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Port St Johns is set on the estuary banks of a mighty river, the Umzimvubu and towered over by majestic cliffs.  The river floods when there is high rainfall up country and over the centuries has carved a spectacular gorge. The sea facing sides of these magnificent cliffs are known as “The Gates”.  The iconic call of the wild can often be heard overhead… that of the fish eagle. This friendly, rustic little place has the slight feel of a frontier town. Forget fancy shops and malls, as things are more simple here.

It has an interesting history and an early zinc house can still be seen. The little museum is worth visiting on the market square. In the past, small ships were able to come up to the town jetty but constant silting from floods has now made the river navigable only by ski boats and flat bottomed barges.

The beach at Second Beach was one of the best swimming beaches in the country but since the nineties has been known as a place for a sure shark attack, so, sadly, no swimming there please. It remains beautiful but wear shoes to walk along it as poor local planning allows a bottle store to be run at the top of the beach, so glass on the beach may be a problem. This town has always attracted interesting people. Join a local raconteur and acclaimed photographer, John Costello, to hear tales that will fascinate you, listen to current anecdotes and he will bring the history of this town alive. There are some good eateries.

It is in a beautiful setting and there is lots to explore :

Lovely walks abound including walking along Agate Terrace, (named after semi precious stones were found on the beach, possibly from a ship wrecked many moons ago), across the estuary from the town, take a long hike to Punskop from Agate Terrace, arrange a lift back first, or explore Third Beach. A particularly nice hike is from Port St Johns, southwards to the lovely Umngazi River Hotel and Spa. You will need to arrange for transport back! The hiking is great and the bird life on some of the routes, is simply fantastic. Pondo Adventures will guide you on a hike to interesting bat caves or to sample local village hospitality. For those who like hiking up for a view, go to Eagle’s Nest but be careful of path wash-a-ways. An easy walk is from First Beach to the Light House.

Take a barge ride up river on “Bobalong”. There is also a fun sunset cruise.

Put in some relaxed exercise with Pondo Adventures and explore the river from a single or 2 man kayak.

Do an exhilarating sea launch at First Beach to go deep sea fishing or shark diving with Offshore Africa.

Get beautified Pondo style. Visit the limestone and sulphur pool and cover yourself in the clay believed to have healing properties and to add allure.

Watch the sun go down with a glass of wine from the stunning view point at the airfield.

Have a game of golf at the challenging 9 hole course.

With some rare birds having been seen, and a huge checklist, given coastal rocks, riverine forest, coastal forest and cliff habitats. This is a birders’ paradise. Sadly, ignorance and superstition have impacted and some species have been decimated or destroyed.

This is a haven for biking with rough mountain and road biking choices galore.

Watch as a visitor on a boat or dive… however you see it do not miss the Sardine Run. This is one of the planets greatest wildlife shows. Talk to Offshore Africa.

Fish to your heart’s content. Port St Johns is a fisherman’s paradise with river, dam and sea fishing options. There is fly fishing, rock angling, river and surf fishing and deep sea fishing with experts, Offshore Africa. Some really big chaps, marine ones, have been caught and your host at whatever accommodation, will guide you. Make sure you have permits and that what you are fishing for is allowed at that time of year, and… please, release what your family aren’t going to eat.

For more information on Port St Johns, and in particular the birds commonly and less commonly seen of the 300 species listed, grab a copy of  Port St Johns, Your destination of choice from Tourist Information in the town or from one of the authors, Elsa, at the Umzimvubu Retreat.

Photographs by residents: John Costello and the town shots plus moss covered rocks are by Paul Kimble.