Go barefoot in Kenton-on-Sea

Hang with ‘Siya’ on the Sunshine Coast

‘One Siya and a Magic, please Miki!” I’m not one for morning rituals beyond the physiological, but getting into the habit of coffee and pastries on the Sunshine Coast of the Eastern Cape could easily become much more than a holiday addiction.

Namibia’s German-speaking community has elegant konditoreis such as Cafe Anton in Swakopmund, Cape Town has chic steampunk Truth Coffee Roastery; Kenton-on-Sea, popularly known as the Barefoot Capital of South Africa, has Mm Coffee Lab.

Run with verve and good humour by Mig (a naturalised Eastern Capie) and Miki (born and bred), their kerbside stall is a “front” for The Bakery – purveyors of delectable doughnuts, Danishes, chocolate croissants, pasteis de nata and various breads.

Picture: Jim Freeman
Picture: Jim Freeman

Embracing visitors as family in Kenton-on-Sea

With so much sinful temptation crammed into one spot, it’s hardly surprising most of the district stops by at least once a day for its sugar and caffeine fix… or simply to catch up. After all, it’s been 24 hours since we last spoke, right?

The last sentence says half of what you need to know about the conviviality and closeness of the Kenton-on-Sea community. The fact that year-round residents unhesitatingly embrace visitors as family tells you the rest. Laughs are the order of the day, even at the earliest hour (Mm Coffee Lab opens daily at 6.30am, The Bakery an hour later).

It’s impossible to remain glum when you peruse the chalked-up coffee menu – a “Magic” is a Magic Johnson (tall Americano as opposed to a Danny de Vito), while a “Siya (Kolisi)” is shorthand for a tall cappuccino.

Other descriptors that got me sniggering include Robert de Niro (cortado), Trevor Noah (mochaccino), Beyoncé Knowles (hot chocolate) and Tilda Swinton (flat white). The Sunshine Coast stretches from Tsitsikamma to East London and includes St Francis Bay, Cape St Francis, Jeffreys Bay, Gqeberha/ Port Elizabeth, Kenton-on-Sea and its joined-at-the-hip sibling, Bushman’s River Mouth, and Port Alfred.

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Picture: Jim Freeman
Picture: Jim Freeman

A coastal haven of sunshine and authenticity

It’s so named because the region is reputed to enjoy more hours of sunshine a year than anywhere else in the country.

Kenton (as it is known colloquially) is roughly midway between East London (180km) and Gqeberha (130km) and off the more beaten N2 track that links them. That it entails a detour to get there, combined with spatial constraints, means it is the rarest of finds – a seaside village that has retained the authenticity we remember from our childhood holidays.

Hemmed in by rivers, the Indian Ocean and established private game reserves, Kenton cannot expand geographically. Its development over the decades since the ’70s and ’80s has generally been organic i.e. the place is a lot wealthier than it used to be. Perhaps the reason locals are so friendly to tourists is because they’re not swamped by them in the holiday season.

Picture: Jim Freeman
Picture: Jim Freeman

Unlike, for instance, Jeffreys Bay where there is (and almost always has been) a definite “us and them” atmosphere. Just because Kenton has become more affluent doesn’t mean it has become too expensive to visit.
It just means that the full-timers, a large percentage of whom are “semigrants”, appreciate the so-called finer things in life. So you’ll find a swish Asian restaurant a couple of hundred metres from a burger, beer and pizza joint; an art gallery cheek-by-jowl with a surf shop; Mm Coffee Lab next to the Pakistani household appliance repairman (whose wife makes samoosas for The Bakery).

Anyone who’s been on a seaside holiday in the Eastern Cape will tell you there’s no better place to take a young family and Kenton – with its two blue flag beaches and pristine tidal rivers, ranks alongside the best the Wild Coast has to offer – but with a greater range of amenities.

Picture: Jim Freeman
Picture: Jim Freeman

From flip-flops to second-hand books

Yes, there’s a general dealer where you can buy anything from a beach bucket and spade to a cheap sundress. Yes, you can walk into Jerry’s on the Dune or Pizzarella for a beer or a bite in boardshorts and flip-flops (optional). And yes, there is that most indispensable of holiday stores… a second-hand bookshop.

A word of advice: this is not the place you want to visit if you have a craving to be pampered or waited upon from dawn till dusk. The closest thing to a hotel you’ll find in the immediate vicinity are the various camps at Kariega Private Game Reserve (www.kariega.co.za). The nearest actual hotels would be Royal St Andrews in Port Alfred or The Historic Pig and Whistle Inn in Bathurst (www.pigandwhistle.co.za).

There is no shortage of houses to rent or Airbnb stays, however, so self-catering holidays are the norm. There is a Superspar/Tops! combination in Kenton and a fullon mall in Port Alfred (which includes Woolworths), so stocking up with supplies is no problem.

Demand is extremely high for the December holidays, so you’re best advised to start snuffling for property availability on websites such as that of the Kenton & Boesmans office of Sunshine Coast Tourism (www.kenton.co.za) well in advance.

Picture: Jim Freeman
Picture: Jim Freeman

Where two-star comfort meets five-star charm

One of the many things I love about Kenton is the prolific birdlife. For the past several years, I’ve stayed at Woodlands Cottages and Camping (www.woodlandscottages.co.za). Woodlands is a couple of kilometres outside town on the R343 to Grahamstown/Makhanda. It’s an incredible, two-star value-formoney facility with a five-star persona. I’ve found the place tends to creep into the hearts of even the fussiest guests and takes over.

Picture: Jim Freeman
Picture: Jim Freeman

A lot has to do with the lush Albany thicket and milkwood groves that run riot on the property, which extends several hundred metres from the road down to the banks of the navigable Bushman’s River. If you’re so inclined, you can organise a canoe at the reception desk and paddle across the river for sundowners and an early dinner at The Sandbar floating restaurant.

Alternatively, you can eat in at the Woodlands’ Goat Shed Bistro. If you spend a couple of nights there, I can almost guarantee you’ll end up sleeping with the doors and windows open to best hear the birds when they awake shortly before dawn. They’ll drive you nuts trying to spot them but, just when you’re beginning to despair, a Knysna touraco will flit past your face or a little Cape batis will come taptapping at the window. That’s usually the signal that Mig and Miki are open for business.

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