There are two types of summer holiday-makers in South Africa.
The ones who prefer beach holidays – salty, sandy days of lounging in the sun, reading a book or filling a crossword. And the buzz-seekers – those who like zooming across the water on jet-skis or being dragged behind a boat…
That was me a couple months ago, hanging onto a tube for dear life as the boatman tried his utmost to steer my little rubber doughnut into the incoming waves… sending me over a series of rapids before I finally succumbed to my own hysterical laughter and landed in the murky Kowie with a mouthful of river water.
There’s a reason they call this the Adventure Province.
The seaside towns of the Sunshine Coast may be sleepy and grey in the off-season but come springtime, adventurers flock to this coastal river network with its estuaries and floating restaurants.
If you’re a newbie on the Sunshine Coast, the best place to start is Port Alfred. Here, you’ll learn pretty quickly that most locals have their own boats. Fret not, for there are jovial holiday-makers-slash-entrepreneurs who do sunset cruises and fishing trips for folks like us. We had a lovely time with Cunny Kla Nie River Cruises, who also offer a lekker braaivleis on the barge.
Sundowners are best enjoyed at Tash’s Craft Bar on a small isthmus in the middle of the Kowie. For the best grub, nothing beats The Royal St Andrews Hotel’s Highlander Pub with its old-school feel. The food is moreish and decadent – think pub classics like schnitzels and ribs. And then there’s the thing everyone keeps going back for… the fiery sting of their legendary Kamikaze Fries. Crispy, goldens laden with freshly chopped chillies, roast garlic, a homemade aioli and a secret mix of hot spices!
The town also has its own brewery, The Little Brewery on the River, right next to the Wharf Street Brew Pub. Both of these, located in an old sandstone semi-detached, are must-visits in summer especially, when a pint of Kowie’s Gold goes down like liquid sunshine.
Or, you can pack a few cold ones and boat out to one of the nearby coastal game reserves. When we visited in December, we took a boat to Mansfield Game Reserve. If you’re lucky, you might even spot their very inquisitive local giraffe, Gambit, striding about…
Kenton sits snugly between the Kariega and Boesmans Rivers surrounded by two estuaries.
The Sandbar, a floating restaurant anchored in the Boesmans River, is one of the best spots on the entire Sunshine Coast. It’s reachable by car, but most locals prefer cruising up with their boats and throwing anchor at the restaurant’s water bay to enjoy a cold beer and a stack of buttery prawns.
In high summer, it gets so busy that the jetty groans under guests! Come spring, however, a new and improved Sandbar will open after extensive renovations.
On dry land, Kenton also has The Bakery at the little town centre, selling fresh-from-the-oven ciabattas, artisanal loaves and, if you’re lucky, fresh handmade bagels!
Bathurst is synonymous with the Big Pineapple – understandable, considering its size! The biggest pineapple in the world deserves its place among the ‘Most Unusual Tourist Destinations in SA’, as described by an old magazine cut-out pasted on the wall inside the pineapple.
Inside the pineapple, resident cats Misty and Mr Bojangles accompany guests walking up to the viewing deck at the crown of the pine. What’s most fascinating, however, is not on top or inside, but rather the actual pineapple fruits growing in the fields next to the Big One.
Due to an almost impossible conflux of events, the most southern pineapples in the world are grown in Bathurst. The pines are mostly used in canning and processing, while some – like the Love Pineapple variety – are grown as decorative flowers!
Bathurst is like a little town out of a children’s storybook. Inspiring this fantasy-like feel is certainly the Big Pine, but also the town’s cornerstone pub, The Pig and Whistle – the oldest continually-licenced pub in the country. It was open in 1832. Legend has it that it was nicknamed The Pig & Whistle by the men at the nearby Air School in WWII.
Today, the Air School is still going strong, and The Pig & Whistle remains a watering hole for all thirsty locals alike.
Traveller24 Tip: Bathurst hosts a local Farmers Market every Sunday from 09:00 to 12:30.
Cannon Rocks & Boknes
If the adventure and excitement of all the rivers and restaurants get too much, you can always escape to the shipwreck shores of Cannon Rocks and Boknes.
This coastal region falls under Addo Elephant National Park’s Woody Cape section, one of the largest shifting sea sand dune fields in the world, which makes it a popular spot for sandboarding. As the dunes move, artefacts from centuries past have been revealed to the modern world.
Cannon Rocks itself gets its name from the two cannons which were retrieved from Portuguese sailing ships that sank in front of the village many years ago. Even today remains of early explorers’ vessels tell the story of the early Portuguese ocean navigators.
From Boknes Beach, it’s a 3.5km walk to Dias’ cross. The landmark is a provincial heritage site for the Eastern Cape, even though it’s not the original landmark planted on 12 March 1488. The replica was made to imitate the remains of the original one found buried beneath the sand.
Famous Festivals of the Sunshine Coast to keep on your Radar:
- The Boat Race Festival – Port Alfred – 14 – 16 September 2018
- Ox Braai – Bathurst – 22 December 2018
- Float to Horns Up – Kenton-on-Sea – 23 December 2018
- Anything that Floats – Kenton-on-Sea – 27 December 2018
- Amanzi Festival – Port Alfred – March / April
- National Arts Festival – Grahamstown – 27 June to 7 July 2019
*This article was originally written for and published by News24 Traveller24. View it here.