Looking for a unique and diverse wildlife experience? Look no further than the Ghio Wetland Nature Reserve, located just inland from Kenton-on-Sea on the floodplain of the Bushmans River in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.
The Ghio pans, which are a part of the reserve, are a natural wonder that can be described as either “erratically flooded pans” or “a wetland that is sometimes dry”. These pans are an essential stop for any birder visiting the Eastern Cape, as they attract an abundance of waterbirds when in flood. However, the reserve is not only a bird sanctuary, as a wide range of land animals can be found here as well, such as eland, impala, giraffe, zebra, waterbuck, nyala, bontebok, and ostrich.
Bird enthusiasts will be thrilled by the variety of birds that can be spotted in the pans, including African spoonbills, Cape shovelers, black-winged stilts, little stints, ruffs, common terns, greater flamingo, Kittlitz’s plover, osprey, southern pochard, black storks, southern ground hornbills, whiskered terns, and even rare sightings of African jacanas and Baillon’s crake.
Popular activities and tourist attractions at Ghio Wetland Nature Reserve
If you’re not an avid birdwatcher, fear not, as the reserve’s diverse wildlife also includes breeding black-winged stilts, blacksmith plovers, and ducks. Unfortunately, the pans are under threat due to sewage influx from nearby ostrich farm paddocks, which results in fewer breeding birds due to the decrease of daphnia in the water.
There’s more to the Ghio Wetland Nature Reserve than just birdwatching and wildlife viewing.
Canoeing and Kayaking
Paddle down the Bushmans River and explore the surrounding wetlands from a unique perspective. Several local tour companies offer guided canoe and kayak trips.
Hiking and Walking
Take a walk on the wild side and explore the reserve’s diverse landscape on foot. The reserve has several walking trails that range in difficulty and length, allowing visitors to experience the wetlands up close.
If you’re an angler, bring your fishing gear and try your luck at catching bream, bass, and mullet in the Bushmans River.
Just a short drive away from the reserve, you’ll find several beautiful beaches such as Kenton-on-Sea and Boknesstrand. Spend a day lounging on the sand or try your hand at surfing or kiteboarding.
Learn about the area’s rich history by visiting local historical sites such as the Settler’s Church in nearby Kenton-on-Sea, which dates back to the early 1800s.
If you’re looking for more wildlife viewing opportunities, check out nearby game reserves such as the Sibuya Game Reserve, which offers guided game drives and walking safaris.
Culture and Arts
The nearby town of Port Alfred has a thriving arts and culture scene, with several art galleries and craft markets showcasing the work of local artists.
Whether you’re a nature lover, outdoor enthusiast, history buff, or art aficionado, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in and around the Ghio Wetland Nature Reserve. So, pack your bags and get ready to explore this hidden gem in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.
Sibuya Game Reserve Day Trips
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in the African wilderness, a day trip to the nearby Sibuya Game Reserve is a must-do activity during your visit to the Ghio Wetland Nature Reserve.
Sibuya Game Reserve is home to an array of wildlife, including elephants, lions, buffalo, leopards, and a variety of antelope species. The reserve offers daily trips onto the reserve hosted by a professional guide, allowing visitors to experience the thrill of a safari adventure.
The day trip begins with a leisurely cruise up the Kariega River, where you can spot hippos, crocodiles, and a variety of birdlife. After the river cruise, you’ll embark on a three-hour game drive, where you’ll have the chance to see some of Africa’s iconic wildlife in their natural habitat.
As part of the day trip, a delicious picnic lunch is provided on the banks of the river, giving you a chance to relax and take in the stunning scenery. After lunch, the tour concludes with a slow cruise back to Kenton-on-Sea as the sun sets, providing a breathtaking end to a wonderful experience with nature. The entire duration of the trip is approximately six hours.
Aside from the game drive, Sibuya Game Reserve also offers guided walking safaris and birding tours, giving visitors a chance to explore the reserve on foot and learn about the smaller creatures that call the reserve home.
