Without doubt it was the walking stretch along the tiny section of coastline of Kenton, sandwiched between two river mouths, that lingered in our souls when we returned from holiday to the urban grind. The path (depending on the tide) led us into dune forest and dipped back on to beach sand and sheer, rocky outlooks, allowing remarkable views across the river mouths to Kasouga in the north and Diaz Cross in the south. A passing school of dolphins made life complete.
Kenton is conveniently close to Port Alfred, on the Sunshine Coast, about a 90-minute drive from Port Elizabeth and only 30 minutes’ drive from Grahamstown, a town known for its youthful energy because of its many educational institutions. It is also surprisingly close to game viewing facilities, the attractions of the Karoo and is just south of the Wild Coast.
The rugged stretch of beach and sleepy village life are remarkably accessible on foot. Joggers and walkers take advantage of the cool weather to exercise on the undulating town roads in the early morning and children ride their bikes in safety.
On the northern side of the beach, the coast levels out to provide pristine swimming conditions and a newly-proclaimed Blue Flag beach, one of only 27 in the country.
The wide, flat beach of coarse white sand ensures a safe environment for those who love the waves. Lifeguards are on duty throughout the season, dogs are not allowed on the beach and the area is cleaned meticulously every morning to rid the parking lot and beach of party debris – particularly glass.
It is often said of Kenton that there is always somewhere you can go to escape the wind (which can howl in from any given direction – usually around midday).
Aside from the lovely main beach, a host of smaller, sheltered coves are ideal for smaller children. The dramatic arch rock formation of Carriage Cove and secret bays, like Shelley beach, provide an escape from the usually overworked beaches of the South African coastline.
Middle beach and the lagoon near Main (Kariega) beach are favoured for their still, shallow waters. And families can also escape the east wind by trekking across the dunes at the Bushman’s River mouth and setting up camp between the rocky outcrops.
The conditions are also ideal for kite-surfing and at Bushman’s mouth, where the low tide offers a vast expanse of shallow water, windsurfing, volleyball and beach cricket abound. This is also a great place for sundowners where sparkling pink skies can be drunk in across the wide water, above the boats which put in at the Bushmans Marina: a mini-Monte Carlo as my mother-in-law would say.
If water isn’t your thing, put the family in the car and take a “poor-man’s” game drive alongside the fenced areas of the big-five game farms on the Grahamstown road or visit Bathurst for a pizza or pottery.
The Woody Cape section of the Addo National Park also offers a hiking trail (overnight or day) – a few kilometres from the turn-off at Alexandria.
Mountain bikers tend to take the road to Grahamstown, but there are a few other off-road sections that can be explored: toward Port Alfred, take the Southwell turn and head inland; or over the Bushman’s river, take a right past the Red Apple shops and head into farmland above Riversbend.
In the past, Kenton remained under the radar in comparison to many larger holiday destinations. Despite the predominantly retired resident population, the town has become increasingly popular with families looking to buy a second house and renovate it as a holiday home.
The seaside village is situated between two well-developed rivers so the threat of over-development has been stayed to some extent. With no large cluster developments or high rise accommodation,Kenton is a friendly collection of homes (many renovated) nestled among the dunes and elevations between the Bushman’s and Kariega rivers.
Both the rivers are navigable. Bushman’s meanders between euphorbia forest for about 22km and Kariega, due to its winding nature, is ideal for water-skiing. Along each of these, one can stop for refreshments in season.
Fishing on these rivers is also superb, especially on the Bushman’s bank where a newly-paved walking path makes finding a quiet jetty easy.
You can expect to catch leerfish, mullet, cob and grunter in abundance as the river is currently very healthy. Fishing and boat licences can be obtained at the Post Office next to the Town Hall.
One has to eat and, even if you have a perfectly good kitchen in your rented place or holiday home, getting out is always a treat. A handful of coffee shops offer delicate, casual fare as the demand out of season makes their survival difficult. The waffles at Choices café come highly recommended by my daughters.
Homewoods on the main beach is a fantastic spot to have a drink after sitting on the beach all day, or for a drop-in lunch. The view across the Kariega river is unrivalled and the kids can play in the sand while you sip a beer on wooden chairs.
During the festive season, a temporary eatery is erected in the parking lot at Middle beach. In the past, this catered to the younger, just-out-of-school crowds, but Winkies is now more family friendly, offering food and theme evenings. DJs take over from about 10pm.
We ordered a plate of oysters to complement our sundowners on Middle beach one lovely evening and were presented with them on ice, in a champagne cooler along with all the bells and whistles.
But if you want to spoil yourself with a wonderful seafood dinner, head for Stanleys on the Salem/Grahamstown road. Here Dot and Stanley provide a casual vibe that overlooks the Kariega, the elevation providing wild views toward the mouth. The calamari is often sold out so get there early – seafood platters offer a taste of everything and the wine list is reasonable.
Local produce not to be missed includes the sweet pineapples from the Bathurst area, Bushman’s river mud pies and a peri-peri sauce my friend Caroline swears by.
l To rent property or book one of the BBs: www.kentontourism.co.za or call 046 648 2411.
l Many of the Eastern Cape roads (and Free State routes) are currently undergoing construction so check the AA website for details of stop-and-go’s.
The coastal road from PE is in great condition.
l You can fly to PE (1.5hr drive) or East London (2hr drive) for quicker access.
l The National Arts festival is on between June 29 and July 9 this year – and Grahamstown is just half an hour away, so Kenton is an alternative for accommodation over this period. – Saturday Star