What is the Sacramento cannon aiming at?

The name Sacramento is synonymous with Schoenmakerskop. There is the Sacramento Trail, the Sacramento cannon and the Sacramento Restaurant. But what is the Sacramento. She was a Portuguese galleon that aground just off Schoenmakerskop outside Port Elizabeth on 30 June 1647 in foul weather. By the time she hit the rocky coastline, she had a badly damaged rudder and her sails were in tatters. 72 of the crew made it ashore and set off towards Lourenco Marques (now Maputo), 1400km away.

The Sacramento was heavily loaded with a cargo of bronze cannons cast in Macao and destined for Portugal. The cannon lay undisturbed on the ocean bed for 330 years until 40 of them were salvaged in 1977.

One of the original Sacramento guns stand at the west side of Schoenmakerskop pointing in the direction of where she met her fate.

Wild Coast lighthouses – Cape Morgan Lighthouse

The Wild Coast isn’t called the Wild Coast for nothing.  It may be paradise but it can get rough out there if it wants.  So with that in mind, it’s nogal strange that there are only three lighthouses (some websites say four but I’m not sure which the 4th one is) along this whole piece of coastline, Cape Morgan in the South, M’bashe roughly in the middle and Cape Hermes at Port St Johns in the North.  Out of the three only Cape Hermes is what I would call a traditional lighthouse. One built of brick and mortar.  The other two are both lights sitting on top of lattice steel towers.  Crossing back over the Kei Pont from Trennery’s Hotel recently I decided to make a quick detour and have a look at the Cape Morgan Lighthouse.
A roughly three-kilometer drive along a narrow dirt road took me up to the 12-meter high Cape Morgan Lighthouse built in 1964.  The light is located in the Cape Morgan Nature Reserve and emits two white flashes every 10 seconds with a range of 24 sea miles.

The reserve saw Titanium mining take place here in the 1950’s and if you follow the path down to the coast from the lighthouse you will see the remains of the mine’s old seawater pump station.  The 4-day / 3-night Strandloper Trail also starts at the new Eco Centre in the reserve and covers a distance of 57 kilometers to Gonubie in East London.

Driving away I was happy to tick off another light on my list of South African lighthouses.  We seem to take them for granted seeing them along the coastline yet don’t always realise how important a role they have played over the years and still do. Flash on.

I finally got to visit Hole in the Wall

One of my absolute travel highlights during 2017 is the fact that I finally got to visit the Hole in the Wall near Coffee Bay on the Wild Coast.  It was somewhat of an embarrassment to be somebody promoting and marketing the Eastern Cape but having to say that I have never been there. It’s not the closest destination to where I live in Port Elizabeth though so it’s not like I could just pop up to go and see it.  About two years ago I was in Coffee Bay en route to Durban and wanted to go, but circumstances led to me not being able to.  It means that this time around there was no way I was going to miss it again. Non at all.
Coffee Bay is a good 6 1/2 hour drive from Port Elizabeth and knowing that I left PE early to give myself enough time to see one of South Africa’s iconic geological attractions.  After checking in at the hotel in Coffee Bay and declining the invitation of gin and tonics from a few travel colleagues who had arrived already, I headed the 8 km or so down the coast towards Hole in the Wall.  There are two options to view “the wall”.  One from the hill above and the second from the rocky beach.  I opted for the former first and followed the track up the hill.  What a sight! 
After taking in as much from the viewpoint as I could I headed down to the bottom.  Rather than leaving my car at the normal parking spot and allowing myself to be harassed by the “informal guides”, I wangled my way into the grounds of the Hole in the Wall Hotel and after a chat to the GM made my way out the gate and along the path to find myself face to face with this Wild Coast icon.  I literally felt like I could spend all day here and if I had brought a towel and lunch I may well have done just that.  Finally I can tick one of the big things off my South African travel bucket list. 

