Is this SA’s sunniest route?
There’s a stretch of coastline between the Tsitsikamma and Port Alfred that’s said to get more hours of sunlight than the rest of SA. MELANIE VAN ZYL veered off the N2 (unless there was a pie to be had) to find its smaller, more isolated and unspoilt holiday spots
Ionce took the N2’s Tsitsikamma turnoff to sneak a quick peek at Storms River Mouth. I had a Wild Card so entry was free, and I drove around the coastal campsite on a brief recce. That was all it took to ignite a hankering for more, and I’ve been secretly plotting to return ever since. Roughly five years later, I make it back to the camp. A bushbuck skips over the road in front of me as I drive down the winding pass to the sea. My first mission is to visit the famous suspension bridge that crosses the dark and moody river – a good tick off my personal South African bucket list. The loops on the bridge’s fence are covered with love locks and the views are spectacular. I sit down on a driftwood log on the rocky shore below the bridge. There’s a slight wind and the twilight is a dreamy golden hue that I find difficult to leave, but I must. The national park is closing and my lodgings are a short drive away. I head back to the N2, watching the sunset disappear in the rear-view mirror. It is also curiosity that pulls me into Storms River Village, which I envisioned as a sky of green forest instead of blue and the gruff calls of the Knysna turaco to welcome me. The reality’s not far off. Tsitsikamma Village Inn is a quaint arrangement of historical buildings making up a diverse set of accommodation options – the nauticalthemed Arniston Fishing Cottages are my favourite. I opt to have supper at the restaurant on site: a decadent helping of creamy salmon pasta with locally brewed Woodcutters Ale. More foreigners than South Africans visit this little adventure village, according to the operators, and this is where I’ll start exploring the Sunshine Coast, driving towards Port Alfred. This stretch of ocean supposedly sees the most sunshine in South Africa and has warm waters, and I want to find its sheltered coves. The following morning I check the map over breakfast at the very pink restaurant next door to the Inn – I couldn’t leave without visiting the themed diner. Marilyn Monroe memorabilia adorns the walls and beside her is Elvis. A sign reads: ‘ The ’60s was noisy, deal with it’. With a plan in mind, I hop onto the N2 and stop at the nearby Total to grab a coffee to go with the delectable R6 brownie I got at the Village Inn. As far as garages go, this one definitely has the best view, perched beside the Storms River Bridge. Then, just as I hit the 120km/h zone, I take the offramp onto
the R102. I saw little reason to stick to the highway and it was only 100 kilometres to my first night’s accommodation at Oyster Bay. A local at the village had recommended I stick to the N2 because some of the back roads are badly potholed, but he didn’t strike me as an off-the-beaten-track type, so I did it anyway. After seven kays I regret it. There are potholes all right, and big ones – camouflaged against the dappled shade. However, it wasn’t all bad, as I stumbled across Oudebosch Farm Stall, a sanctuary of warm roosterkoek. From here I take a gravel pass through the Tsitsikamma community wind farm, passing the white giants in the sky, and stay on gravel all the way. Oyster Bay is a coastal hamlet neighbouring the more popular St Francis Bay. You can only get there by dirt road and although it’s a little rutted in places, I easily navigated it in the small Renault. My main reason to visit is in the name – I wanted to see my first African black oystercatchers, one of South Africa’s most threatened bird species. They can live up to 35 years, and also pair for life, which appeals to the romantic in me. It’s a bit of a walk to the beach from Oyster Bay Lodge, but it’s a gorgeous bay with a picturesque yet wild lagoon snaking its way into the sea and impressive sand dunes that slope down too. I spy several sets of oystercatchers in the orange afternoon, sandwiched between bigger seagulls, and spot only two other
‘I spy several oystercatchers in the orange afternoon, and spot only two other walkers on the wide beach’
walkers on the wide beach. In the distance I can see the small hamlet roughly three kilometres away. Dinner at Seagrass Restaurant and Bar is delicious and I trust the chef enough to ask for travel advice. ‘To me, Cape St Francis is far prettier and less commercial than St Francis Bay. Seal Point is my favourite.’ I ask about the roads. ‘Gravel is the shortest way, but it’s pretty potholed…’ I did it anyway, and missed the turn-off to Cape St Francis, ending up in Humansdorp. I have a bit of a drive ahead of me to Addo Elephant Park and don’t have time to about-face. I skip past J-Bay and about 45 kilometres away from Oyster Bay there’s a perfect view of the wide, perfect-looking beaches from the R102. I follow this road towards the Gamtoos River and find myself in a beautiful valley on a road that twists and corners with no lay-by to speak of, only wild flowers. Later on, when looking at the map, I see it’s called Van Stadens Pass. Another 20 kilometres and I hit a crossroads. Uitenhage or PE? I opt for Port Elizabeth and the N2 because it means I can grab a pie at Nanaga Farm Stall, like I used to do when I studied in Grahamstown. Home tonight is the lesser-known stretch of Addo, where the park meets the sea in a gathering of high and wide dunes known as the Alexandria Dune Field. This dune sea, as it’s also known, is the largest and least degraded in the whole southern hemisphere, stretching over 15 800 hectares, with its widest point being five kilometres from the sea. To explore them a little, I’m staying at Langebos Huts in the Woody Cape area. The gates don’t close so you can come and go as you please, which means glorious golden-hour shots along the ocean. Sadly, the weather isn’t playing along, but the impressive dunes do not disappoint and I’ve made a mental promise to return some day for the two-night hike that crosses them. Leaving Woody Cape on the gravel road towards Kenton the next morning, there’s the best view in the rear-view mirror: less than a kilometre from the turn-off to Woody Cape Backpackers, I get a true sense of the scale of these incredible dunes. My last tick off the list of Sunshine Coast treasures is to spend a night in a lighthouse. Well, next door to one. The Great Fish Point lighthouse was built back in 1898 and sits about 800 metres from the shoreline. Since the light has been automated, the keeper’s house is now available to rent. There are some beautiful beaches to see on the way (see page 46), but I soon veer off the coastal course to try out the ‘poor man’s game drive’ just before Kenton. The route passes the fences of big private game reserves, but there’s also a public transit road that cuts right through the middle of Sibuya Game Reserve, where I see giraffe, herds of wildebeest, impala and what look like blesbok in the distance. All free. From here it’s an easy drive past the popular seaside towns of Kenton-on-Sea and Port Alfred before hitting the last bit of road-trip gravel and the four-kilometre stretch to the lighthouse. It’s smaller than I thought it would be, but I have my own private beach with epic sea views. The Sunshine Coast turned out to be not so sunny for me, but as I think back along the route I realise this run of coastline is pretty extraordinary anyway. Perhaps that is its real attraction.
private yourown a Youget youspend beachwhen lightho use this beside night
TOP Wide and empty Boknesstrand, where Bartolomeu Dias planted a cross in 1488.
LEFT The calcite rocks around Shelly Bay are best navigated in shoes (lesson learnt).
ABOVE Dairy farms line the road between Woody Cape and Boknes.
BELOW The rooms at Oyster Bay Lodge are private and comfortable.
LEFT A cheeseburger and ginger beer for breakfast at Marilyn’s ‘60s Diner; day visitors can tour the cute little Great Fish Point lighthouse.
ABOVE Forest engulfs the Langebos Huts in the Woody Cape (coastal) section of the Addo Elephant National Park.