Port Alfred is a quaint and tiny town in the Eastern Cape, the Jewel of the Sunshine Coast, situated in beautiful scenery where the Kowie River meets the blue Indian Ocean. The Kowie River runs through the picturesque little town, under a huge bridge. The town is built around a gorgeous estuary, and is surrounded by miles of exquisite beaches.
Midway between East London and Port Elizabeth, Port Alfred was started by settlers coming to Africa to farm the area in the 1820s. A main crop appears to be pineapples.
The climate is mild and temperate all year, with rain in spring and autumn.
The little village remained remote with a single hotel and few houses, in a farming area, until development of holiday homes began in the 1970's.Port Alfred is now a lovely seaside resort built around a heavenly estuary, in natural surroundings with ocean and river frontages.
A Paradise for Nature lovers , there are magnificent beaches, sand dunes, rock pools, lagoons and seaside forests.
What to Do
The Sunshine Coast in the Eastern Cape has the most sunshine in South Africa, and is a good place for holidays all year. The climate and clean environment are ideal for relaxing and activities outdoors, and provide a wonderful destination for watersports.
Port Alfred has quad biking, surfing, sailing, kite surfing, water skiing, canoeing, dune boarding, hiking and bird watching . The Eastern Cape is famous for long walks in nature along endless golden beaches. Kelly' s Beach is a beautiful swimming beach at the Kowie river mouth, with the warm waters of the Indian Ocean and gentle waves. It is one of South Africa's most magnificent Blue Flag beaches, especially notable for pristine beauty, safety, and amenities. Rock, surf, river, deep sea Fishing and all kinds of angling are available.
The Royal Port Alfred and Fish River Sun are two superb Golf Courses with panoramic views of the Indian Ocean. The Royal is unusual in that wild animals stroll around the course. The Fish River Sun hotel has a masterpiece course 20 minutes away, designed by Gary Player.
The gorgeous river is navigable for 25 kms inland and a three day Kowie Canoe Trail can be booked to explore the heavenly wildernesses there.The Kleinemonde West River Canoe Trail leaves from Port Alfred’s small boat harbour, and follows the river for 9kms, paddling up stream.Boats and canoes are all available for cruising up the rivers.
There are wonderful Hikes into the Eastern Cape Valley Bushveld to see game farms and reserves inland. Another organised hike along the coast from Port Alfred to Great Fish River, is an amazing experience across miles of remote wilderness, desolate beaches with sand dunes, wild coastal forests, wetlands, river deltas and lagoons. Horse riding trails and safaris are available.
Where the river meets the sea there are great Surfing spots. Rich reefs of soft corals and sponges, and shipwrecks make it an interesting Scuba diving site. For over 200 years over fifty 18th century ships ran aground on shallow banks near Port Alfred. They are still there as maritime law did not decree that they be cut up and removed then, so it attracts divers.
The town has 2 shopping malls. The Rosehill Shopping Centre has branches of main shops like Woolworths, and is a little out of town.The historic Wharf Street in town has a Pick and Pay, antique shops, restaurants, a nightclub and a fresh fish market. There are quayside piers, the quaint old harbour and museums as well as the elegant Royal Albert Marina to wander around. Many artists choose to live in the pure tranquil environment. There are art studios and galleries, and art and craft markets over the weekends.
South Africa's largest Air Flight School is in Port Alfred for pilot training. They do commercial, private and military airplane and helicopter licences, and the school is internationally known as one of the best and fastest places to do pilot training.
Scenic drives are spectacular, the town is surrounded by wide open spaces and beautiful landscapes. There are hills, valleys and rivers as well as beaches.The Sunshine Coast is a 500kms stretch of coastline and Port Alfred is in the middle. There are several game reserves nearby. The Mansfield Reserve is only 6 kms away.
Bathurst is an enchanting little Victorian village out of time 14 kms away . On the way, there is the unexpected puzzling sight of a gigantic pineapple, a couple of stories high, a pineapple museum in the middle of nowhere, to show this is pineapple land. Kenton-on-Sea is 20 kms away, with more glorious remote beaches. Grahamstown is 50kms north.
Where to Eat
Port Alfred has varied delightful places to eat. Some have beach and sea views, others are in river bank gardens, and others have views of valleys, hills and rivers just out of town.All have the relaxed and friendly happy go lucky atmosphere of the small village. The restaurants produce everything from seafood and pizzas to greek and italian food.
Graze by the River is a favourite bistro on the Wharf side of town. The owner makes everything from fresh ingredients from his garden.
The Ocean Basket in a picturesque setting with river views, has seafood and sushi.
The Links Coastal Inn is a pub like restaurant with a great view over the town, and a fire burnung whenevr it is cool. It is a favourite with the people who live there, due to a comfortable atmosphere and really good home style food..
Wharf Street Brewery Pub is a restaurant in the historic old stone walled Customs offices of the town, on the side of the river. Port Alfred has its own brewery here.
The Penny Farthing is a restaurant and cafe at the Duck Pond on the water’s edge, doing excellent breakfasts and lunches.
Zest Cafe and Bakery is a mediterranean casual courtyard restaurant, for breakfasts and lunches.The food is rustic with fresh ingredients from the chef's garden, and tempting cakes.
Barmudas serve cocktails and meals outside on the river banks, with an amazing serene view across the river.
Guido's in Beach Drive is a large restaurant in an impressive setting, with outside decks overlooking the river, beaches and sea. The food is Italian with a wood fire pizza oven. Halyards have a restaurant also on the overlooking the small boat harbour.
Where to Stay
There are luxury lodges and hotels, everything from graceful holiday houses on the Marina, guest houses, cottages on the beach, to hiking huts.The peaceful tranquil town has many options for comfortable accommodation. There are stunning modern houses with glorious views over the sea or canals, and several excellent hotels.
The R67 to Grahamstown in the north connects to the N2 highway. The R72 goes to East London 120 kms away, or Port Elizabeth 155 kms to the west in the other direction. The nearest airport is at East London and the easiest solution is to rent a car and drive to Port Alfred as there is not much traffic.The motorways are perfect for motor bike journeys.
Do you Know
In 1841 a man made harbour was constructed but it was not a success as a commercial harbour. Therefore, without a harbour, the British did not build a road and rail system as they did elsewhere in South Africa, as in the Western Cape and Natal. The area remained undeveloped with large farms, and wild undisturbed landscapes along the coastline.
The most dramatically beautiful and spectacular coastline of South Africa is thus the least frequented, luckily for those who know it. Cape Town and Durban are more well known tourism cities.
Modern day Maritime Law decrees that wrecks are cut up and removed for safety, but that was not so in the 18th century. Many ships ran aground near Port Alfred, rather a misnomer, not much of a port at all.
A lighthouse at the Fish River mouth 25 kms away, was built finally in 1898. The powerful light of the tiny lighthouse still flashes out to sea every 10 seconds, warning ships of the shallow reef banks out of Port Alfred.
In World War 2 the British Government built 5 Pilot training Schools in Port Alfred in order to train as many bomber and gunner pilots as fast as possible, as the weather is so good and mostly permitting. This is how, strangely, this tiny village today has an enormous beautifully laid out landscaped flying school with 70 instructors and extensive wide flying fields.
Research had indicated that Port Alfred had the Best climate in the British Empire, which stretched across the world then. This is how SA's biggest pilot school came to be here.