Things to do in Port Elizabeth this summer – Grab a backpack and take a hike

There is an Afrikaans folk song that goes, Dis heerlike Lente, die Winter’s verby… (It’s time for Spring now that Winter has passed – doesn’t quite roll off the tongue the same in English though) which means Summer is fast approaching.  Longer days, better weather and spending more time outdoors over weekends.  Plus the holiday season is coming up quicker than my sausage dogs when I open the fridge.  With an eye on said better weather and upcoming holiday season, I was invited to participate in the “Things to do in Port Elizabeth this Summer” Blogathon.  There really is a lot to do in and around Port Elizabeth – Port Elizabeth Daily Photo is evidence of that – and rather than writing a blog post featuring all the usual suspects of Addo Elephant National Park, Route 67 and the Donkin Reserve, SAMREC, Kragga Kamma Game Park, The Boardwalk, Bayworld, restaurants in Richmond Hill, history, township tours and more, I decided to focus on my nine favorite nature trails (in no real particular order) around the Bay.  Yes you read correct, 9 trails, because I like to walk.  The ideal outdoor activity for the upcoming summer. And it’s normally free or just about.

Before I start though, remember to always take out what you take in, only leave footprints behind, don’t forget a hat and sunscreen, make sure somebody knows where you are walking (in case you get lost and don’t return when you were supposed to) and always keep in mind that it is safer and recommended to walk in groups. So here we go. 

1 – The Humpback Dolphin Trail – Beachfront Boardwalk

Port Elizabeth must have one of the best city beach fronts in South Africa.  It is clean, beautiful, not over developed and a pleasure to explore on foot.  The walkway along the beachfront stretches all the way from the Kings Beach parking area to the lollipop beacon taking in sites like McArthur Pool, Bayworld, Humewood Beach with the old slipway, Shark Rock Pier, The Boardwalk and all the surf sites.  It’s nothing strange to take an early morning stroll or jog along the beachfront and see a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins swim by.  Port Elizabeth and Algoa Bay is the Bottlenose Dolphin Capital of the World after all.  Beyond the beacon the boardwalk leaves the main beachfront behind and follows the coastline towards Cape Recife.  Very few people actually know that this section is called the Humpback Dolphin Trail and gives you some of the best uninterrupted views of Algoa Bay the city has to offer.  
Good for a nice easy early morning walk or jog or late afternoon with a ice cream in hand     

2 – Sacramento Trail

If Port Elizabeth’s hiking trails had to choose a head boy then the Sacramento Trail would probably have been it.  The popular kid, a good all rounder, sporty, slightly academic and not bad looking to boot.  The Sacramento Trail is an 8 km return hike from Schoenmakerskop to Sardinia Bay and back.  Probably PE’s favorite trail, the Sacramento offers some of the best coastal views around and is also a photographer and any nature lover’s dream.  Rugged coastline, sandy beaches, hidden coves, fynbos, wetlands, flowers and as an added extra, Khoi middens hidden among the dunes.  And have I mentioned the awesome views? 

One of the great things about the Sacramento Trail, named after a Portuguese ship that sank here in 1647, is that even though it is an out and back trail, you can walk out along the coast and back along the top of the vegetated dunes (adding to those great views) on the bridle paths.  Spot is also welcome to tag along as long as you keep him on his leash.
The best time to do the trail is early morning followed by breakfast at the Sacramento Restaurant. The start of the trail is also a great spot to enjoy sunset from. 

Sacramento Trail map 

3 – Coastal Fynbos Trail

Very few people realise that Schoenmakerskop is also home to a second great trail.  The Coastal Fynbos Trail starts to the east of the village at Sappershoek and is located on the land side of Marine Drive.  Because of the bad soil quality, slightly lower rainfall, underlying rock and salty winds the vegetation along most of the trail consist of… you guessed it, fynbos.  Fynbos, also known as the Cape Floral Kingdom, consist of over 9 000 species of plants and the Coastal Fynbos Trail is particular attractive in spring when a lot of these are flowering.  The full circular trail covers about 7 km although there is an shorter 4 km option available if you’re still only a “middle distance” walker.
Not quite the Sacramento Trail but a very good alternative if you have done the former before and looking for something different in the area  

Coastal Fynbos Trail map

4 – Cape Recife Nature Reserve – Roseate Tern Trail

The 9 km Roseate Tern Trail through the Cape Recife Nature Reserve is probably the most diverse of all the trails around Port Elizabeth.  It offers a mix of coastline where you can see see the remains of shipwrecks on the reefs, reclamation ponds full of water birds, vegetated sand dunes giving some shelter from the sun, the remains of a World War II observation station and barracks, the historic Cape Recife Lighthouse (built in 1851), various marine birds along the coast, an unofficial nudist beach and SAMREC.  The South African Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre plays an integral part in the conservation effort to save the endangered African Penguin and is the ideal spot to start and end your walk at.  The centre also has a coffee shop where you can refill your tank before heading off to your next activity for the day but hopefully not before taking a tour to learn more about our tuxedo’d feathered friends. 