So, if you’re ready for an unforgettable adventure, book a day trip to Sibuya Game Reserve and experience the beauty and wonder of African wildlife in their natural habitat.
Sandbar Floating Restaurant
For those looking for a relaxing dining experience, the Sandbar Floating Restaurant in Kenton-on-Sea is the perfect spot. This unique restaurant is situated on a permanently moored boat that gently bobs on the serene waters of the Bushman’s River Mouth, providing stunning views of the surrounding Eastern Cape bushveld.
The Sandbar’s rustic and homely atmosphere adds to its charm, with friendly staff creating a welcoming environment for visitors. The restaurant’s menu offers a variety of South African favourites and pub fare, including delicious seafood dishes made with fresh catches from the nearby Indian Ocean. For those with a sweet tooth, there are tempting desserts to indulge in.
The area surrounding the Sandbar is known for its diverse birdlife, and diners can enjoy watching various species of birds while they enjoy their meal. If you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the playful Cape clawless otter swimming in the river.
The Sandbar is fully licensed and serves a range of beverages, including beers, wines, spirits, and cocktails. It is a popular spot among locals and visitors alike, and its accessibility for wheelchair users and child-friendly environment make it a great choice for families.
In addition to the Sandbar, Kenton-on-Sea also offers a range of other dining options, from cozy cafes to fine dining restaurants. Visitors can also explore the town’s many art galleries and boutique shops, or take a stroll along the beautiful beaches. For those looking for a more adventurous experience, Sibuya Game Reserve offers daily trips into the reserve with professional guides, where you can see a range of wildlife on a game drive and enjoy a picnic lunch on the banks of the Kariega River.
The Ghio Wetland Nature Reserve itself is a beautiful destination, with its unique wetland landscape and diverse wildlife, making it a must-see for nature lovers. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing dining experience or an adventurous outdoor excursion, Kenton-on-Sea and the surrounding areas have something for everyone to enjoy.
In addition to the many attractions and activities available within the Ghio Wetland Nature Reserve, visitors to the area can enjoy a range of other exciting experiences in the Eastern Cape Province.
One of the top activities on offer is whale watching, with the Eastern Cape coastline being home to Southern Right Whales and Humpback Whales between July and December each year. Watching these majestic creatures breach, lobtail and spy-hop from the shore is an unforgettable experience.
The Bluewater Bay area in Port Elizabeth is a particularly popular spot for whale watching, and is one of the top 12 locations in the province for this activity. Other recommended spots include Nahoon Beach, Gonubie Beach and Eastern Beach in East London, Port Alfred, and St Francis Bay.
For those interested in marine life, the bottlenose dolphins of South Africa can be spotted in the warm Indian Ocean waters year-round. Watching these playful creatures is a rewarding experience that visitors to the area should not miss out on.
In addition to these water-based activities, visitors can also enjoy a leisurely cruise up the Kariega River followed by a game drive and picnic lunch at the Sibuya Game Reserve, located near Kenton-on-Sea. Another must-visit spot is the Sandbar Floating Restaurant and Pub, located on a permanently moored boat on the Bushman’s River Mouth. The restaurant offers a range of pub fare, South African favourites, and fresh seafood options. The Cape clawless otter and many bird species are frequently spotted in the area, adding to the experience.
Kariega Beach is a serene and picturesque location on the Eastern Cape coastline. It is a part of the charming seaside village of Kenton-on-Sea, located between Port Elizabeth and East London. Kenton-on-Sea is known for its tranquil atmosphere and is a popular destination for retirees and holidaymakers alike.
Kariega Beach is situated between two tidal rivers, the Kariega River and the Bushmans River, providing visitors with a variety of recreational opportunities. Families can spend time together, enjoying the beauty of the South African coastline, while also exploring the nature reserve located just in front of the beach. The reserve offers walking trails and is home to a wide range of bird species and other wildlife.
