TRAVEL

‘FunShine’ Coast life

Helen Crooks shares 10 fun things to do in Port Alfred, Bathurst and surrounding areas

Helen Crooks shares 10 fun things to do in Port Alfred, Bathurst and surrounding areas
1. Visit the Cheese Chic
Cheese and wine is a match made in heaven, a passionate pairing between the perfect mealtime couple.
So it makes sense to dream up a marriage between the two, combining them into one perfectly palate-pleasing product.
Red wine cheese – unusual? Maybe, but the flirting with flavours doesn’t end there. How about adding a little Guinness or, for an extra kick, Drambuie?
Intrigued by the possibilities, we paid a visit to The Cheese Chic (aka Cherylyn), an artist who lives in a spacious, farm-style house in Bathurst with her husband, homeschooled children and seven assorted dogs.
Prompted by a love of cheese but daunted by the amount a family of five could get through, the already busy mom decided it would be fun to add another string to her bow and started researching how to make it.
But these were not to going to be your mass-produced, runof-the-mill cheddars and goudas.
Far from it, in fact. Armed with stock pots ordered on Take-a-Lot and cultures imported from America, Cherylyn set about making speciality cheeses that promise – and deliver – a tastebud sensation to be long savoured.
A scant 12 months later she has perfected the art of churning out brie and camembert, cheshire, wensleydale and red leicester, emmental and gorgonzola, to name but a few.
And then there’s the aforementioned boozy versions, complimented by Italian herbs and garlic, smoked cheese with chillies and paprika-infused cheese.
Fortunately for us, we arrived when there were quite a few pots of cheese on the go so we got to watch – and participate – in the process of making a few, although this was a “slow” day using only 50l of milk. A normal week sees Cherylyn using up to 200l.
We quickly learnt that cheese-making is not a process that can be hurried so there’s ample chance to chat over coffee and learn more about this perhaps forgotten art.
The three giant pots simmering gently on the stove had reached the desired temperature, so it was time to stir the pot. Literally, to create those allimportant curds and whey.
That done, two distinctly different processes were followed.
For the first, a brie, the cheese was ladled into special sieves which allow the whey to separate from the curds, the liquid running into the sink.
A ridiculously huge amount of curds then settle into what ends up being a comparatively minute amount of ready-to-age brie.
Next it was the turn of the red leicester (the only cheese to which Cherylyn adds colouring), which is sieved through cheese cloth to separate the curds from the whey, the whey not going to waste in this instance, with a pig farmer collecting it to be used in animal feed.
After being pressed, the finished cheeses are either coated in wax or put into vacuumsealed packages, ready to mature and, ultimately, sell.
But do not look for these stunning cheeses on your supermarket shelf – mass production is the furthest thing from Cherylyn’s mind.
To find them, you will have to pay a visit to Bathurst, picking them up at the Village Bistro or at the weekly farmers’ market. Believe me: it will be well worth the trip.
2. Potter around
No visit to Bathurst would be complete without taking in its arty meander, but this probably would not have been possible if ceramic artist Richard Pullen had not decided to blaze this particular trail back in 1998.
Born and raised in the sleepy village, Pullen began his artistic studies at Graeme College, which encouraged pupils with talent to attend the Johan Carinus Art Centre, where his interest in sculpture was both encouraged and developed.
The multi-award winning artist studied further at the PE Tech, but on completing his diploma in ceramics decided that life in the big smoke was not for him and moved back to Bathurst 20 years ago.
“It was hard back then, in fact the first 10 years were really hard. Being the only studio around meant people only came upon my work by chance,” Pullen says.
However, all that changed when other artists decided that Bathurst was the perfect muse and also decided to settle there.
“The pie may have got smaller, but that is offset by the fact as the area grew, and became renowned as an art paradise, the clientele also grew. It’s a happy balance.”
Today a visit to the working studio, where finished products mingle happily with fledgling art works, is a must, especially if you are looking for unique items.
Pullen has perfected a method of firing pots by burying them in burning sawdust, along with products like seaweed and copper, and the leaving them to smoulder for five or six hours.
“It is so exciting when I take them out and wash off the ash – I never know what I am going to get and no two products are ever the same,” he says.
These beautiful and unusual pots grew from his original passion, which was the more functional, glazed products like dinner sets and wine goblets.
So popular are these that Pullen has many satisfied customers who keep returning after 20 years – and so, too, do their children looking for quality products when setting up their own homes.
