The Sunshine Coast tourism route starts at Port Elizabeth and meanders along the coastline to East London, incorporating the quaint resorts of Kenton-on-Sea, Port Alfred, Cape St. Francis and St. Francis Bay, all of which exude a typical seaside village ambience.
The Sunshine Coast offers a diverse range of experiences from safaris to adventure travel, beautiful beaches and game lodges offering Big 5 game-viewing, rich historical sites and scenic splendour. Bursting with adventure and coastal charm, it comprises rivers, lakes and lagoons, sub-tropical forests and countless quaint seaside hamlets.
When travelling through the Sunshine Coast, you immediately notice the vast amount of river valleys and estuaries that has given rise to coastal towns and villages. The area is still located in a pristine environment with good birdlife and many non-tidal rivers. The vegetation in the area forms part of the Albany Thicket biome and is endemic to this part of the country. These species-rich, dense thickets are composed of spinescent shrubs, woody creepers and succulents. The rivers breathe life into the area, but also offer opportunities for a wide variety of watersports.
Some of the more noteworthy rivers include the Kowie River that is navigable for more than 20km and is popular with boaters, fishing enthusiasts and water skiers. The history of Port Alfred, located on the Kowie River is closely linked to the river and the 1820 Settlers.
Reasons to visit:
The Sunshine Coast is renowned for its beaches and the area boasts two Blue Flag beaches at Kariega and Kelly’s Beach. It offers a wealth of activities ranging from Kitesurfing (Canon Rocks is world renowned for kitesurfing and ranked as the fourth best in the world) to game-viewing. Other rivers worth mentioning are the Bushman’s and Kleinemonde rivers. The Kleinemonde River’s banks are crowded with indigenous vegetation and ancient cycads and is ideal for canoeing. Visitors can expect to see a variety of birdlife on the rivers including kingfisher and fish eagles. The Bushman’s River offers a 22km stretch of open water and is the second longest navigable river in South Africa. The river is unspoilt, mostly due to the various game reserves along its upper stretches. Across the river, towards Kenton-on-Sea you find beautiful sheltered bays and rocky coves ideal for beach combing and snorkelling.
The Sunshine Coast is not only known for the coastline, but also an abundance and variety game reserves. The area is home to some of the country’s finest private game reserves, but also offers a poor man’s game drive that can be done in a day. On a drive from Grahamstown to the coast, you pass through Kariega Game Reserve, where you can spot various wild animals from the road. The area is malaria free, distinguishing it from other game viewing areas in Africa. Sibuya Game Reserve is unique as it is one of the only game reserves in the country that can be accessed by river.
The Sunshine Coast offers many opportunities to experience nature and is biodiversity rich, with five of the seven biomes found in South Africa meeting here. Over 480 bird species have been recorded in the area and it is a sought after destination among birders. The Ghio Wetland Reserve (part of the Emlanjeni Private Game Reserve) is a particular favourite among birders and is a haven for many bird species. The reserve also offer game viewing opportunities with white rhino, buffalo, zebra and a large variety of antelope.
Nelson Mandela Bay:
Nelson Mandela Bay, which covers the greater Port Elizabeth area, boasts some of South Africa’s richest history. It has been described as the crucible of cultural South Africa, as all the different cultures (San, Khoi, Portuguese, Dutch, British, Xhosa, Afrikaners) met here at some time or another in the past. It is also one of the very few places in Africa where you can see the Big 6 in one game park – the Big 5 land mammals (elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard, rhino) and southern right whales. It is also one of the only malaria free safari destinations in Africa, which makes it incredibly sought after, especially for family safari holidays with children.
Unique African animal experiences are a big attraction in the area: at Addo Elephant Park you can see herds of up to 200 elephant walking across the land, and at Sea View Park you are able to see white lions and hold the cubs.
The coastline along the Nelson Mandela Bay is another differentiator that sets the area apart as an ideal and appealing tourism destination, with approximately 40km of clean sandy beaches to stroll along, a variety of dive sites and coral reefs, whale and dolphin watching (sometimes from the beach!), and coastal hiking and horse riding trails. Along this coastline you can also find the biggest colony of gannets and the biggest colony of penguins (African blackfooted penguins) in the world. Humewood beach has Blue Flag status, and Alexandria dunefields has the largest shifting dunes in the southern hemisphere.
Alongside the natural features of the coastline are a number of other unique protected areas and nature experiences. There are five biomes in the area to explore, a fynbos flower trail in Van Stadens Nature Reserve, a birding hotspot at the Swartkops estuary and Settlers Park in the middle of the city.
Even back then Nelson Mandela Bay (formerly Port Elizabeth) lived up to its nowadays famous title as ‘The Windy City’, with over 300 shipwrecks occurring over the years in the bay as ships fought the odds again a rocky bay and gusty wind. It’s no doubt that the natural and historical aspects of the area make it a must-see, but to add to its appeal, especially for the energetic people, Nelson Mandela Bay is known as Africa’s watersport capital.
With the 4th best coastal climate in the world, the beaches are alive with activity. The wind conditions make it an ideal spot for watersports such as wind surfing, kite surfing and sailing. Activities such as bass fishing, rock and surf angling, dune boarding, surfing and diving are also very popular. Huge sporting events, notably the Ironman Triathlon, the EP Herald cycling race and SA Life Saving Championships, are held on and alongside the beaches.
Nelson Mandela Bay is also the gateway to the Baviaanskloof, which is a World Heritage Site and the 3rd largest protected area in the country. Eight of the nine biomes in South Africa are found in the Baviaanskloof. The Baviaanskloof is renowned for its untouched natural heritage; visitors can hike in the Cape Fold Mountains, 4×4 along mountain roads, and experience big game such as buffalo and leopards in the untamed wilderness. This area is also renowned for the spekboom (an indigenous succulent plant) and a carbon sequestration programme has been established.