DON’T JUDGE A TOWN BY ITS ENTRANCE
Port St Johns doesn’t make a very good first impression. In fact, it makes a terrible first impression. Driving in, you’d be excused for thinking the place is in a state of utter disrepair. In the town centre, dilapidated old buildings hold on by a thread – stark reminders of rosier times gone by. The pothole-to-tar ratio has long since reached its tipping point, and around the overflowing rubbish bins, sad excuses for dogs brawl over precious scraps of The Colonel’s famous recipe.
It’s not a textbook seaside holiday town by any stretch of the imagination, and you certainly won’t find it on many travel agents’ itineraries. Heck, you really shouldn’t even be swimming there – infamous 2nd Beach is THE spot if you’re looking to bare hand wrestle a Zambezi shark. Be warned though, so far no human has ever won.
For those travelers who have taken the time to get to know it, however, the un/official capital of the Wild Coast has a charm, authenticity and magnetism all of its own. Look beyond its imperfections (or just embrace them), slow down, find its rhythm, and before you know it, PSJ will get under your skin. After several trips back, it’s certainly under ours.
This time round, we spent a couple of days at the charming Outspan Inn. It’s a pity it couldn’t have been longer, but such is the nature of this trip. The Outspan sits on the banks of the mighty Mzimvubu River, which slides through dramatic ravines and impenetrable forests, before disgorging its muddy contents into the Indian Ocean a few hundred meters away from the lodge gates. It’s owned and run by John and Kathy Costello, who have spent much of their lives in this part of the world. Few people know PSJ like they do. John is a veritable encyclopedia on the history, geology, and fauna and flora of the area, and we were lucky to spend some time with him during our brief stay.
After getting some of the Port St Johns must-dos under our belt – sunrise at 2nd Beach, a hike in the Silaka Nature Reserve, a few Black Label quarts at the Jungle Monkey backpackers – John let us in on one of his secrets. On a scrap of paper, he scribbled a rough map depicting three waterfalls. “Right at the water tank.” “Left just after the power lines cross the road.” “Right at the small patch of indigenous forest.” “If you see a red hut you’ve gone too far.” You don’t get commands like those on a Garmin, and we were in our absolute element.
In the end, we found two of John’s three waterfalls – pretty good going if you ask us. The one in particular (pictured at the top of this post) was one of the most spectacular sights we’ve ever witnessed in South Africa, and had us in complete awe. We could tell you what it’s called, but that would be too easy. Next time you’re in Port St Johns, go have a beer at the Outspan Inn. Better still, spend a few nights. Be nice to John, and perhaps he’ll tell you too.