Port St Johns, Wild Coast
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The wildness of the coast with its deep gorges and impenetrable forests, mangrove swamps and the primitive force of freak waves that caused many a shipwreck along this region of the coast, have not quite managed the attempt to tame them by colonial order, since Port St Johns inception in 1878.
The setting of Port St Johns is possibly the most dramatic in the country and the drive from Umtata to Port St Johns is one of the best journeys on the Wild Coast. The Umzimvubu River cuts a huge gorge right to the sea where it then squeezes between the river’s edge and the red stone cliffs of the gorge. Twin mountains, the Thesiger and Sullivan, lie on either side of the river mouth like bastions and are regarded as the gates of Port St Johns, which, despite this splendour, is largely a magnet for hippies, eccentrics and backpackers. Three good beaches, excellent fishing and a rather chequered history, involving the growing of cannabis instead of tobacco, might account for this.
Port St Johns also offers a unique blend of cultural richness. The Xhosa culture, both traditional and modern, is always apparent. You will see a sangoma (traditional healer) strolling along in all his finery, hear the thumping sound of kwaito music from a furniture store, and dodge the ever-present voracious mini-bus taxies.
This vibrant noise and colour is contrasted with some crumbling reminders of a colonial history. In the streets you will hear Xhosa, Afrikaans and English as well as foreign languages from the steady stream of tourists seeking the unusual. Dense bush encroaches into the town at any opportunity and a short walk will take you into silent forests. The sea is always close, crashing onto the rocky shores which guard the secluded beaches.
There is some debate over the origin of the town’s name. Some attribute it to the Portuguese wreckage of the Sao Joao said to have run aground near the mouth of the Umzimvubu River in 1552 but it was then discovered to have settled further north up the coast near Port Edward. Others say that you can see the profile of John the Baptist carved in cliffs close to the river.
The river mouth was known for a while as Rosebud Bay and the estuary was a convenient venue for trading and smuggling until the British annexed the area. The lazy charm of the decaying colonial grandeur in the town belies the organised tourist infrastructure that provides accommodation, restaurants and craft shops.
This is prime hiking country, with forests and trails and more than 250 species of birds. Other activities in the area include: canoe trips, horse trails, golf, dolphin and whale watching and some excellent fishing.
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"We always have a wonderful time in Port St Johns. We go every ..." - April & Cliff, Bloemfontein
Featured Attractions in (or near) Port St Johns
The two fairly small sister nature reserves of Dwesa and Cwebe lie separated only by the Mbashe River on the central wild coast, bordered on one side by the forest-fringed shores of the Indian Ocean, and on the other by the undulating hills and grasslands of the former Transkei. Dwesa and Cwebe combined ... more information
The virtually undiscovered Hluleka Nature Reserve lies roughly 20 kilometres south of Port St Johns on South Africa’s Wild Coast, a part of the world most aptly described in terms of its rugged and natural unspoiled beauty. The nature reserve lies along a particularly tranquil part of the coast, south east of Mthatha ... more information
Close to the town of Umtata, now known as Mthatha, lies the charming 460 hectare nature reserve of Luchaba. Luchaba Nature Reserve lies adjacent to the Mthatha Dam and is home to a variety of wildlife, a series of wetlands and grasslands that support a wide selection of birds, and evidence of the rare Stanley’s ... more information
The Magwa waterfall is pretty impressive. It is one of few waterfalls on the rugged Wild Coast that is accessible – others entail such effort to reach that they're seldom seen by any but the most intrepid travellers. It lies in the middle of the 1 800 hectare Magwa tea plantation, South ... more information
Flanked on either side by the forested ravines of the Msikaba and Mtentu Rivers, Mkambati Nature Reserve is 8000 hectares of coastal reserve that consists mainly of grassland, close to the KwaZulu Natal border in north-east Pondoland. Despite being predominantly grassland, the incredible scenery is ... more information
The Silaka Nature Reserve serves to protect the biodiversity of the coastal forest in the region, and stretches along the coastline between Second Beach and Sugarloaf Rock - 400 hectares of striking coast, a forest of towering trees, and grassland - an exquisite escape into nature. Small the reserve may be, but ... more information
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