There’s a stretch of coastline between the Tsitsikamma and Port Alfred that’s said to get more hours of sunlight than the rest of South Africa. Veer off the N2 to find unspoilt holiday spots in the Sunshine Coast.
I once took the N2’s Tsitsikamma turn off to sneak a quick peek at Storms River Mouth. I had a Wild Card so entry was free, and I drove around the coastal campsite on a brief recce. That was all it took to ignite a hankering for more, and I’ve been secretly plotting to return ever since.
Roughly five years later, I make it back to the camp. A bushbuck skips over the road in front of me as I drive down the winding pass to the sea. My first mission is to visit the famous suspension bridge that crosses the dark and moody river – a good tick off my personal South African bucket list.
The loops on the bridge’s fence are covered with love locks and the views are spectacular. I sit down on a driftwood log on the rocky shore below the bridge. There’s a slight wind and the twilight is a dreamy golden hue that I find difficult to leave, but I must. The national park is closing and my lodgings are a short drive away. I head back to the N2, watching the sunset disappear in the rear-view mirror.
It is also curiosity that pulls me into Storms River Village, which I envisioned as a sky of the green forest instead of blue and the gruff calls of the Knysna turaco to welcome me. The reality’s not far off. Tsitsikamma Village Inn is a quaint arrangement of historical buildings making up a diverse set of accommodation options – the nautical- themed Arniston Fishing Cottages are my favourite. I opt to have supper at the restaurant on site: a decadent helping of creamy salmon pasta with locally brewed Woodcutters Ale.
More foreigners than South Africans visit this little adventure village, according to the operators, and this is where I’ll start exploring the Sunshine Coast, driving towards Port Alfred. This stretch of ocean supposedly sees the most sunshine in South Africa and has warm waters, and I want to find its sheltered coves.
The following morning I check the map over breakfast at the very pink restaurant next door to the Inn – I couldn’t leave without visiting the themed diner. Marilyn Monroe memorabilia adorns the walls and beside her is Elvis. A sign reads: ‘The ’60s was noisy, deal with it’.
With a plan in mind, I hop onto the N2 and stop at the nearby Total to grab a coffee to go with the delectable R6 brownie I got at the Village Inn. As far as garages go, this one definitely has the best view, perched beside the Storms River Bridge. Then, just as I hit the 120km/h zone, I take the offramp onto the R102. I saw little reason to stick to the highway and it was only 100 kilometres to my first night’s accommodation at Oyster Bay Lodge. A local at the village had recommended I stick to the N2 because some of the back roads are badly potholed, but he didn’t strike me as an off-the-beaten-track type, so I did it anyway.
After seven kays I regret it. There are potholes all right, and big ones – camouflaged against the dappled shade. However, it wasn’t all bad, as I stumbled across Oudebosch Farm Stall, a sanctuary of warm roosterkoek. From here I take a gravel pass through the Tsitsikamma community wind farm, passing the white giants in the sky, and stay on gravel all the way.
Oyster Bay is a coastal hamlet neighbouring the more popular St Francis Bay. You can only get there by dirt road and although it’s a little rutted in places, I easily navigated it in the small Renault. My main reason to visit is the name – I wanted to see my first African black oystercatchers, one of South Africa’s most threatened bird species. They can live up to 35 years, and also a pair for life, which appeals to the romantic in me. It’s a bit of a walk to the beach from Oyster Bay, but it’s a gorgeous bay with a picturesque yet wild lagoon snaking its way into the sea and impressive sand dunes that slope down too.
I spy several sets of oystercatchers in the orange afternoon, sandwiched between bigger seagulls, and spot only two other￼ walkers on the wide beach. In the distance, I can see the small hamlet roughly three kilometres away. Dinner at Seagrass Restaurant and Bar is delicious and I trust the chef enough to ask for travel advice. ‘To me, Cape St Francis is far prettier and less commercial than St Francis Bay. Seal Point is my favourite.’ I ask about the roads. ‘Gravel is the shortest way, but it’s pretty potholed…’
Again, I did it anyway, and missed the turn-off to Cape St Francis, ending up in Humansdorp. It’s still a bit of a drive ahead of me to Addo Elephant Park and don’t have time to about-face. I skip past J-Bay and about 45 kilometres away from Oyster Bay there’s a perfect view of the wide, perfect-looking beaches from the R102.
