Port Elizabeth - For people travelling into Port Alfred from East London, the first sight that heralds your arrival is that of several striking white houses that line the charming Eastern Cape town’s equally eye-catching marina at the mouth of the Kowie River.
Unsurprisingly, for many visitors to Port Alfred this seems to become a case of love at first sight, and recently for me – coming at the end of a 12-hour journey by car from Durban – there could hardly be a more welcome sign to suggest “I have arrived”.
Port Alfred is one of the gems of the Eastern Cape but, like a diamond rush, this otherwise quiet and quaint town tends to transform into a bustling hive of activity over the Christmas period.
While I have often visited around that time of year, I recently returned for an out-of-season experience, and to see first-hand some of the rain damage that I had heard so much about during October.
Undoubtedly, the main point of attraction for many visitors to Port Alfred are the pristine beaches, which boast such diversity as suggested by the self-explanatory names of Shelly Beach and the lesser-known Rugged Rocks.
Although Kelly’s “Blue Flag” beach is the most popular with the majority of tourists, where one can take advantage of designated swimming areas and conducive surfing conditions, my favourite find was East Beach.
It’s here that the multitude of undulating dunes offer the opportunity for sand-boarding, while the wide expanses also allow you to discover the solitude and serenity that is so sought-after by most city slickers.
Recently, though, there have been very few opportunities for Port Alfred visitors or residents to make their way down to the beaches after two-and-a-half weeks of virtually non-stop rain during October.
Upon my explorations of the area, a poignant discovery of damage was made just outside of town where a golf bag and a mouldy mattress were some of the only remains among the rubble of a low-lying house that had been destroyed by the flooding.
Not far from there, a couple of deserted houses still remained waterlogged, while the effects of the recent rain were also made plain by the many potholes that have only become worse in some of the residential areas.
There’s far more to do in this little town than just laze on the beaches, as I soon discovered when getting on board for a boat ride up the Kowie River, where fishermen and bird-watchers are in their element.
With Port Alfred’s small-craft harbour providing mooring for a variety of vessels, another fantastic way to meander down the river is on the houseboats that are available for hire from the Royal Alfred Marina.
While there are plenty of water-sports activities on offer, golfers are predictably drawn to the ever-popular Royal Port Alfred golf course, where the views of the ocean helped keep my blood pressure down during periods of poor play.
The course is inevitably at its busiest over the December holidays when 300 rounds are typically played in a day, with locals given forms to fill out in early December to ensure they are able to secure a tee-off time.
In fact, on the one occasion that there wasn’t an available playing slot, I headed up the road to the cosy Highlander Pub, which was more than a pleasant alternative with its tasty pub grub in a British-themed setting.
I also thoroughly enjoyed a couple of meals at the Links Coastal Inn, where a broad range of local-themed dishes are offered at the à la carte restaurant, while the My Pond hotel’s Lily restaurant offered an excellent experience of fine dining.
However, for a true taste of Port Alfred, I popped into the ski boat club on the banks of the Kowie River, where a bargain deal on fresh fish and chips is offered each Friday.
And once I’d ventured outside the town, I soon discovered that there are several places worth visiting not far from Port Alfred, such as the little villages of Bushmans River and Bathurst.
But my favourite must be the beautiful seaside town of Kenton on Sea – known as the “Jewel of the Sunshine Coast”.
And despite the fact that the Sunshine Coast has not quite lived up to its name in recent months, Port Alfred still shines through as an must-see on any trip to the Eastern Cape. - Saturday Star