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Cruising Along the Eastern Cape’s Route 72

There’s a beautiful stretch of coastline in the Eastern Cape, about halfway between Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth) and East London. Sometimes referred to as “the Sunshine Coast”, this area stretches along Route 72 and includes several small and medium-sized beach towns like Port Alfred and Kenton-on-Sea.

A beautiful beach in Port Alfred
A beautiful (and characteristically empty) beach in Port Alfred.

Well north of the Garden Route but well south of the Wild Coast, the Route 72 region seems to get overlooked in South African tourism literature. After ten years of traveling and writing about South Africa, I had barely heard of it myself. But while planning my visit to Bathurst, which is just inland from Route 72, I was introduced to a group promoting tourism in the area. Thorsten and I got the chance to spend a couple of days there during our Blogitect Road Trip and it turned out to be one of the best parts of the trip.

We spent two nights in Port Alfred and one night in Kenton-on-Sea, with a quick stop at the tiny farm village of Kasouga in between.

Three Days on Route 72: Port Alfred

Our first stop was the Beach House, a beachfront guesthouse run by Isabeau, our fabulous Port Alfred host.

The Beach House Port Alfred
The Beach House.
Room at the Beach House in Port Alfred
Our room, which looked right out onto the dunes.
Sunrise in Port Alfred
Sunrise from our Beach House balcony.

It had been a year and a half since I’d seen the ocean. It was cloudy and a little bit cold when we first arrived, but walking out onto those dunes felt like literal heaven to me. I wanted to throw myself down onto the sand and cry for joy. Instead I took pictures.

The lovely little beach across the road from the Beach House. Seashell tower by Thorsten.

Early the next morning Isabeau drove us about 20 minutes north of Port Alfred to the mouth of the Riet River, where we did the “Three Sisters” walk. Thorsten and I agree this was one of the best beach walks of our lives. If you’re on Route 72 and have time for only one activity, I recommend the Three Sisters walk.

Setting out from the Riet River mouth. The little dog, who we called Rita, lives in one of the houses at the river mouth and wears a tag that reads, “Please leave me in Riet River.” Rita loves to run on the beach and accompanied us on our entire six-kilometer hike.
Rita of Riet River
Riet River beach
This beach was so wild and peaceful and beautiful. Note the size of the beach changes according to the tides; consult a local about the best times to visit.
Three Sisters walk
Walking around one of the Three Sisters
One of the three “sisters” — the big, cliff-like rocks jutting out into the ocean that we circled during our walk. We were able to walk around the front of this rock because it was low tide. (Look carefully and you’ll see a glimpse of little Rita trotting ahead of Isabeau.)
Beautiful beach along Route 72 outside Port Alfred
Another sister.
Heather on the Three Sisters walk
Me looking super happy and also slightly terrified that a giant wave is going to crash on top of me. (Photo: Thorsten Deckler)
Thorsten climbing the Three Sisters
Thorsten climbs a sister.
View of Riet River mouth
So beautiful I could hardly stand it.

After the Three Sisters walk we went to Nature View Farm, right on Route 72, which I also loved. The farm, owned by Piet and Doffy van der Byl, has a charming farm stall selling a wide variety of pineapple jams, relishes, and other spreads, as well as pineapple juice that Piet and Doffy squeeze by hand. (This is pineapple country, as you may remember.) The van der Byls also sell delectable homemade scones, which we we devoured right out of the oven with cream and jam slathered on top.

Nature View Farm Stall along Route 72
The farm stall.
Pineapple juice from Nature View Farm
I can’t overstate how good this pineapple juice tasted after a long walk on the beach.
Looking down on the Kap River from Nature View.

Nature View also has a canoe trail: You hike down an embankment to the river’s edge, where you can borrow one of the canoes and go out for a paddle. Our canoe expedition only lasted about ten minutes because it started to rain and also because I am a terrible canoeist. But I enjoyed the experience nonetheless.

We did several other cool things in and around Port Alfred. Shout-out to Guido’s, a Port Alfred pizza joint with a fantastic view of West Beach, Adele’s Mohair, a beautiful mohair workshop on Route 72 between Port Alfred and Hamburg, and especially to Isabeau herself. Isabeau is a wonderful person who knows everything about Port Alfred and I can’t recommend staying at her guesthouse enough.

A Quick Stop in Kasouga

On our way to Kenton-on-Sea we stopped off at Oribi Haven in Kasouga, where we spent the morning collecting and eating mussels straight from the ocean.

Walking on the beach near Oribi Haven
Walking on another beautiful beach near Oribi Haven.
Walking out into the ocean near Oribi Haven
Full disclosure: I, myself, did not wade into the ocean to collect mussels. I stayed on shore and took photos while Thorsten bravely plunged into the chilly water on my behalf.
Mussel collection
This rock is covered in mussels; the collectors pried them off and cleaned them before carrying them back to shore.

After collecting the mussels, we climbed back up the cliff to a deck overlooking the beach. Jenny from Oribi Haven cooked the mussels in a big pot over a fire, and made braaibroodjies (South African grilled sandwiches, also cooked over a fire) for us to munch on the side.

Mussels from Oribi Havem
Route 72 mussels — yum.

One Night in Kenton-on-Sea

Our stay in Kenton-on-Sea, another tiny beach town with a romantic-sounding name, was also very short. We arrived at lunch-time and left the next morning after breakfast. But we spent a lovely evening at the quirky Woodlands Cottages and Backpackers, a collection of log cabins near the mouth of the Boesmans River. (There are so many rivers on Route 72.)

Woodlands in Kenton-on-Sea
Cabin at Woodlands in Kenton-on-Sea
Our quaint cabin.
Inside the cabin at Woodlands
Inside our quaint cabin.

Highlights of our stay in Kenton included a late afternoon boat ride down the river with Allen — who owns Woodlands with his wife, Gail — and dinner at the Goatshed (Woodlands’ outdoor restaurant) on “Fresh Fish Friday”.

Boesmans River in Kenton
Out on the river. I never tired of gazing at the beautiful euphorbia trees (you can see them on the right riverbank), which grow along all the rivers around Route 72.
Allen and Thorsten on the river
Allen and Thorsten on the boat.
Fish at the Goatshed
Fresh fish at the Goatshed.

Route 72 is such a pleasant, laid-back part of South Africa — it was the perfect antidote to a year of lockdown. If you’re yearning to relax and get away from the drudgery of pandemic life in the city for a bit (and who isn’t?), there is no better place to do so than Route 72. A new Route 72 website will be coming out soon, but in the meantime you can follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

Thanks so much to Jenny, Allen, Isabeau, and everyone else who helped host the Blogitects on Route 72. Our accommodation and food were complimentary. Opinions expressed are mine.