Once dubbed a ‘quaint luxurious sleepy hollow’, St Francis Bay has been experiencing a population and economic boom, due in part to its pleasurable attractions and not a little to a Golden Bear that once roamed the area.
Thrusting itself confidently forward for the benefit of unsuspecting mariners, the nineteenth century St Francis lighthouse can be seen from a westerly descent about 100 km from Port Elizabeth. Around the Cape, a tranquil and radiant bay with ample stretches of affluent beach rolls lazily toward a quiet river.
The Portuguese mariners in 1575, who named the Bay after one of the many nautical patron saints, would not have foreseen, from where they stood centuries ago, the resplendent, thatched, black and white mansions or Mediterranean villas that now pervade the area; nor the intricate, man-made, tidal canal system linked to the Kromme River that, in season, plays host to an array of different boats and water machines.
And the well-established commercial and recreational port would not have beckoned their longboats then.
A bay of sporting pleasure
Home to ‘Bruce’s Beauties’, considered one of the world’s best surf breaks, St Francis Bay is described as possessing the whitest, cleanest stretches of beach on the South African coastline. Attracting national and worldwide interest, water sports abound and include surfing, kite boarding, wet bike racing, waterskiing, windsurfing and paddleskiing. Some of the finest surf and rock angling can be found along this stretch and general sporting events are regularly on the calendar.
Trail running, mountain biking, hiking, tennis, squash, bowls and golf complete the package of the Bay’s available sports pleasure and entertainment.
The Kromme and the canals
Navigable to 10 km, the quiet and sedate Kromme River is a playground for sailing enthusiasts and fishermen alike, flowing gently at its mouth into a marvellous network of canals.
Dubbed ‘Little Venice’, and one of the biggest man-made waterways in Africa, this impressive 7 km canal system winds its way peacefully between magnificent white walled thatched houses, each with their own mooring jetty, and is a mere step away to boating, fishing or yachting on the spacious Kromme. Idyllic sunset cruises take visitor or resident alike on an enchanting journey through the fascinating network, distilling a magical and captivating experience.
Port St Francis
In the interests of fishing and tourism, the first privately-owned port in South Africa began construction in 1996 and is today a vibrant and flourishing R250m small harbour for commercial and recreational craft.
Port St Francis provides safe anchorage for the local chokka industry workboats, pleasure vessels and ocean-going yachts. The superbly functional port is surrounded by a developing village of restaurants, shops, estate agents, yacht club, conference centre, private beach, seaside meander trails and residential and self-catering luxury waterfront apartments.
The natural gardens of St Francis
A haven for the eco-conscious, the area boasts four nature reserves and falls within The Cape Floral Kingdom – the smallest of the earth’s six kingdoms.
The Cape St Francis Nature Reserve, The Seal Bay Nature Reserve, The Seal Point Nature Reserve and The Irma Booysen Flora Reserve reveal magnificent and exclusive plant life, and many hiking trails exist along the coast and not far inland for nature enthusiasts.
Ground, air and marine species abound and the area is a privileged home for the near-extinct African Black Oystercatcher which has a worldwide population of around only 5 000 birds.
Stamp of the Golden Bear
The great Golden Bear once seen roaming the area was the astounding winner of 18 major golf championships and 105 golf tournaments – the inimitable Jack Nicklaus.
Commissioned to transform an undulating links land of exquisite beauty, Nicklaus produced one of the finest golf courses in the world and was quoted as saying,
‘…..this may be the best course I’ve ever seen’.
St Francis Links is situated between gentle, rolling hills with views of the sea. The R2-billion rand investment boasts a magnificent, secure residential golfing estate with several hundred units in the process of development.
Attracting worldwide attention, the development has been hailed as world-class and owes much to the Golden Bear’s course signature and the idyllic proximity of St Francis Bay. It is now rated as one of the finest courses in the country and constantly is among the top venues for weddings, receptions and conferences.
The Links has provided an economic impetus for the overall development of the area and the bay’s luxurious charms have provided it with an attractive menu, creating a synergy that just gets better every year.
In spite of retaining its old-world charm and pristine beauty, the developing bay today would astonish the ancient Portuguese seafarers. And its founder, Leighton Hulett, would no longer look out upon the budding fishing village he brought into being over forty years ago.
It has become a vibrant, bustling environment and tourist mecca that by no stretch of the imagination can any longer be described as ‘quaint’.
Bruce Cooper – first written and published in AbouTime airline magazine
Photographs courtesy of St Francis Bay Tourism; Biodiversity Explorer; GolfNews; SafariNow