The beach is perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and beach sports like volleyball and soccer. The clear blue waters and soft sand make it an ideal location for those looking to relax and unwind. There are also a variety of water activities available, such as kayaking and paddleboarding.
Kariega Beach is a popular spot for surfers, with waves ranging from beginner to advanced. The beach is particularly well-suited for longboarding, and it’s common to see surfers riding the waves here throughout the year.
In addition to its natural beauty and recreational opportunities, Kariega Beach is also home to a number of charming cafes and restaurants. Visitors can enjoy a refreshing drink or a meal while taking in the stunning views of the beach and the surrounding landscape.
Overall, Kariega Beach is an idyllic location for those seeking a peaceful getaway on the Eastern Cape coastline. Its combination of natural beauty, recreational opportunities, and local charm make it a must-visit destination for tourists to the area.
Middle Beach in Kenton-on-Sea is a must-visit destination for beachgoers seeking a peaceful and unspoilt experience. With soft sand and warm water, this secluded beach is perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and even exploring rock pools during low tide.
Visitors can discover an array of fascinating sea creatures in the rock pools, making it an excellent educational opportunity for children and adults alike. With 6 feet deep pools, it is also a safe place for young children and babies to splash around in the water.
Middle Beach is known for its slightly warmer water temperature compared to the open ocean, as the water has a chance to be heated by the sun. The beach also provides convenient amenities such as a shop, hygienic restrooms, and ample parking.
In addition to swimming and sunbathing, visitors can take a leisurely stroll along the shore, admiring the stunning natural beauty of the area. The tranquil surroundings make Middle Beach an ideal location for relaxation and rejuvenation.
Kenton-on-Sea is also known for its rich history, with fascinating landmarks such as the Diaz Cross and the Settlers Monument located nearby. The town also hosts a variety of annual events, including the Kariega Classic Fishing Competition and the SAMREC Penguin Release.
The House Kitchen and Cellar
If you’re looking for a great dining experience near the Ghio Wetland Nature Reserve, the House Kitchen and Cellar is definitely worth a visit. Located in the nearby town of Kenton-on-Sea, this establishment is known for its exceptional coffee and phenomenal food.
Whether you’re looking for a traditional cooked breakfast or a light lunch, the House Kitchen and Cellar has something for everyone. Their menu features a range of delicious options, including gourmet sandwiches, luxurious salads, wraps, and heartier dishes. All of the food is made fresh using only the best ingredients.
The warm and welcoming atmosphere of the House Kitchen and Cellar is sure to make you feel right at home. The friendly staff are always ready with a smile and are happy to help you choose from the menu. And if you enjoy the food, you’ll be pleased to know that they also offer a selection of baked goods and other treats to take away.
In addition to the great food and atmosphere, the House Kitchen and Cellar also has a great selection of wines and other drinks. Whether you’re looking for a refreshing soft drink or a glass of local wine, they have you covered. So if you’re in the area, be sure to stop by and experience the House Kitchen and Cellar for yourself.
Bushmans Bar & Grill
In addition to the beautiful natural surroundings and wildlife in the Ghio Wetland Nature Reserve, visitors can also enjoy a variety of dining options nearby. One of the most popular restaurants in the area is Bushmans Bar & Grill, which is a family-owned establishment owned by well-known musician and songwriter Jacques de Coning and his wife, Lynn de Coning.
The restaurant offers a diverse menu featuring top-class meals such as finger-licking baskets, hearty burgers, tasty ribs, matured steaks, succulent seafood, and more. Some of the specialties include their homemade burgers, Mexicana burger, slow-roasted pork belly, Mediterranean pasta, and calamari. For those who want to build their own platter, they offer a selection of ribs, prawns, calamari, and chips to choose from. They also have a great selection of wines and beers on tap.
While the atmosphere is family-oriented during the day, the restaurant has a bustling nightlife scene with regular live music performances on their stage. Visitors can enjoy their meals and drinks on the restaurant’s deck, which overlooks the beautiful Bushman’s River, making it the perfect spot to catch a sundowner and observe the local bird life. The restaurant also has big-screen televisions for sporting events, and their dress code is casual.
