July 3rd, 2009
When friends invited us to join them for a few days in St Francis Bay, I must admit I was a bit in the dark about the area. St Francis Bay? Cape St Francis? Port St Francis?
I knew it was somewhere towards the end of the Garden Route but not much more than that. But, we were much in need of a break, and decided to take advantage of our friends' generous offer to spend some time there - wherever ‘there' was.
I was in for a pleasant surprise. Take a look at the gallery to find out why!
Situated halfway between Knysna and Port Elizabeth, the St Francis area consists of St Francis Bay, Port St Francis and Cape St Francis. The area has a Mediterranean climate with temperatures ranging from 12°C in winter to 30°C in summer.
The navigable Kromme River is a favourite of sailing and fishing enthusiasts and an extensive canal system has been linked to its estuary offering residents and holidaymakers an ideal marina lifestyle.
This river system, along with postcard perfect beaches, makes the St Francis area a water sports Mecca.
Residents also boast ‘ownership' of Bruce's Beauties - one of the worlds best known beach breaks, featured in the 60's cult film - Endless Summer.
Much of the scenic beauty of St Francis Bay can be accredited to Leighton Hulett, a sugar farmer, who in 1954 sold his land in Kwa-Zulu Natal to set up a fishing camp on his farm Goedgeloof. The camp consisted of a few thatched rondavels.
These simple thatched dwellings were the start to the current architectural guidelines set in place by Hulett, and still enforced today, that give the area its unique charm and character.
In 1968 Hulett started work on the impressive canals that form the marina today.
Now that the history lesson and essential facts are out of the way, let me tell you about our stay.
We left Hermanus at 4:00am in the morning, arriving for a stopover breakfast at the Knysna waterfront.
Just enough time to stretch legs, wake up a bit and get ready for the last two hour drive to St Francis Bay.
We arrived mid-morning in the most picturesque little village - all thatched houses, some small and cosy, some vast and quite impressive. Residents have managed to take the architectural guidelines of white walls and thatched roofs and still make each home unique.
The accommodation was beautiful and right on the beach Photo: Rosanne Turner
We put down our bags, walked through the patio doors to the rolling lawn overlooking the canal, and immediately felt on holiday. How could we not? There are not many places you can sit on your lawn and fish, or search from crabs from your private beach. This was going to be a relaxing few days.
We spent the afternoon sitting on the stoep and lying on the lawn, while the kids tried to catch small fish.
The setting is ideal for small children: all the comforts of home, with the house right there when they are ready for a nap, but all the fun of a private beach right on your doorstep.
Most of the houses on the canals have their own small beaches which appear when the tide goes out. Hermit crabs scurry about and we discovered another strange slug-like sea creature that I had not seen before.
Both creatures caused shrieks of excitement and proved to be a source of great fascination for the little ones. The dads helped to catch small fish to put in buckets to examine.
It was great to see the kids getting back to basics, exploring and getting in touch with nature. It rained one day, and even then we managed to make the most of the location, by playing inside and dashing out to our private beach as soon as the sun poked through the clouds.
As soon as the sun pokes through the clouds, head for the beach! Photo: Rosanne Turner
This is definitely the advantage of staying right on the water in winter, as driving to the beach every time the rain let up would not be very practical.
Something about fresh sea air increases my appetite and somehow the food always tastes better too.
We braaied (BBQ'd for those non South Africans) most nights, with the most beautiful backdrop of houses reflecting on the canal, the sun setting behind thatched roofs.
Early evening is the perfect time to take a boat trip exploring the labyrinth of canals, warmly wrapped, admiring the houses, taking in the bird life and getting back just as the sun is setting in time to make a roaring fire and get dinner on the go.
My daughter is a born beachcomber. She can (and did) spend hours scouring the beach for shells, and anything else of interest that the sea may have spat out in the night.
The shells on the Garden Route and Eastern Cape are different to those we find at home, so these were treasures to a 5-year old.
St Francis beaches are a treasure trove for an exploring child Photo: Rosanne Turner
You will find a good selection of restaurants in the area if you get tired of self-catering. We discovered a delightful tea garden with a children's play area called the Rambling Rose.
There is an undercover outdoor area for bad weather days, and the scones are light and delicious!
With Its moderate climate, the St Francis area is a great year-round getaway.
To temp you further, here are a few things to do:
• The Kromme River is a must for water sports enthusiasts including fishing and boating, and boat hire is available.
• Take a cruise around the canals, either on your own or with a tour boat operator.
• There is an excellent 18-hole golf course, and apparently the view from the 13th hole tee off is breath-taking.
• Granny's pool is a safe tidal pool, great for the kids, just off Harbour Road. Alternatively The Cove offers a safe sheltered swimming area.
• Sports activities include horse-riding on the beach, tennis, squash and bowls.
• Take a walk along the beach at Cape St Francis to the historic lighthouse.
• The legendary Bruce's Beauties and Seal Point offer some the best waves for the surfers.
• The small harbour at Port St Francis is the mooring point for all the calamari (chokka) boats that you will see scattered in the bay each day. For a better view, take a stroll along the harbour wall.
• Explore the village with its quaint shops and restaurants.
• Jeffries Bay is only a half-hour drive away, if you feel like stocking up on some surf gear at the
• Fly a kite, walk on the beach, play with the kids and have a good time with family and friends.
Rambling Rose: 165 St Francis Dr, St Francis Bay. (042-2941883)