Make sure you don’t forget your binocs and bird book in the car as the variety of birds along this trail is amazing.

Roseate Tern Trail map

5 – NMMU Nature Reserve – Grysbok Trail

I’m sure that as soon as this post hits the interwebs and goes viral you will start to see some comments between all the positive ones on Facebook going something like, “… blah blah unsafe…”, “…waffle waffle dangerous fishcake…”, “…troll troll take your life into your hands…”, “…muffle puffle I live behind bars and have no life and how dare you go out and enjoy yours…”.  For all those doom prophets and anybody else looking for a totally safe and secure environment to go and walk in, I have the perfect option for you.  The 830 ha NMMU Nature Reserve is fully enclosed with only access from on campus.  The Grysbok Trail offers two easy flat loops of about 2,5 km and 3,5 km or a combination of the two through coastal thicket and fynbos with the opportunity to see some game along the way.
Try out the GPS treasure hunt game of Geocaching.  The trail has about 35 caches hidden along the way.  Or just keep an eye out for some donkeys in pajamas. 

6 – Baakens Valley – Lower Guinea Fowl Trail

The Baakens Valley isn’t just an excellent hiking area, it has also become very popular with trail runners and mountain bikers.  The Baakens Valley truly is Port Elizabeth’s natural urban gem and really deserves more people venturing onto the Lower Guinea Fowl Trail, one of the best trails around.  Although you are at times barely a hundred meters from the nearest house it feels like you are miles away in the middle of nature with the river on one side, wind in your face, wild flowers in bloom all around, guinea fowl calling in the bush nearby and the rush of city life slowly flowing out of you. The one thing that really counts against it is that it is a 7,5 km one way trail between the 3rd Avenue Dip in Glen Hurd and Settlers Park, so make sure your transport is sorted and waiting for you when you finish walking.
There are a number of entrance / exit points along the way with shorter loops one can take around Walmer, Dodds Farm and Wellington Park if you just want to go for a quick stroll.
7 – The Island Nature Reserve – Bushbuck Trail

Hiking along the Bushbuck Trail one would be excused if you suddenly started thinking that you are on the Garden Route somewhere.  The vegetation on the western side of Port Elizabeth is very different from the south and east and consist of Alexandria coastal forest boasting indigenous tree species like Outeniqua Yellowwood, White and Hard Pear and White Milkwood.  It really is the ideal place if you need to plug your soul into the forest socket every now and then for a recharge. You also don’t need to be a hard core hiker to venture onto the Bushbuck Trail with five distance options catering for everybody from the family strollers (900 m), gentle walkers (5 km), long distance guys (7,5 km) and the ultra day hikers (a full 16 km combining all the trails).  If you phone in advance and ask very nicely, one of the ECPTA rangers may just be able to accompany you on your hike as well. 

The Island has some really neat and well maintained picnic and braai spots where the non-hikers in the group can hang around while you are out enjoying nature.

8 – Van Stadens Wildflower Reserve

The Van Stadens Wildflower Reserve truly is a hikers paradise.  The 500 h reserve can be found about 35 km west of Port Elizabeth and probably is the best place around to go and see Proteas in the wild.  The nice bit about it is that there are different flowers blooming just about all through the year so there is always something to see.  Van Stadens also caters for one and all when it comes to the variety of trails with easy short walks through the fynbos, past the dams or to the Arboretum and bird hide on the plateau or longer walks along the Forest and River trails that lead down into the gorge.  Some of the trails and picnic spots also have great views of the magnificent Van Stadens arch bridge. 
If you don’t enjoy walking don’t stay away.  Most of the plateau area of the reserve is accessible by car so just pack a picnic basket and go throw open a blanket at one of the view points or picnic areas.

