Port St Johns

Jewel of the Wild Coast

Nature Reserves

The Wild Coast, the coastal part of the former “independent” republic of Transkei, now a micro part of the greater Eastern Cape Province, boasts some of the finest undisturbed coastlines of Southern Africa.

In an attempt to protect some of these areas rich in flora and fauna, a number of reserves have been established, both on the coastline as well as in the interior.

Bookings can be made for the Nature Reserves at:

Eastern Cape Tourism Board
Umtata Booking Office
Tel: (047) 5315290 Fax (047)5315291

Silaka Nature Reserve

This small but beautiful coastal reserve lies in a forested valley south of Port St Johns, and stretches from Second Beach to Sugarloaf Rock.

Trails lead through the evergreen forest and provide the opportunity to view elusive birds such as Knysna Loerie, Cinnamon Dove and Grey Cuckooshrike. The Gxwaleni River flows through the forest and you should look out for Halfcollared Kingfisher and Longtailed Wagtail at fast flowing stretches. Giant forest trees are clad in mosses, lichens and epiphytic orchids, while lilies bloom on the forest floor. Blue Duiker and Bushbuck are indigenous to the forest but are secretive and seldom seen.

Facing the sea are grassy hills where the stately Aloe ferox blooms in winter. The Natal Red Rock Rabbit lives among boulders and introduced Blesbuck, Blue Wildebeest and Burchell’s Zebra graze the palatable grasses.

The shoreline is very rugged, with a small sandy beach at the mouth of the Gxwaleni River, below the rest camp. Thickbilled Weaver and Yellowthroated Longclaw breed in the marsh, from where Cape Clawless Otters may venture onto the beach. A huge rocky outcrop, Bird Island, is just offshore and provides a resting place for Whitebreasted Cormorants and other birds. Interesting rock pools occur on the shore surrounding the island, which may be reached at low tide. At the estuary opposite Bird Island, an attractive pebble beach is surrounded by driftwood and aloes, which grow almost to the sea. Large stands of banana-like Strelitzia nicolai blanket some of the sea-facing slopes, where red-hot pokers and Flame Lilies bloom.

Each has a view of either the forest or ocean. You should bring your own provisions, although the shops at nearby Port St Johns will have almost everything you need.

How to get there: From Port St Johns, follow the tar road towards the beach and look out for the sign to ‘Second Beach Silaka’ which turns to the right. Follow the signs from here over a bridge and up a steep hill to the reserve gate.

Mkambati Nature Reserve

This 8000ha coastal reserve consists mostly of open grassland dissected by perenial streams and flanked by the magnificent forested ravines of the Msikaba and Mtentu rivers.

Grasslands cover a large proportion of the reserve and support a fascinating and diverse flora. Clumps of Strelitzia nicolai interrupt the grassland, where they grow among rock outcrops which are protected from fire. A close look at these rock outcrops will reveal ‘miniature gardens’ of moss, lichens, succulents and orchids, all of which are able to survive by obtaining moisture from the regular mists and rain. Watsonias, gladiolas and ground orchids abound in the grassland which may be dominated in places by the yellow-flowered daisy Lasiosiphon anthtylloides.

Large numbers of grazing herbivores such as Eland, Red Hartebeest, Blue Wildebeest, Blesbuck, and even Gemsbok, have been introduced into the grasslands, although only the first two species are indigenous to the area. Among the birds which may be seen in this habitat are Redshouldered Widow, Longtailed Widow, Yellowthroated Longclaw, Common Waxbill and Croaking Cisticola, with Gurney’s Sugarbird and Greater Double Collared Sunbird seeking nectar from the flowering strelitzias.

Patches of unique Swamp Forest, where large Umdoni Syzigium cordatum and Wild Frangipani Voacanga thouarsii dominate, are found in low-lying areas. The beautiful Arum Lily and several species of sedge grow in the water beneath the trees, where several species of frogs are to be found.

Of the many streams running through the reserve, the Mkambati is perhaps the most beautiful with its crystal clear pools and series of spectacular waterfalls. The Horseshoe Falls are most impressive as they drop down over a terrace in a wide arc, the stream then tumbling over another waterfall before dropping several metres into the ocean. Tree Ferns Alsophila dregei, Date Palms Phoenix reclinata, and proteas and ericas typical of ‘fynbos’ grow along the river banks.

The coastline is very rocky, with sandy bays at river mouths. Shells may be found anywhere along the shore and fishing is outstanding. Large dunes and wide beaches occur at the mouth of the Msikaba River, where large flocks of terns congregate.

Canoes may be taken up the spectacular Msikaba River which, together with the Mtentu River, is the only place in the world where the Pondo Coconut Jubaeopsis caffra is found. These feathery palms grow close to the water’s edge on the shady south-facing banks of both rivers. The Msikaba is navigable by canoe for about two kilometres, when a series of rapids is reached. Further up the river, a colony of Cape Vultures breed on the sheer cliffs of the gorge.

Breathtaking views of the Msikaba gorge can be obtained by walking through the grassland above the river. At a bend in the gorge, a natural amphitheatre of towering evergreen forest is inhabited by a spectacular variety of birds including Trumpeter Hornbill, Rameron Pigeon, Blackbellied Starling, Forest Weaver and, in winter, small parties of raucous Cape Parrots. Several types of accommodation are available at Mkambati and you should write to the reserve for full details

How to get there: From Kokstad, travel south towards Port Edward but turn right shortly after Magusheni to Flagstaff. A few kilometres before Flagstaff, look out for a signpost to Mkambati.

This gravel road will take you past the Holy Cross hospital to the reserve’s entrance gate.

Mkambati Marine Protected Area

In the Lusikisiki District, Eastern Cape Province, extending six nautical miles seawards between the eastern bank of the mouth of the Mtentu River and the western bank of the mouth of the Msikaba River, including the tidal portions of these two rivers. No person shall catch or disturb any fish or remove any aquatic plants, except a person who is lawfully residing in the Mkambati Nature Reserve for not less than one night and is angling from the seashore with the use of hook and line between the eastern bank of the Mkambati River and the western bank of the mouth of the Msikaba River.

Reproduced from A Guide to the Coast and Nature Reserves of TRANSKEI by Duncan Butchart.

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