A rare gem, Port St Johns is the unofficial capital of the Wild Coast!
When you enter Port St Johns from Mthatha, past the turnoff to the Wild Coast Meander at Tombo, downhill through a windy R61, past the turnoff to the four star Umngazi River Bungalows and Spa Resort, voted a top 10 hotel by Tripadvisor recently, driving through lush indigenous forests to the great Mzimvubu River, through the spectacular gap formed by Mount Thesiger and Mount Sullivan, you are ready to meet the sublime, but are shocked back to reality when entering the CBD, with its taxis, people, informal business, noise, all mixed up and chaotic like most Transkei towns.
But, as blogger Passthemap, said” this unofficial capital of the Wild Coast has a charm, authenticity and magnetism of its own, and if you look beyond the imperfections, slow down, and find its rhythm , before you know it, Port St Johns is under your skin”
Once you book into one of the many superb B&Bs on the banks of the Umzimvubu River, and in the town of Port St Johns, which overlooks the river and the ocean, you can start to relax and explore.
The tourism product of Port St Johns is all about nature , the landscape and the ocean.
Port St Johns is situated within the Pondoland Centre of Endemism where more than 2 000 unique and endemic plant species are found in subtropical thicket, bushveld and grassland that make up this hotspot which is the second richest floristic region in Southern Africa (only after the Cape Floristic Region).
The way you can experience this is through many hiking trails in the area, such as the six-day hiking trail from Port St Johns to Coffee Bay along the coast, hikes within the Silaka Nature Reserve situated adjacent to the town, hiking up Mount Thesiger and Mount Sullivan, hiking to Mngazana River Estuary, the third-largest mangrove forest in South Africa, and continue on a canoe trail on the river with local guides, the Sugar Loaf hike from Umngazi, a walk from town to the Cape Hermes Lighthouse , built in 1904, from where you can get spectacular views of Port St Johns and the ocean.
On these hikes you are likely to view some of the 300 bird species that occur in the area, including the Half Collared and Mangrove Kingfishers, the Longtailed Wagtail, Thickbilled Weaver, Yellowthroated Longclaw and the Knysna Tucaro as well as animals such as baboons, samango monkeys, bushbuck, puti, duiker and the Tree Hyrax. If you are a botany enthusiast, you will recognise clivias, agapanthus, amaryllis and the Port St Johns lily.
The surrounding ocean is home to five marine bioregions, which are protected within the Pondoland Marine Protected Area.
It is here, for four weeks sometime between the months of May and July, where one of the most spectacular migrations, on par with the Great Wildebeest Migration, occurs. This is the Sardine Run.
Billions of sardines ( Southern African Pilchard) spawn in the cool waters of the Agulhas Bank and move northwards along the east coast, when a current of cold water heads north in shoals of 2km in length, 1,5km wide and 30 metres deep, chased by thousands of dolphins , sharks, whales, game fish, birds, penguins and seals who gorge themselves with this bounty.
This is when 400 visitors from all over South Africa and the World brought by 27 ocean experience tour operators descend on the town to view this spectacle and even to dive down into it.
A local tour operator, Offshore Africa, will take you to view the Sardine Run, and during the rest of the year can take you to watch whales and dolphins, or for photographic excursions to Waterfall Bluff, a 93m high waterfall , one of only a few in the world that plunges directly into the ocean. They can also take you on a river excursion on the Mzimvubu River.
You can also enjoy the bounty of the Mzimvubu River and the ocean by fishing it. Species such as Grunter, Shad, Skipjack, Kingfish, Garrick and Cob are plentiful.