9 – Sleepy Hollow

When I first heard the name Sleepy Hollow, images of the Headless Horseman waiting for me down a dusky forest path immediately jumped to mind.  I’ve been several times over the last few years and have yet to see any ghostly horses or pumpkins being flung my way.  Sleepy Hollow, located a few kilometers off the Blue Horizon Bay road in the Maitland River valley, is magical though and the only trail out of my list that is on private land.  The trails are fairly short but it’s quite easy to get yourself lost (not literally but rather figuratively) exploring the old abandoned mine tunnels, swimming in river pools, rock hopping up to the waterfall, watching the Knysna Loeries and foofie sliding into the Sleepy Hollow swemgat surrounded by cliffs and forest.
Take a tent or hire one of their caravans and spend the weekend at the campsite
That, I know, was a mouthful and like any good infomercial I can say, “But it’s not all…”  There are a number of other nature trails I haven’t even mentioned.  The Maitland Nature Reserve Trail, Aloe Trail, Flamingo Trail, Lady Slipper, Groendal, Van der Kemps Kloof and others.  Add to that the heritage trails of Route 67, the Donkin Heritage Trail and the South End Heritage Trail and there is no reason for you not to want to strap on your boots, grab a backpack, fill your water bottle and pack a few sarmies.  What are you still waiting for?  

Disclosure – This blog post is part of the #SharetheBay Port Elizzabeth #Blogathon 2016 campaign in collaboration with Cheap FlightsNelson Mandela Bay Tourism and Travel Concept Solution.  I keep full editorial control over the post because nobody’s going to tell me what I like and not.

Below are the posts of the other eight bloggers that took part in the #Blogathon

Beaches around Kob Inn on the Wild Coast

The Wild Coast is famous for it’s magnificent coastline which can be explored in various ways ranging from hotel to hotel slack packing, spending time with locals or while staying at one of the excellent family hotels along the coast.  I spent a night at Kob Inn at the Qora River mouth and got to have a quick look around the coastline bordering the hotel.  I can just imagine spending a few days there in summer exploring these beaches.   

Qora River mouth

The beach between Qora River and the hotel

Enjoying the view

The coastline on the other side of the hotel.  I didn’t really get a good photo of the beach in the cove on this side, but it’s even better than the one on the other side.

Driving the Woody Cape dirt road between Kenton and Alexandria

I have always just driven the R72 between Alexandria and Kenton-on-Sea and have only just seen the coastline and Alexandria dune field from the air on the occasion that the plane did fly this way en-route to or from PE airport.  I have also always just heard how beautiful the drive along the loop past Woody Cape is and during a weekend in Kenton-on-Sea decided that it was time to go and see it for myself.  

We turned off the R72 just outside of Kenton-on-Sea and headed down towards Cannon Rocks before another turn to the right onto the dirt road just before town.  My biggest concern was the condition of the dirt road but my mind was quickly at ease and the Polo only had to negotiate two or three slightly rough spots on an otherwise excellent gravel road. The highlight of the drive is definitely the stretch where you see the Alexandria dune field stretched out along the coast in front of you (and thus the reason why I would say the best direction to do this is from east to west).  To the left and out to sea you can also see Bird Island with it’s very distinctive lighthouse, something not visible from Port Elizabeth.

The general scenery along the road is made up of rolling green hills, sea scapes and dairy cattle.   It isn’t often that you get to see dairy cows grazing with the ocean in the background.  I’m sure if somebody had to be blindfolded and dropped here from space, they could easily guess that they are in Ireland somewhere.  

The Alexandria dune field forms part of the Addo Elephant National Park and just after the view of the dunes the road swing inland and you get to drive through a small section of coastal forest located inside the park.  A few kilometers later the road delivers you back on the tar road just outside Alexandria and we were on our way back home.