“I am not in it to compete with Mr Price,” Pullen points out. “I am in it to be flexible and keep my customers happy.”
The Richard Pullen studio and gallery is on your left as you enter Bathurst from Port Alfred.
3. Sail up river
The best way of exploring the furthest reaches of the stunning Kowie River is by boat, including river cruises or hiring canoes.
However, there is another option for those who really want to get off the beaten track – hire a houseboat, which gives you the option of dropping anchor in a deserted cove and settling in for a night at one with the splendours of nature.
Featuring 22km of navigable river, the Kowie is one of the longest tidal rivers in SA, meandering past private game reserves and towering cliffs.
Whether it’s a day trip you are looking for, a fishing excursion or a romantic getaway for two, Port Alfred Houseboats offer the perfect base.
There’s a double bed at the front of the boat, while the dining area can also be converted into a sleeping area.
There’s a small galley, a braai on the deck and even a bathroom. The open upper deck offers the perfect spot to savour the scenery.
Better still, the boats are really easy to operate.
“If you can drive a car you can drive a houseboat,” owner Johan van Zyl explained.
The boat can also moor at various eating spots along the way, including Ocean Basket, the seasonal Blackrock restaurant and, in the near future, Tash’s on the marina.
For details on rates and how to book go to https://houseboatsportalfred.co.za
4. Take a poor man's game drive
Go on a poor man’s game drive in your car. There are regular sightings of some of the big five - in fact, on a recent visit we spotted zebra, ostrich and buffalo in close proximity to the R72.
The route starts 12km west of Kenton-on-Sea at the Emlanjeni/Ngcyo turn-off and travels through five game reserves, including Sibuya and Kariega. It ends back on R72 for those with 4x4 vehicles, but the first part of the route can be travelled in a family car as long as there hasn’t been heavy rain.
5. Visit Wharf Street
Take a step back in time and visit historic Wharf Street, the oldest commercial street in Port Alfred. Around 1820, Wharf Street was a dusty path beside the river, where up to 10 ships moored, with buildings erected to serve shipping.
Most of the buildings are intact and the beautifully preserved stone buildings now houses the Wharf Street Brew Pub. Brewery tours can also be enjoyed.
Wharf Street is also home to Sparg’s Antique Furniture – well worth a visit – and the quaint, cobbled Café Reset for lazy lunches and wine tasting.
6. Hike the sand dunes
Take a hike to the Alexandra sand dunes starting in the lovely village of Cannon Rocks.
While in the area, you can also explore the dunes at Bushman’s River Mouth and discover the secret Shelley Beach in Kenton-on-Sea. Shelley Beach is a scenic cove situated close to the magnificent Bushman’s River Mouth, surrounded by the rugged faces of the coastal cliffs.
The 20-minute dune hike to get to this secluded spot is well worth the gorgeous views and the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. The walk starts at Middle Beach or the Bushman’s River Mouth parking lot.
7. Go fishing
Port Alfred offers a host of angling opportunities – from casting a line at the pier, to angling from the rocks, one of the many beaches or in the Kowie River. Deep Sea tours can also be arranged.
Visit the Fishing Academy for local bait advice and tackle rental. Permits available from the Port Alfred Post Office in the centre of town.
8. Take a dip
Get wet. Take a dip in the heated indoor pool near The Halyards Hotel, take the little ones to pristine Kiddies Beach with its warm, shallow water, get a snorkel and goggles to explore some of the huge pools around Rugged Rocks, or take a dip in the Indian Ocean.
9. Eat out
Worked up an appetite? You will be spoiled for choice in Port Alfred where there are an estimated 40 eateries.
These range from the quaint Highlander Pub at the Royal St Andrews Hotel, to Tash’s on the Marina, the perfect spot for snacks and sundowners, and Penny Farthing, overlooking the revamped wetlands, for tea, cake, tapas and wine.
Van der Riet Street is home to a host of recommended eateries, sports bars are also a feature, and for families there’s the everpopular Wimpy and Spur.
10. Find a shipwreck
Go searching for shipwrecks The South African coast – especially the Cape coast – is notorious for its stormy weather, making it one of the most treacherous in the world. Small wonder then that numerous shipwrecks litter the coastline.
At the aptly named Cannon Rocks, where numerous ships ran aground, the skeletal remains of one lies tantalisingly close to the shore. In Bushman’s River you can visit the wreck of the Volo, which undertook her final voyage from Sweden.
In March 1896, the captain judged the ship to be 200 miles from the coast. The following day, Volo struck rocks off the coast and was holed, but carried over the reef and successfully beached between Kwaaihoek and the mouth of the Bushman River. For more information on the above, as well as accommodation options on the Sunshine Coast, visit www.sunshinecoasttourism.co.za..

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