What makes Kenton-on-Sea so special to my family and I? You could state the obvious: it’s perfectly situated, hemmed in on either side by the Kariega and Bushmans river estuaries between East London and Port Elizabeth. This, combined with wonderful, secluded beaches makes it the ideal family holiday spot. No matter whether you’re looking for a romantic nook, or have a household full of youngsters, you can find a slice to call your own. More importantly, it lacks the overt commercialisation that many similar-sized towns have experienced in the past few years. In fact, outside of the December season when there’s inevitably some or other temporary party venue constructed in the parking area behind Middle Beach, you’ll pretty much be left to your own devices.
There aren’t many places to eat or go out. There are no movies (the nearest is in Port Alfred) or malls and even the local Spar can be exasperating during season. If that’ll drive you cuckoo, head somewhere with brighter lights. But you’ll come to love this little stretch of the Sunshine Coast if family time is important and you enjoy simpler pleasures such as fishing for giant crabs up one of the rivers, or watching your youngsters learning to body board, or even simply taking an early-morning walk with only the oystercatchers for company.
Things to do in Kenton-on-Sea
Walking and hiking
Kenton isn’t ideal if you’re maniacal about serious hiking, but if you love exploring the nooks and crannies on the wave-cut platforms along the shore with your kids you’ve come to the right place. If you walk nowhere else, take a brisk walk from the mouth of the Bushmans River across the rocky outcrops overlooking the secluded bays all the way to middle beach on the mouth of the Kariega. Head in either direction, but if you walk south-north you can drop in at Homewoods for coffee before wandering home. If you’re after a longer beach walk (a good couple of hours) get someone to take you across the river to the town of Bushmans River Mouth and walk south along the beach to the Dias Cross. Watch the tide as walking is easiest on the firmer sand exposed during low tide. You can walk on further and arrange to be collected at Boknesstrand or return along the beach.
There are a number of walks on the surrounding farms and it’s worth checking with the Kenton Tourism office if these are open as many were badly damaged in the 2012 floods.
There are slim pickings for outright mountain-biking fanatics and you’ll battle to put any serious distance under your tyres on road too (the only real option on the hard stuff is to head up the road towards Grahamstown and back). You could also tackle the R72, but the cars and trucks make me nervous. If you’re prepared to drive for an hour or two, you’ll get into some good areas such as Hogsback, the Katberg MTB Trail and so on; for more information go to www.mtbroutes.co.za. A relatively new option closer to town, which we haven’t tried, is Sebumo Tude (tel 072-205-7617, www.sebumotude.co.za).
A number of beaches have a break that’s good for messing about on a body board. If your kids are trying out their boards for the first time and aren’t quite swimming properly, head for Middle Beach, which is safe (there’s a large, shallow sandy area about thigh deep which has waves running across it at high tide – perfect). Kiteboarding conditions can be awesome out the mouth of the Bushmans River, but if you’re really serious jump in the car and take the 20-minute drive down to Cannon Rocks.
Don’t miss the opportunity to take a cruise up either the Bushmans or Kariega rivers (the choice is really personal preference). Most people use their own craft, but you can hire boats if you have the appropriate skipper’s ticket or jump on one of the tourist cruises that run regularly – it’s best to ask at the Kenton Tourism office, as they’ll have the inside track on what’s available.
There are demarcated areas for waterskiing. Paddling your canoe or kayak is great on the rivers, but when it’s really busy make sure you can handle the wakes of the passing speedsters. Out of season, you’ll paddle as far as you want without seeing anyone.
Beach rides are well organised and not to be missed, no matter your level of experience. Take a guided trail with Beachcomber Horse Trails (R200 a person for 90 minutes, optional picnics cost R100 extra), www.beachcomberhorsetrails.co.za). The guides are experienced and patient with newcomers.
In recent years, game farming has exploded in the Eastern Cape and there are a number of private reserves surrounding Kenton that offer guided visits. The two closest are Kariega Game Reserve (a three-hour drive for a minimum of eight people costs R850 a person, including lunch, tel 046-636-7904) and Sibuya Game Reserve (from R495 for a boat cruise and lunch and R795 for cruise, lunch and a game drive, tel 046-648-1040).
Where to eat in Kenton-on-Sea
Located in the Silver Leaf Centre, Cilantro coffee shop offers light meals and snacks. Ownership has changed a few times over the years so quality can vary – on my last visit the food and service was good. Tel 083-389-7871.
Cunningly disguised as a building-supply store on the main drag, don’t overlook The House Kitchen and Cellar, which is great for lunch. In season, check if it’s open for dinners. Tel 046-648-1786.
Bushmans Bar and Grill, otherwise known as BBGs, is a laid-back spot overlooking the mouth of the Bushmans River and offers standard pub fare. If the weather is nice, grab a seat on the deck outside for the view. Tel 046-648-3762.
Best for pizza
Probably Kenton’s longest-standing traditional eatery, Homewoods à la Carte and Pizzeria offers good food. There’s access onto Main Beach and its location overlooking the Kariega River mouth is superb. Tel 046-648-2700.
Three to four kilometres out of town on the road to Grahamstown, Stanley’s Restaurant is worth the drive for arguably the best food in the area. Don’t expect Sandton-style fussiness and you won’t be scorned if you’re still in your slops from the beach. When you book ask for a table on the deck and you can’t go wrong with steak or seafood. Tel 046-648-1332.
The Sandbar Floating Restaurant is a veritable Kenton institution with an awesome setting, floating on the Bushmans River, although quality and service has fluctuated. Perfect for simple meals or sundowners and you can arrive by boat or drive down. Tel 046-648-2450.
Best for breakfast
Voila, a quaint coffee shop opposite the Spar, doubles as a spot for breakfast or lunch and is hemmed in on all sides with arts and crafts for sale. Tel 083-458-2271.
Where to stay in Kenton-on-Sea
Most people who holiday in Kenton rent a house or stay with friends or family and there aren’t as many guest houses as you’d expect. There’s no hotel either. To rent a house, work through the estate agents, but get in early to avoid disappointment. Pam Golding, tel 046-648-1203. Seeff, tel 046-648-1037. C-Breeze Property Consultants, tel 046-648-1100. ERA Kenton Estate, tel 046-648-1212. Ian Smith Estate Agents, tel 046-648-3021. Sea Cottage Estates, tel 046-648-1310.
For a complete list of guest houses and B&B accommodation, contact Kenton Tourism. Getaway recommends the following places to stay:
- Oyster Shack costs from R1 250 for the eight-sleeper house, and B&B at Oyster Box Beach House costs from R595 a person a night. Tel 046-648- 3466, www.theoysterboxbeachhouse.co.za.
- Amblewoods, one of the longest-running guest houses in town, can accommodate up to 18 guests. B&B from R300 a person a night. Tel 046-648-2957, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tourism office in Kenton-on-Sea
Getting to Kenton-on-Sea
Kenton is on the R72, about 140 kilometres from Port Elizabeth and 163 kilometres from East London. Most people drive, or fly in to either of these cities and hire a car.