city also hosts major sporting events such as inter-school rowing championships and college rowing championships. Both participate annually and attract large numbers of people on different weekends. Port Alfred also has a diving school and several boats that offer deep sea fishing excursions.
Just 25 km down the R72 from Port Alfred, heading towards Port Elizabeth, is another pretty seaside town called Kenton-on-Sea. Although it is smaller than Port Alfred with only about 1,000 inhabitants, it is still a very popular vacation spot by the sea. Kenton is bordered on two sides by two rivers: the Kariega River and the Bushman River. Between Kenton-on-Sea and the beautiful sandy beaches is the Joan Muirhead Nature Reserve, but you can drive across town to several car parks near the beach. There is a car park next to Kareiga’s main beach, one on Middle Beach and one at the entrance to the Bushman River.
If you head to the parking lot at Kariega Main Beach on Eastbourne Road, you will also pass Homewoods, which is an à la carte pizza restaurant with a wonderful terrace that has beautiful views of the Kariega River and the Indian Ocean. This is a popular snack place with a nice atmosphere.
The Kenton-on-Sea beaches are a mix of wonderful sheltered bays and long sandy beaches. Shelly Bay Beach is a true gem and a great family place to enjoy a day at the beach. The rocks around the bay almost form an amphitheater 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 take some family photos by the sea. The rock formations along the beaches here are impressive, especially Carriage Rock near Shelly Beach.
We love Kenton-on-Sea as the incoming and outgoing tides create an ever-changing environment and the morning and afternoon sun create wonderful views of the sand and water along the Kariega River. During whale season, it is possible to stand on the cliffs of Shelly Bay and observe these incredible creatures and dolphins as well.
The whole family will enjoy renting canoes and taking a trip down the Bushman 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 in one of these private reserves, you can always try a “poor man’s game drive.” This basically involves driving on the public roads that pass through these game reserves and seeing if you can spot any animals. It’s so much fun and you never know you might be lucky enough to see one of the Big 5.
You’ll find charming Kenton self-catering accommodations like Wagtail Cottage, whose owners epitomize the friendly people who live in this area.
Useful phone numbers:
Homewoods Restaurant: +27 (0) 46 648 2700
Kenton Marina: +27 (0) 46 648 1223