We have crossed the Kromme River bridge multiple times and are always happy when we do. Over the bridge are two small coastal Eastern Cape towns: St Francis Bay and Cape St Francis. Despite their proximity to each other, they are remarkably different. The towns are about a 30 minute drive (less than 40 km) from the surfing mecca Jeffreys Bay, and less than an hour from Port Elizabeth (~110 km).
We have both been fortunate to work in great locations for our post-graduate studies. For my Master of Science (MSc) research, I (Daniel) assessed the developmental and environmental changes on the St Francis/Cape St Francis peninsula over a 60 year period. We have spent many months in these little towns walking their beaches. Over two blog posts, we will share the towns’ stories, starting with St Francis Bay.
History and housing
St Francis Bay grew quickly from a fishing village to a popular tourist destination. The Hulett family moved to the bay in the mid-1950s and brought development with them. In 1978, the name “St Francis Bay” was publically decided upon. There is a heritage centre in Harbour Road that outlines the history of the town. While in the town, look out for roads that were named after Hulett family members, e.g. Nevil Road, Ann Avenue and Phillippa’s Place.
The Huletts wanted to keep the ‘fishing-village look’ for the area. The houses follow a specified architecture: white walls and grey thatched roofing (recently grey tiles have been accepted because of major damages caused by fires).
The Canals were developed at the mouth of the Kromme River to bring a mini-Venice to the coast (photos above). A man-made spit separates the front houses from the ocean. Today, the upmarket properties on The Canals are highly sought after.
Boat cruises and water sports (e.g. kite and windsurfing, jet skiing) are common in the Canals and up the Kromme. Every year there is a two-day swim (~12 km) downstream to the river mouth. Only swimmers that were invited may swim in the Kromme River Descent.
Beaches and surfing
St Francis Bay and beach holiday are synonymous. The little town comes alive during the summer months and holidays. The peninsula is a popular summer getaway. The narrow beach is wonderful during low tides. It becomes deeper very gradually so you can still stand quite far out (something that we both like) (first photo). However, the St Francis beaches are (and have been for years) severely eroding. There are stone revetments along the coastline to protect the roads and houses from the waves (second photo). During high tides, the waves cover the entire beach (third photo). In the past, there has been significant damage to infrastructure from storm wave action. Whether there is beach sand or not, we have seen bathers and surfers still enjoying the water – just watch yourself on the rocks though!
If you are looking for a surf spot, head to Bruce’s Beauties. The area gained popularity after the movie The Endless Summer (released in the ’60s). In recent years, some surfers find Bruce’s unreliable for good waves. But when the waves pump, they pump. Best time of year for surfing is May – September.
Fishing is a popular activity on the peninsula. We regularly see fisherman on the beach. During one of my field campaigns, there was an angling competition. There are also deep sea fishing expeditions that you can join throughout the year.
Harbour and look out point
Port St Francis was built in the mid-1990s. There are restaurants overlooking the small harbour that naturally offer great seafood (first photo). Chokka boats routinely fish at night (the small lit up boats on the ocean) so fresh calamari is always available. One point to remember if you plan to eat the local chokka: it is much chewier than other calamari. We have been lucky enough to see otters along the Port area (second photo). Unfortunately, we haven’t seen them in years.
The lookout point is further down the road from the Port (it is signposted). There are benches where you can enjoy the views of the Seal Point Lighthouse to the Groot Winterhoek mountains. It’s a great picnic spot or sundowners spot that was developed by the St Francis Kromme Trust.
St Francis Bay market
There is a market on the last Saturday of every month (9 am – noon). In December the market happens each Saturday before Christmas. Local entrepreneurs sell a variety of goods: fresh produce, crafts, artwork, and other bits and bobs.
Address: 167 St Francis Drive. In and around shopping areas.
Enjoy a round of golf? There are two golf courses in St Francis Bay. The St Francis Bay Golf Club is in the town, while the St Francis Links Golfing Estate is just outside the town. The Links is the newer of the two. Both courses are popular with locals and tourists alike.
Sand River and Oyster Bay Headland Bypass Dunefield (OBHBD)
After the Kromme River bridge, you will pass over another smaller bridge that crosses the Sand River. The Sand River drains the eastern section of the OBHBD. This seemingly small and insignificant river is ephemeral with the typical minimal (if any) flow. However, when this river floods it is powerful and devastating. Draining and flowing through the dunefield means that when the river floods, it brings sand and debris with it. In 2012 the Sand River bridge collapsed during a flood and left the peninsula towns isolated for a few days. The bridge has since been rebuilt.
There is a hike up the Sand River, into the OBHBD to Oyster Bay. The hike is a full-day hike (~8 hrs) and can be quite strenuous (the dunes can be tiring!). Any artefacts found in the dunefield are to be left there, by law.
We definitely think this little town is worth a visit. See the second blog post on Cape St Francis, here.