I follow this road towards the Gamtoos River and find myself in a beautiful valley on a road that twists and corners with no lay-by to speak of, only wild flowers. Later on, when looking at the map, I see it’s called Van Stadens Pass. Another 20 kilometres and I hit a crossroads. Uitenhage or PE? I opt for Port Elizabeth and the N2 because it means I can grab a pie at Nanaga Farm Stall like I used to do when I studied in Grahamstown.
Home tonight is the lesser-known stretch of Addo, where the park meets the sea in a gathering of high and wide dunes known as the Alexandria Dune Field. This dune sea, as it’s also known, is the largest and least degraded in the whole southern hemisphere, stretching over 15 800 hectares, with its widest point being five kilometres from the sea. To explore them a little, I’m staying at Langebos Huts in the Woody Cape area. The gates don’t close so you can come and go as you please, which means glorious golden-hour shots along the ocean. Sadly, the weather isn’t playing along, but the impressive dunes do not disappoint and I’ve made a mental promise to return some day for the two-night hike that crosses them.
Leaving Woody Cape on the gravel road towards Kenton the next morning, there’s the best view in the rear-view mirror: less than a kilometre from the turn-off to Woody Cape Backpackers, I get a true sense of the scale of these incredible dunes.
My last tick off the list of Sunshine Coast treasures is to spend a night in a lighthouse. Well, next door to one. The Great Fish Point lighthouse was built back in 1898 and sits about 800 metres from the shoreline. Since the light has been automated, the keeper’s house is now available to rent.
There are some beautiful beaches to see on the way, but I soon veer off the coastal course to try out the ‘poor man’s game drive’ just before Kenton. The route passes the fences of big private game reserves, but there’s also a public transit road that cuts right through the middle of Sibuya Game Reserve, where I see giraffe, herds of wildebeest, impala and what look like blesbok in the distance. All free.
From here it’s an easy drive past the popular seaside towns of Kenton-on-Sea and Port Alfred before hitting the last bit of road-trip gravel and the four-kilometre stretch to the lighthouse. It’s smaller than I thought it would be, but I have my own private beach with epic sea views.
The Sunshine Coast turned out to be not so sunny for me, but as I think back along the route I realise this run of coastline is pretty extraordinary anyway. Perhaps that is its real attraction.
Follow the sunshine
Day 1: Storms River Mouth to Oyster Bay
Distance 94km Allow 3 hours
Visit Storms River Mouth Rest Camp in the early morning, or even the evening before to grab the golden hour at the suspension bridge (1). After breakfast at Marilyn’s ‘60s Diner (3) – right next door to the Tsitsikamma Village Inn (2) – head onto the N2, then veer off again after 34km (to avoid the potholes) onto the R102 and pull in at Oudebosch Farm Stall (4). You can relax here for a bit because it’s only another 50km to Oyster Bay Lodge (5). From the farm stall, stay on the R102 and follow the wind farms for 25km. Turn right at the sign that says ‘Witkleibos’ and follow Google Maps to Oyster Bay Lodge – roads are a little rutted but the GPS is correct.
Day 2: Oyster Bay to Woody Cape
Distance 230km Allow 5 – 6 hours.
Leave Oyster Bay after breakfast and head towards Humansdorp – you’ll hit tar after about 4km. Pass through the town and stay on the R102 through Jeffreys Bay. You’ll pass the old railway at Thornhill Station and sweep through a pass before seeing Van Stadens Wild Flower Reserve at the 80km mark – have a little drive around if the season is good. After another 20km, head back onto the N2. Bypass Port Elizabeth, drive past the signs to Addo (Colchester section) and take the R72 offramp from the highway to stop at Nanaga Farm Stall (6), roughly 60km later.
Have lunch and stock up on home-made goods to have for dinner. Remain on the R72 and stop at Oakly Farm Stall (7) too, 32km on, for firewood and amazing juice. Turn right onto a dirt track after 15km and it’s just another 10km to Langebos Huts for the night (8). Park at Woody Cape Backpackers (another 8km drive) to see the Alexandria dunes (9).
