The coastal town of Port St Johns embodies everything that makes the Transkei and the Wild Coast so unique. It is a town defined by its magnificent scenery and its friendly people, and by the unforgettable sights that await the countless travellers that flock there every year. It is difficult to choose a single iconic image to illustrate the magic of life in Port St Johns. It could be the pastel-coloured rondavels of the local Pondo tribes juxtaposed against the rolling Transkei landscape. It could be a herd of Nguni cattle, relaxing on the soft white sand of the region’s wild shores, their great curved horns silhouetted against the African blue sky. It could be a mating pair of endangered sunbirds flitting from one vivid aloe plant to the next along the rugged cliff top; or a southern right whale and her calf rolling in the swell past backline. It could be the placid waters of the Umzimvubu River in the soft light of dawn, or the rowdy camaraderie of a Port St Johns drinking spot after dark. There are many reasons to love Port St Johns, and each year we give our customers the chance to find that out for themselves, when we move our operations base to the town to take advantage of its proximity to the best of the Sardine Run action.
The convoluted coastal geography of the Port St Johns area explains why the town has earned a reputation as one of the best launch sites for those wishing to experience the Sardine Run. Every year between June and August, a narrow corridor of cool water opens up along South Africa’s eastern seaboard, allowing temperate species access to regions that would otherwise be too warm for them. The sardines that make up the Run are one of these species, and every year billions of these silvery baitfish migrate northwards from the Cape, hemmed into the coastline by the presence of the warm offshore Agulhas current. Around Port St Johns, the sardines gather in pockets in the bays that characterise the region- and that’s when the action for which the Run is famous begins. When the sardines are packed closely together with no means of escape, they provide an excellent target for the predators that follow in the wake of the migration. At Aliwal Shoal Scuba, we provide charters that give divers and snorkelers alike the opportunity to watch the chaos that unfolds when prey and predators meet for themselves. We have been operating Sardine Run tours out of Port St Johns for many, many years, and we cannot think of a better place either as a launch site for our daily adventures or to come back to every evening.
For those that are considering signing up for a Sardine Run tour with Aliwal Shoal Scuba, bear in mind that the experience is about more than just the spectacular days spent on the ocean in search of one of Nature’s greatest events. It is also about having the chance to spend time in one of South Africa’s most beautiful coastal towns, and to compound your ocean adventures with some pretty amazing terrestrial ones. Port St Johns is known as the capital of Wild Coast adventure tourism, and offers something for everyone with even the faintest interest in the great outdoors. The natural scenery of Port St Johns and the surrounding area is simply breathtaking, constituting an endless panorama of dramatic cliffs, plunging waterfalls, lush coastal forests and thriving rivers. The region is a photographer’s dream, especially since it is home to some magnificent species of flora and fauna. Birdwatching enthusiasts will be kept occupied trying to spot the 250 avian species that live in the vicinity of Port St Johns- ranging from fish eagles nesting along the banks of the Umngazana and Ntafufu rivers, to the rare Cape parrot that can be found at the Umzimvubu Retreat. In addition to the region’s impressive birdlife, the Silaka and Hluleka Nature Reserves offer the opportunity to spot eland, impala, spotted genet, zebra, wildebeest, blesbok and bush pig.
Of course, the coastal nature of Port St Johns is one of its biggest selling points, and many visitors choose to explore the town’s three beautiful beaches- where endless expanses of unspoilt sand and crashing surf inspire the area’s Wild Coast moniker. These beaches are popular with rock-and-surf anglers, offering the opportunity to catch shad and garrick from the shore whilst the estuaries teem with kob and spotted grunter. Although our days out on the ocean will be filled with cetacean sightings, many of our customers find they simply can’t get enough of the whales whose migration brings them north along the South African coastline at the same time as the Sardine Run. From Port St Johns’ beaches and cliffs, visitors can watch humpback and southern right whales passing close to shore, and will sometimes be treated to a glimpse of the dolphin pods that call this region home. Port St Johns has other attractions too- from horse-riding, to golfing, to exploring the local culture that makes the town so unique. Cultural tours to local Pondo villages can be arranged, and craft markets in the town itself give visitors the chance to buy traditional arts and crafts to take home with them. In the evening, Port St Johns offers a relaxed, inclusive vibe that draws people in, and makes them want to come back and experience it again and again. There are several accommodation options in town, and we can help you to choose the one that best suits your needs. We love Port St Johns, and we think that you will too. Let us help you complete your Sardine Run experience by introducing you to the wonders of this utterly unique, and absolutely unforgettable Wild Coast gem.