Taking the Woody Cape road wouldn’t add more than probably 40 minutes or so to your journey so if you are spending a little time on Route 72 and the Sunshine Coast or not in a hurry getting to your destination, then it’s well worth the drive.  Just another reason to Experience our Eastern Cape. #ExperienceEastCape

Kenton selfie and a broken tablet

A week or two ago we spent a fabulous weekend in Kenton-on-Sea on Route 72 on the Sunshine Coast.  The main reason for being there was to get away for a few days and we made good use of the opportunity to explore the stunning piece of coastline between the mouths of the Bushmans and Kariega rivers.  While there both Drama Princess and I did what we enjoyed, snapped away at pictures.  The only difference was that she was doing the teenager selfie thing with beautiful backgrounds (at 11 she’s in some ways very much a teen already) and I was trying to get her to be the anchor object in my landscapes (seeing that the Damselfly and Chaos Boy isn’t always keen to do it).  But Saturday night IT happened.  She came running with her tablet in hand.  The screen was busy fading out and the next minute went blank.  And then the taps opened.  She was in tears.  Let’s just say the tablet has gone in for them to check was is wrong and I sure hope it won’t be an expensive repair cause it’s not like I have a lot of extra money just lying around.  Hoping for the best.

An Express Holiday In(n) Umhlanga

Everybody knows I like to explore and in South Africa we really have so much to discover.  So when an invitation to visit Umhlanga and bring the Damselfly along came from the Holiday Inn Express Umhlanga, I jumped at the chance to see a new place and share it with my wife.  With two nights in the hotel it meant that we had a whole day to explore the coast around Umhlanga Rocks on foot and really take in what this very popular beach destination has to offer.
Waking up Saturday morning we were met with a gale force wind when we opened our hotel room balcony door.  “Oh no!”  Not the ideal beach weather but nothing short of a hurricane would have stopped us getting out there to see what there was to see.  We grabbed a taxi from the hotel and he dropped us off behind the Breakers Resort which is the last hotel on Lagoon Drive on the northern side of town.  From there we followed a short path down to the beach and hit the sand.  Or more like the sand hit us, but the wind was from behind and our sails were set.

Our first Umhlanga destination waited for us a few hundred meters up the beach.  The beautiful Umhlanga Lagoon.  Umhlanga is a Zulu work which means “place of reeds” and the river and lagoon is definitely where the name originated.  Umhlanga Lagoon isn’t just a stunning scenic spot, it’s also a well known… erm… come closer… *whispering* unofficial nudist beach.  Yes you heard me, don’t pretend like you didn’t sit up when I said it.  Or rather you read it.  So just to repeat myself quickly in case you didn’t, Umhlanga Lagoon is a nudist beach.  Something I found out a few years ago when I got curious about the state of naturism in South Africa and did a little bit of research.  I wasn’t expecting many nudists to be hanging around (excuse the pun) with the gale force wind as you won’t just end up with sand in every possible crevice, but also have the skin sandblasted off your… Ja, you get what I mean.  I have to add though that there was a guy who arrived just before us and when he reappeared from behind the dune he was wearing his birthday suit.  It didn’t last long though as he was heading back fully clothed before we even turned around.  I’m sure he’s still trying to rinse sand out everywhere. 
We weren’t keen to walk back along the coast right into the wind so veered off the beach and onto the trails leading through the adjacent Umhlanga Lagoon Nature Reserve.  The reserve covers 26 hectares from the end of Lagoon Drive up to and including the lagoon and river mouth.  As soon as we hit the trails it was as if the wind had just died on us.  Totally sheltered we took a leisurely stroll back towards Umhlanga Rocks along one of the paths, passing a few other people along the way.  Clearly this is a very popular spot for a walk for young and old looking to break away to nature close to civilization.
At Breakers we left the trail and followed the beachfront walkway between the buildings and the beach.  Still fairly sheltered against the wind it was a nice refreshing walk with a lot of restaurant options to get something to eat, vendors to buy something from to take back home as a gift and sea views.  Lots and lots of sea views.  It’s not difficult to see why Umhlanga is such a popular destination.  We walked as far down as the iconic Umhlanga Lighthouse, built in 1954.  The circular concrete tower, painted white with a red band at the top, stands 21m high and must be one of the most recognised lighthouses on the South African coastline.
A little backtrack from the lighthouse brought us to the Umhlanga pier with it’s curved “ribs”.  The interesting part about the pier is that there is a large underground box culvert used to take storm water down to the sea with the pier being built on top of the extension taking the water out to a deep water channel 80 meters from the beach.  The wind nearly took us even further out but we just had to take a walk down to the end of the pier to enjoy the view.  From here we headed away from the beach to go and find something to eat and wait for our taxi back up to the hotel.

