Kowie: the stunning town of Port Alfred
Lying on the banks of the gorgeous Kowie River, Port Alfred (or Kowie, as it’s affectionately known) was established by a group of English settlers in the 1880s.
The small town is called “the heart of the Sunshine Coast”, and lies on the Garden Route, in between East London and Port Elizabeth.
Having never spent much time in Port Alfred, it took a week of touring the town on a scooter (in line with my commitment to eco-travel) to truly appreciate its unique allure.
Kowie's Breathtaking Beaches
Of course, Port Alfred's endless stretches of beaches are the star of the show-think huge foamy waves ideal for swimming and surfing, miles and miles of sandy beaches (ideal for long walks or runs) scattered with thousands of shells, or vast sand-dunes begging to be climbed.
The two most popular surf breaks are on either side of the Kowie River Mouth and are known as East Beach and West Beach. I spent a morning surfing (though that might be an over-statement given my lack of prowess) West, which had huge waves that would give a pro a run for his money.
East Beach has waves that relentlessly pound the shore, so I kept a wary distance, instead choosing to walk from East Beach to Kelly’s Beach, which, with its safe swimming and unspoilt beauty, has Blue Flag status.
My niece, Lucy-Marley, also enjoyed Port Alfred's beaches to the full.
Aside from surfing and swimming, Port Alfred's balmy weather gives it almost cult-like status as a water sports destination - with kitesurfing, kayaking, water-skiing, scuba-diving, pedal-boating and many more enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. Best of all, these activities are eco-friendly too.
Boat cruises and hiking trails are popular along the Kowie River, which is navigable for about 27 kilometres upstream.
The river is also a source of livelihood for locals.
Home to numerous indigenous vegetation, fauna and bird life, the Kowie River houses a residential marina-along which I spent an idyllic afternoon kayaking.
The Kowie River is also the venue of the famous Kowie River Canoe Trail - a 42km-long return paddle past attractions such as the Old Wreck, Windy Beach, Rabbit Rocks, Cob Hole, Black Rock, the Old Mill, The Reef, Ferry Glen and White Rock, while game sightings are often reported.
A 12 km hike takes travellers through breathtaking indigenous forests, home to the rare African barred owl.
Speaking of the wonders of nature, Port Alfred offers game drives and horseback safaris, with the protected Kowie Nature Reserve and nearby Shamwari both must-see eco-tourism spots.
Kowie Shopping and Entertainment
If dry land is more to your taste, there’s also a golf course, cinema, a theatre, numerous bars and restaurants with live music (local and international), a nightclub, various art galleries, and plenty more.
Port Alfred also offers a large shopping mall - where you can buy local dried fruit and various other necessities, and smaller shops including a bookstore, a second-hand furniture and clothing store, and even shops selling local fruit and vegetables, housed in buildings seemingly unmarked by the passage of time.
Port Alfred's population is an eclectic mix of students, artists, surfers, holiday-makers and retirees. Port Alfred has two townships: the Nelson Mandela Township (Nemato) and Station Hill. One of the problems Port Alfred faces is high rates of unemployment, so crime rates are accordingly high.
Stenden University, a hospitality school, breathes life into the town as the students arrive, filled with enthusiasm. Stenden is active within the community, running 52 community outreach programmes, and even managing Port Alfred’s first eco-hotel: My Pond.
My Pond Hotel offers a great option for luxury eco-travellers, while budget-conscious green pioneers can look into one of the many Bed and Breakfasts, Guesthouses or campsites in Port Alfred. There are also many neighbourhood farm stays in the surrounding area.
Whether you’re a land lover or an adventure lover, you can’t fail to find what you’re looking for in the tiny, energetically beating “heart of the Sunshine Coast”.
Go to My Pond Hotel to find out more about this great eco-friendly hotel.
Alternatively, discover permaculture in nearby Bathurst in a conversation with Rob Gess.
Return from Kowie: the stunning town of Port Alfred to Eco-friendly Africa Travel