Day 3: Woody Cape to Great Fish Point lighthouse
Distance 110km Allow 3 – 4 hours
Work the string of beaches (see box on page 54) into your trip today, or just choose one. Leave Langebos Huts and drive the straight gravel road to Cannon Rocks and Boknesstrand before you hit the R72 (roughly 33km from Addo). Set your odometer to zero and turn left onto the R72 to try the poor man’s game drive (11): turn right after 16,5km and follow the gravel road for 10km (you’ll cross the Bushmans River and the R343), then find the Sibuya Game Reserve gates in front of you – drive about 8km through the reserve.
Head out the other gate, keep right and follow this road for 8km back to the R72. If you’re hungry, retrace your route to Kenton and try The House Kitchen (10). Otherwise, turn left and go straight for 42km to the Great Fish Point lighthouse (12) for the last night’s stay.
Three beautiful beaches on the Sunshine Coast
1. Cannon Rocks borders directly on the Woody Cape section of the Addo Elephant National Park and is world-famous as a kiteboarding destination.
2. Boknesstrand has a lagoon and quiet, open sands. It’s also in the pilot stage of becoming a blue-flag beach.
3. Shelly Bay Beach at Kenton- on-Sea requires a little local knowledge to find: you park at the end of Westbourne Road, walk as straight as you can to the vegetated dune and you’ll find a tunnel through the forest; emerge in a dune valley. Keep right and walk towards the ‘cliffs’. It takes about 10 minutes.
1. Storms River Mouth suspension bridge. It’s an easy walk from the reception at the rest camp and it makes for an iconic photo opportunity. Entry to the park is R49 per person. 0422811607.
2. Tsitsikamma Village Inn. There are various accommodation options available here – from Victorian cottages to sea-themed units – and it’s number one on TripAdvisor. B&B from R685 per person sharing. 0422811711
3. Marilyn’s ‘60s Diner. A quirky food stop with affordable breakfast for R48 and great milkshakes for R30. 0422811711
4. Oudebosch Farm Stall. Stop for fresh, hot roosterkoek (R10) and homebrewed ginger beer (from R9) made the way it should be, with a raisin and sediment on the bottom). There’s a jungle gym for kids. 0422850562
5. Oyster Bay Lodge. This Fair Trade Tourism-certified lodge is set up on a dune overlooking the lagoon. You can go sandboarding or horse riding along the beach. It’s quiet (maximum 14 guests) and the road is a little out of the way, making for ideal solitude. B&B from R900 per person sharing. 0422970150
6. Nanaga Farm Stall. Eat a homemade pie with salad and chips (R50) at the restaurant, and get a takeaway pie for dinner (R18). There’s also vanilla farm milk (from R6,50), Wagyu beef patties (R115 for four) and delectable lemon meringue pie (R16,50). 0414680353
7. Oakly Farm Stall. Stop here for delicious pineapple juice (from R15 a bottle), grown locally. It’s also sold at Nanaga, but I preferred to support them directly. 0721016885
8. Langebos Huts. Although they’re not close to the dunes like the backpackers, these two affordable huts are far superior and set in a forest with a central firepit. They are booked together so you’ll have the camp to yourself. Sleeps eight. From R1315 for four people and R240 per person extra. 0414680916
10. The House Kitchen. It looks like a décor shop from the outside but it’s a super-trendy café that could be on Cape Town’s Bree Street. I had a great coffee and Mediterranean toast for R80. 0466481786
11. The poor man’s game drive. Check road conditions with the local tourism office before you go as it might get a bit hairy after rain. 046-648-2411
12. Great Fish Point lighthouse. Make sure you have cash to pay for a tour (R16 per adult, R8 per child under 12). There are twin cottages that each sleep six, with a braai area, pool and play area. From R750 per cottage for four and R150 per person extra. 0214492400
This story first appeared in the April 2017 issue of Getaway magazine.
Our April issue features a guide to the Otter Trail, the sunniest roadtrip in SA, and 12 awesome farmstays.