Staying at the Holiday Inn Express on Umhlanga Ridge meant that we were literally two blocks away from the Gateway Shopping Centre and we took a walk up to the mall on the Saturday evening for dinner.  Gateway is more than just a little collection of shops under one roof with a huge amount of retail stores, entertainment and restaurants to pick and choose from.  After a little retail therapy and a look around the Wave House we found ourselves a spot to enjoy some good sushi and wine before moseying back to the hotel.  
Umhlanga has a wide range of accommodation options with the ones down on the coast being more expensive than those up on the ridge.  We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Umhlanga (do go and read my review) and the fact that it wasn’t right on the beach didn’t effect our holiday at all.  In actual fact it’s very nicely located to enjoy both the beachfront as well as the Gateway Shopping Centre, has great views, very spacious and comfortable rooms (mush more so than what I was expecting), always friendly staff and all in all a very good choice for an express holiday in Umhlanga.

Disclosure: We were invited for a weekend at the Holiday Inn Express Umhlanga by the InterContinental Hotels Group and they carried all the costs for the weekend.  They asked for a blog post to be written but had no editorial input in the content of the post. 

Shark Spotters over Muizenberg

On my last visit to Cape Town I had to make a stop in Noordhoek and returned to Cape Town via Fish Hoek and Boyes Drive.  At the top of Boys Drive I pulled over to enjoy the view of Muizenberg Beach from the lookout where one of the shark spotters is based.  The Shark Spotting Programme is the only program of its kind in the world. Cape Town has, over the last few years, experienced an increase in the number of great white sharks sighted in the in-shore zone. In response to these events and the increased fear by water users, particularly in False Bay, two community driven programmes were started out of a need to improve the safety of recreational water users.  The amalgamation of these two initiatives resulted in the Shark Spotters programme.  How it works is that Shark Spotters are positioned at strategic points along the False Bay coastline. A spotter, like the one on this particular lookout, is placed on the mountain with polarised sunglasses and binoculars. This spotter is in radio contact with another spotter on the beach. If a shark is seen the beach spotter sounds a siren and raises a white flag with a black shark. When the siren sounds the water users are requested to leave the water and only return when the appropriate all clear signal is given.
He wasn’t doing any jumping around while peering out over the edge with his hands above his eyes so it didn’t seem like there were any sharks close inshore anywhere.  I peered down along the coastline anyway and thought to myself that these guys obviously know just what to look for what with all the waves, cloud shadows, surfers and pieces of floating sea bamboo around.

A walk along the beach in Jeffrey’s Bay

What good is a morning meeting in Jeffrey’s Bay with perfect early summer weather if one can’t leave a little earlier and go for a walk on the beach? Yeh, says me too.  Early morning and not a breath of air in Port Elizabeth so I took a chance and left just after 7am to give myself a bit of time for a walk along the beach at Kabeljous.

The tide was low and water was flowing out of the lagoon through the Kabeljous River mouth.  The stream flowed quite strong but I noticed others crossing through where the river and sea met.  I tried it and found that it was no deeper than my knee.  The walk was on.

The Kabeljous Lagoon, not quite as full at low tide, with the Jeffrey’s Bay wind farm in the distance.

On the far side of the lagoon where the dunes start I found this pyramid of stones.  Curiosity got the better of me, it usually does, and I decided to investigate.

A lot of the rocks were painted and has beautiful messages, some actually very inspirational, written on them.  It makes one even more curious about who placed it there.  My guess, either the local school or youth groups that often have weekend camps in the town.
The view over the Kabeljous Valley from the top of the sand dune…

… and looking back towards Jeffrey’s Bay.

I always urge people to not just look for the big stuff but also the little things as well.  There is often as much, if not more, beauty in the little things than the big stuff.

Plough snail trails

Now you tell me you wouldn’t want to do this on a warm windless morning.  I wonder when my next meeting in Jbay is…