A three-day Dispatch Everest Adventure taking in Port Alfred, Bathurst and Grahamstown proves that affordable and enjoyable holiday experiences are to be had without breaking the bank in these financially challenging times.
A four-member Daily Dispatch team left East London in the month of May to explore and enjoy what these small towns had to offer to those who were keen on a little adventure without having to leave the Eastern Cape.
In a new Ford Everest we made our first stop along the Sunshine Coast area, home to Port Alfred, Kleinemonde, Bathurst, Boknes, Alexandria and Kenton-on-Sea, among other places.
The area boasts having the “most sunshine hours in South Africa”, and features a beautiful coastline populated with villages and small towns where many city folk have their holiday homes.
One of the drawcards of the Kleinemonde area is that it is home to the internationally known Adele’s Mohair Cottage that handmakes home textiles, clothing and accessories using locally sourced mohair.
Business owner Adele Cutten said her business, which was established in 1983, had become a tourist attraction in the area.
“We live off the export market,” she said, explaining that “we don’t sell much in South Africa because mohair is so expensive, but for overseas people, they love the story, they love the fact that people are being employed and appreciate the quality.”
Cutten now enjoys a market in Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and says she has “lots of customers in Russia”.
“Our other market is to [the] tourists… We’ve got a little bit [of stock] in Port Elizabeth, the Western Cape, the Garden Route which includes Stellenbosch, Plettenberg Bay and Knysna.
“We had a bus tour from Canada only last week and it’s the first tour since 1992 where people spent money rather than just having a quick look. The foreigners who come here love it here. It’s a beautiful place and the coastline is beautiful too,” Cutten said.
Another tourist attraction nearby great for a very quiet get-away is the Great Fish
River Lighthouse, built in 1898.
Right next to the lighthouse there is clean and affordable accommodation that can host up to six people at R900 a night off-season and in-season up to R1250 a night. Visitors can enjoy a swimming pool, Dstv entertainment, a braai area and still have the luxury of walking to the beach.
Our next stop was a drive at Woody Cape which you can get to from taking the Boknes/Cannon Rocks turn-off just past Kenton-on-Sea. The drive offers views which are lush and green, edged with sand dunes that are reportedly some of the largest in the world, and beautiful blue ocean.
The Ford Everest, a 4×2, was perfect for the drive as the road, which winds its way back to Alexandria, is gravel.
From Alexandria we decided to enjoy a “free” game drive by navigating between some major game reserves in the area by taking the Ngciyo turnoff from Alexandria. And boy, was it an enjoyable drive.
Thanks to this “poor man’s game drive” we got to enjoy a variety of game such as giraffe, impala, springbok and zebra, without having to access a game park. The drive also takes you across the Kariega River where one can absorb the pure beauty of nature and, if it has been a sunny day, watch a beautiful sunset. And just when you think you have moved away from the game parks on this roughly one-hour drive to connect back the R343, more game awaits on the drive back to Kenton-on-Sea on this road.
After a long day of driving, we were ready to check in at the Royal St Andrews Hotel in Port Alfred.
Day two was a relaxed day in terms of the adventure. Although Port Alfred offers visitors horse riding and boat cruises, bad weather can affect the cruises as sailors won’t cruise if conditions are not favourable.
Horse riding requires booking days in advance, so we missed out on this opportunity.
For other activities, the tourism office is very helpful.
The town’s historical Wharf Street buildings dating back to the 1820s are still standing and vibrant with activities from fruit and veg stores, antiques, Port Alfred’s very own brewery and restaurants including one that was opened in March, and outdoor garden restaurant where food is served to soothing sounds that complement the beautiful scenery.
A short drive from Port Alfred on the R67 towards Grahamstown is Bathurst which is abuzz with pottery, arts and craft stores.
A visit to the Richard Pullen pottery studio is a must-see. Watching this potter get creative as he prepared for the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown this month was a real treat. He told the Dispatch that while he sold much of his work in the Western Cape, those who visited his Bathurst studio could buy from there.
Mzantsi’s oldest licensed inn, the Pig and Whistle Inn, which has been running since 1831, is also in Bathurst. The food here is a definite must-try for any visitor in the area.
A second night away was spent at Grahamstown’s Graham Hotel.
Without the National Arts Festival the town can seem asleep although to be fair our visit there was at a time when the town was preparing to host SA’s largest arts festival later this month.
The city of Saints, however, offers lots for the history buff and museums include the 1820 Settler’s National Monument and the old provost prison where Xhosa warrior Makanda, whom the Makana municipality is named after, was once held.
The Camera Obscura dating back to 1882 is still working and, at just R20 entry for adults, one can enjoy the experience of seeing Grahamstown through a mirror. The Camera Obscura is said to be the only Victorian example of its kind in the southern hemisphere.
The highlight of the Grahamstown stop was a visit to a local spring water point where locals from different walks of life fill their bottles. Resident Mahlalatu Diko said: “This water is from God himself, it never dries up. We trust it more than we trust the tap water.”
On our return from Grahamstown we used the infinitely better N2, as the R72 is potholed and has road works.