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Cannon Rocks Trail

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18km from Kenton On Sea

-33.7525, 26.5296

7km

+27 46 648 2411 www.kenton.co.za

Easy to moderate difficulty; Suitable for children.

About

This seven-kilometre free trail is one of the best-kept secrets of the Sunshine Coast. The trail starts at the southernmost end of the town of Cannon Rocks and takes you right into the Alexandria sand dunes, which can otherwise be accessed only on the two-day trail from the Woody Cape Section of the Addo Elephant National Park.

The trail, which leads through three distinctly different environments - coastal vegetation, coastal dunes and seashore - is wonderfully diverse so, although it's short, allow plenty of time to take in the changing scenes and really enjoy it. The beaches north of Woody Cape are riddled with shipwrecks, and, appropriately, two of the cannons and an anchor retrieved from Portuguese wrecks mark the starting point.

The first half of the trail goes through low coastal forest, where you'll occasionally see bushpig, bushbuck, Cape grysbok, steenbok, common duiker and vervet monkey. About a kilometre in, the trail climbs a small hill to a bench with awesome views, where you can relax and enjoy this spectacular section of the coast.

Just before the halfway mark, the trail enters the northern tip of the Alexandria coastal dunefield that borders the Greater Addo Elephant Park. This magnificent dunefield is currently on the Unesco "tentatives list" for declaration as a world heritage site. The largest coastal dunefield in the southern hemisphere, it is made up of about 1800 dunes in an area of 15 000 hectares that stretches for 50 kilometres down the coast – a vast and incredibly beautiful landscape with some of the constantly shifting dunes reaching 140 metres high.

Once on the dunes, look for evidence of nocturnal visitors such as the footprints of jackal, duiker and the endemic hairy-footed gerbil and then meander down through the dunes towards the sea and return to Cannon Rocks along the beach.

Apart from the occasional fisherman, you're likely to have the 3,5-kilometre stretch of unspoilt beach all to yourself. There are several good places to swim and if you keep your eyes peeled you'll often see nautilus shells and ancient Khoi artefacts. Dolphins and whales are often sighted out to sea and, at the end of the beach, below the cannons, there's an artesian spring spewing fresh water out onto the sand.

Sunshine Coast

Eastern Cape

About

With the most recorded sunshine hours in South Africa, the name Sunshine Coast is no idle boast or empty promise. Situated between Port Elizabeth and East London, the quaintness of the Sunshine Coast is a welcome escape from big-city bustle. 

The area includes the inland towns of Alexandria, Salem and Bathhurst, with kilometres of beaches accessed via Cannon Rocks, Boknes, Bushmans River Mouth, Kenton-on-sea, Kasouga, Port Alfred and the Great Fish River area. The mixed derivations of these names suggest the rich cultural heritage of the area – the primary meeting point of San, Xhosa, Boer and British. The British influence is clear in the architecture of Bathhurst, Salem and Grahamstown.

Driving on the N2 or its tributaries the R67 or R72, the rolling green hills Lord Charles Somerset likened to English parklands were not exactly what the settlers expected. The unique dark golden-green shade of the Albany Thicket biome is due to the dense growth of hardy drought-resistant plants such as aloe, euphorbia and spekboom. Rain falls in winter and summer, and while not frequent, it is at times unpredictable, so the vegetation is built to withstand fickle skies.

Although unattractively scrubby to some, the Thicket contains 20% of the 316 threatened plant species found in the Eastern Cape, making it an important centre of endemism.

One is tempted to describe this beautiful and unusual landscape as “untouched”, but the area has long been farmed, with cattle, sheep, ostriches, pineapples and chicory among its historically successful concerns. Many farms have since been converted back into game reserves, such as the world-class, malaria-free Kariega and Shamwari Reserves. Game fences line the long, quiet, tarred roads and drivers are often startled at the sight of elephants, giraffes or other game grazing along the fences.

Drivers should also look out for smaller wildlife - porcupines, small antelope, hares, snakes, owls and tortoises - crossing the roads at dawn, dusk and at night.

The beaches and dunes of this coastline are magnificent. The Alexandria dunefield - famously the largest active dunefield in the world - and the exquisite Alexandria State Forest have been absorbed by the Greater Addo Elephant National Park. 

While Kenton-on-sea and Port Alfred are the main seaside attractions, the family-oriented Cannon Rocks, Boknes and Kasouga are popular places to buy holiday homes and have a few lovely self-catering and guest cottages.

The Dias Cross at Kwaaihoek is a replica of the padrão erected there by Portuguese explorer Bartholomeu Dias on his 1488 cruise past the South African coast. At the Cross there is a deck for dolphin sightings and whale-spotting in late spring and early summer. In season, southern right whales are sighted all along the Sunshine Coast.

Despite its fairly good roads and obvious attractions, this area is still, miraculously, relatively unspoilt and undeveloped. With the exception of the graceful Port Alfred Marina, attempts to beat its bush and rivers into commercial shape have been abandoned and it remains gentle, peaceful, simple, pristine and soul-enriching.

Situated on the Indian Ocean, one needn’t expect the “bath water” temperatures of KwaZulu-Natal  - Sunshine Coast swims are invigoratingly cool and sometimes chilly, but seldom as achingly cold as the Western Cape.

The area doesn’t have the same flashy allure as other popular seaside destinations, but if you think of the coast as a place to relax and unwind, rather than paint the town red, there is no better place to visit.

Look out for

Addo Elephant National Park, 30 minutes from PE, features the “Big Seven” (the Big Five, plus southern right whales and great white sharks).

Explore Alexandria’s dunefields on the two-day Alexandria Hiking Trail or the seven-kilometre Dassie Day Trail, named for a rare tree dassie in the area.

Bathurst - founded in 1820, this “English country village in Africa”, 10 minutes from Port Alfred, is home to the Pig & Whistle, the oldest pub in South Africa, and the 16,7-metre-high Big Pineapple.

With unspoiled beaches, the tiny villages of Cannon Rocks, Boknes, Kleinemonde are a fisherman’s and bird-watcher’s paradise. Cannon Rocks is named for its two cannons and anchor. The Dias Cross at Kwaaihoek is an uplifting thee-kilometre walk from Boknes across incredible sandy beaches, or a six-kilometre walk at low tide from Bushmans River.

Bushmans River – the second-longest navigable river in South Africa, with 22 kilometres of navigable water, is a favourite with canoeists, sailors, water-skiers and fishermen.

Kasouga – maintains its rustic beginnings with dirt roads and no streetlights, hotels and shops, wonderful birdlife and an exquisite lagoon.

Port Alfred – enjoy the elegance of the Royal Alfred Marina. Famous for its annual powerboat race, Port Alfred offers provides great shopping, dining, and beauty retreats.

The Sunshine Coast, and nearby holiday meccas such as Great Fish River, St Francis Bay, Cape St Francis, Jeffreys Bay, Tsitsikamma and the Wild Coast, offers excellent surfing, adventure and water sports, fishing, nature reserves and world-class hikes, mountain biking, canoeing, beach horse-rides, bird watching, 4x4 trails, game-viewing, golf, and as well as rich local arts and culture.

When to go

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