This beautiful coastal town is situated on the banks of the Umzimvubu River among spectacular, densely forested cliffs. It is commonly believed that the town was named after the Portuguese vessel, “Sao Joao” which ran aground at the mouth of the Umtamvuna River, about 80 km further north, in June 1552. It was thought that the river was the Umzimvubu and the ship’s name was applied to the area Of the 540 people on board 440 survived and reached the shore, only to face the daunting task of walking 700 km to Lourenco Marques (Maputo). The first Europeans settled here in 1846 and, although very remote, it was the ideal location for a trading post. The British maintained a garrison here for many years. The town has retained much of its isolated character, but one wonders for how long. There has recently been an invasion of very different kind – several local and foreign film producers have discovered it and use it as location to shoot their films.
Adventure And Sport
Fishing: Deep-sea angling, rock-angling and shore-angling are excellent here.
Canoeing and boating: According to canoeing enthusiasts, a trip on the Umzimvubu River is a singular experience. The river is navigable for 10km, a fact that boating enthusiasts need to keep in mind.
Hiking: There are numerous walks and hikes through the beautiful forests and hills or along the beach. Try the pleasant walk to the Cape Hermes Lighthouse at the southern end of the estuary. Hiking trails in the Silaka Nature Reserve lead through evergreen forests, affording close views of mosses, orchids, lilies and lichens, birds and game.
Water sport: Swimming is best indulged in at First Beach. The stretch of sea along Second Beach is known for its many sharks.
Wild Coast Horse and Hiking Trail: This part of the trail, the Pondoland Trail, takes visitors to some of the most spectacular but previously inaccessible sections of the Wild Coast. Overnight stays in remote but visitor-friendly rural villages offer the opportunity to get to know the local communities and their culture. Tours include multi-day horse- and hiking expeditions along this 110-km stretch of the spectacular northern Pondoland coast. Entry and exit pointsare located at Port St Johns, Msikaba and Mbotyi.
Art And Crafts
Oliver Tambo Craft and Marketing Service Centre: Visit the centre for an unbelievable variety of art and crafts produced by the local inhabitants. Items on sale include handcrafted leatherwork, pottery, basketry, shell art, beadwork, furniture and much more. Crafters use “ugonothi” and “imbo”, bamboo-like reeds that grow along the Wild Coast, to weave their baskets and to make furniture.
Fauna And Flora
Silaka Nature Reserve: This beautiful coastal reserve, situated south of Port St Johns, lies in a forested valley facing the sea. A small, sandy beach is located below the rest camp with its thatched bungalows. The reserve, a nesting area for many species of birds, affords visitors a chance to view such elusive bird species as the cinnamon dove, the Knysna lourie, the grey cuckoo as well as the red-billed wood hoopoe, chorister robin and forest weaver. Zebra, blue wildebeest and blesbok have also been introduced into the reserve and if you are very, very lucky, you may just spot the shy blue duiker.
History And Architecture
Grosvenor Cannon: This cannon originally formed part of the armament of the “Grosvenor”, one of the many ships that have been wrecked on the coast near the town.
Huberta the Hippopotamus: One of Port St John’s most endearing visitors was Huberta the wandering hippopotamus, the first to be seen in this area for more than 100 years. Huberta started her wanderings at Richards Bay in KwaZulu-Natal in 1928, arrived at Port St Johns in March 1930, stayed for six months and steadily ate her way through the local gardens and then moved on. Everyone in the area was sad to see her leave and even sadder when she was killed by hunters several hundred kilometres further south, on the Keiskamma River. Today, Huberta occupies pride of place in the Amatola Museum (Kaffrarian Museum) in King William’s Town.
Port St Johns Museum: The museum’s main focus is on the cultural history of the area although it also has interesting displays of fauna and molluscs. Another interesting exhibit is a collection of beaded Xhosa “love letters.” This traditional craft was used to compose many ardent love letters at a time when there was no written Xhosa language. The museum houses a selection of “love letters”, as well as several other items dealing with Xhosa culture. Town Hall: The stately Town Hall is adorned with a ship’s bell, reputedly gambled away by the captain of the “Clan Gordon”.
Blow Hole and the Gap: North of Second Beach lies the Gap, a deep gully that has almost detached the headland from a rocky outcrop. To reach the Blow Hole, where the incoming tide sends plumes of spray into the air, you need to climb down the cliff with the help of a cable and wooden ladder.
Isinuka mineral spring: Visit Isinuka, 5 km out of town, for a relaxing soak in a warm mineral spring.