Take the R72 or the R67 off the N2 to Port Alfred, a charming coastal town almost exactly halfway between Port Elizabeth and East London. Like much of the Sunshine Coast and Frontier Country, the area is rich in history.
Established in the 1800s by British settlers, the town is often affectionately referred to as “the Kowie” due to its situation on the Kowie River Mouth.
Repeated attempts to make it a bustling harbour in the 19th century were abandoned due to a tenacious sandbank at the river mouth.
Today, the legacy of this project is one of the town’s primary attractions - its graceful Royal Alfred Marina, a luxurious residential development with a yacht harbour.
With beautiful endless beaches, such as the Blue Flag Kelly’s Beach, a subtropical climate and lots of sunshine, Port Alfred is the best of many worlds. Visitors may enjoy the restaurants, shops and high-end Marina living, or the simple tranquility and untouched beauty of little self-catering cabins nestled in coastal and dune vegetation along the sea shore.
Beachcombers will be fascinated by the rich profusion of shells, tidal pools and tiny crustacean and piscean debris that colour Port Alfred’s beaches. The sea is chillier than KwaZulu-Natal at about 20°C, but not as unpleasantly cold as the Western Cape.
Look out for
Fishing and sailing - the Marina provides mooring for pleasure and fishing vessels, and the occasional sunbathing seal. Opt for deep-sea fishing, or sail up the Kowie, which is navigable for about 28 kilometres and fun for water-skiing, canoeing and tubing. Boats can be hired at the Halyard’s Hotel.
Scuba and surf – local reefs provide great diving grounds and Port Alfred is a well-regarded surf spot.
Bathurst, 13 kilometres outside Port Alfred on the R67, resembles an English country village and is home to South Africa's oldest pub, the Pig and Whistle, an old mill and a toposcope, and the 16,7-metre-high Big Pineapple. The Bathhurst Oxbraai every December is a famous local gathering.
Water’s Meeting Nature Reserve, Bathhurst - the self-guided Kowie Canoe Trail starts in the Port Alfred harbour and overnights at tiny rustic wooden cabins in the indigenous forest at the Reserve’s Horseshoe Bend. Six double canoes are available for this 18-kilometre (four-hour) canoe trail, suitable for ages 12 to 70. The trail offers amazing birdlife, but can be tough in windy weather. The Reserve’s Horseshoe Bend Hiking Trails are 3,3 kilometres and nine kilometres long. Booking is unnecessary. Picnic spots are available.
Nearby reserves include the Kariega, Sibuya, Pumba, Shamwari and Kwandwe private or luxury reserves, some of which offer day trips.
The Three Sisters Horse Trail traverses beaches and river valleys with bird, small game and (seasonal) whale sightings, and passes Khoi San shell middens and the graves of shipwrecked sailors.
Royal Port Alfred Golf - one of the seven "royal" courses and one of the top 10 in the country. The elegant Fish River Sun course has exquisite views. The Great Fish Point lighthouse, built in 1898, is situated near the Great Fish River mouth, about 25 kilometres from Port Alfred.