Fish River, Frontier Country

The Great Fish River, distinguishable from the Namibian Fish River by the word ‘great’, that runs through the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, flows for some 690 kilometres before reaching the Indian Ocean 60 kilometres southeast of Grahamstown.

Fish River not only earns accolades in its own right as one of the most beautiful rivers in the country, but some equally famous rivers flow from it - Great Brak River is one of its main northern tributaries, whilst its eastern tributaries include Baviaans and Kat Rivers.

The Fish River originally earned its name from the Khoi people, who were first discovered in the Fish River Valley by European settlers. Despite its obvious association with fish, very little fishing actually takes place on the river, except along the lower reaches, and this is mainly recreational. The valley through which it flows was to become a battle zone, and the Fish River a hotly contested border between British settlers moving east from the Cape (and Dutch farmers) and tribal settlements, and during apartheid, the lower reaches formed the border with the Ciskei.

It doesn’t flow through any notable towns, other than Cradock and Cookhouse, and its journey is relatively uneventful - the Hansa Fish River Canoe marathon, one of the only events on its course, though it does flow through the beautiful Great Fish River Reserve that lies between Grahamstown and Fort Beaufort. It is the mouth of the river that draws people, mostly because the last 20 kilometres of the river is tidal (the Great Fish Point lighthouse, built in 1898, stands just outside Port Alfred) and the area between Port Elizabeth and the Fish River forms the Sunshine Coast - called such because it has more sunshine hours per year than any other part of the country.

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