Bushmans Bar & Grill is wheelchair-friendly and has braai facilities available, so visitors can bring their own braai packs or purchase one from the restaurant. They also accept Visa, Master, and Diners Club cards, and customers who spend R50 or more are offered free Wi-Fi. Whether you’re looking for a hearty meal after a day of exploring the wetlands or a lively night out with friends, Bushmans Bar & Grill is the perfect destination.
Boknes Beach, located just a short distance from Ghio Wetland Nature Reserve, offers a stunning coastline with a warm lagoon that is perfect for swimming and water sports. This blue flag beach has a vast stretch of sand, which makes it perfect for long walks and beach games. The lifeguard hut that overlooks the beach is an iconic wooden structure that adds to the charm of the area.
The Boknes River that flows into the lagoon is popular among fishermen who come here to catch kob, elf, steenbras and white musselcracker. Sand prawns can be pumped up to use as bait, which is an experience in itself. Families often return to this area for fishing, and many have their secret spots where they have had the best catch.
For those looking for a bit of adventure, peddle boats can be rented from the grassy banks, or sail your way up along the Boknes River. The lagoon is also perfect for children and families to enjoy.
The beach at Boknes extends for approximately 3km and leads to the historic Diaz Cross Memorial at Kwaaihoek. The monument was erected by Bartholomew Diaz, a navigator, in 1488 when he rounded the Cape to find a route to India. The stone cross is South Africa’s oldest European monument and is one of three that Diaz erected during his travels around the Cape.
The name Boknes comes from the Khoe language and means ‘father’s river.’ The seaside village of Boknesstrand is typical of a coastal town, with few permanent residents, a couple of small shops that close early, and lots of holiday homes. It is the perfect place to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy the peaceful and unspoiled beauty of the Sunshine Coast.
For nature lovers who are looking for a more immersive experience, the Assegaai Trails are a must-visit destination. The trails are located in the Ghio Wetland Nature Reserve and offer visitors the chance to hike through 35 km of pristine wilderness along the Assegaai River. The starting point for the trails is at the parking area under trees at the office, off the R343 between Grahamstown and Kenton-on-Sea.
The Assegaai Trails offer four hiking trails of varying fitness levels, including the yellow, red, blue, and purple trails. These trails can be interlinked to add mileage to any given trail. One of the unique features of these trails is that NO vegetation, rocks or creatures of any kind (living or dead) may be removed or disturbed on the farm.
The Bottom’s Up campsite, which is located at the main entrance, is the starting point for three of the trails. This semi-open air ‘rustic with class’ camp lies on the edge of a dam with the opportunity to canoe or tube should the whim take you. The camp offers bunk beds and mattresses, drinking water, hot showers, and flush loos.
The yellow trail, which is one of the most popular routes, takes hikers past Willow Pool on the Assegaai River and offers incredible views of the river from the Everest Lookout. The red trail leads hikers through open grassland, where you can spot game, and to the escarpment where a little pink detour links to the yellow route and the Everest Lookout. The blue trail takes you through the northeastern section of the farm, while the purple trail is the only one to head southeast to Crystal Springs, Pilgrim’s Rest (not the town), and Bird’s Eye View before heading via Lily Pool to the Assegaai River.
If you’re a tree fanatic, the Assegaai Tree Trail is a must-visit spot. The trail, which is only 1 km long, is perfect for nature enthusiasts who want to explore the region’s flora.
The Assegaai Trails offer a unique opportunity for visitors to explore the wilderness and get back to nature. With a range of trails to suit different fitness levels, visitors can choose the perfect route to suit their needs.
To reach the Ghio pans, take the R72 towards Alexandria and turn left onto a gravel road signposted Ngciyo/Emlanjeni, crossing the bridge over the Bushmans River. The reserve offers visitors the chance to connect with nature, see incredible wildlife and create unforgettable memories.