Port St Johns


Situated at the mouth of the Umzimvubu River, Port St Johns lies almost half way between Durban and East London. There are several supposed reasons for the town’s name, the most popular being:


  1. The name came from the Sao Joao, a Portuguese vessel which was believed wrecked near the river mouth in 1552. It has lately been established that the Sao Joao was actually wrecked near the town of Port Edward, but the early seafarers mislocated the wreck, and therefore the name stuck.

  2. The profile of Saint John the Baptist can be seen on the cliff face on the left-hand side of the river. Only the very imaginative can see this, so why the name came about is still a mystery.

  3. That a Portuguese ship passed the river on St. John’s day, 24th June.


Umzimvubu means home of the hippo. The last recorded hippopotamus was the famous Huberta the Eastern Cape extensively. travelled. Unfortunately she was accidentally shot near King Williams Town, her remains are mounted at the Kaffrarian Museum. Long before Port St Johns was established as a town and port, an area approximately 10 kilometers from the mouth of the Umzimvubu River was cultivated with vegetables, grown to re-stock the navy ships which patrolled the South African Coast. Freshwater was also taken aboard here.


Port St Johns had a fort at Fort Harrison, where the 1/24′” Warwickshire Regiment was garrisoned during the Anglo-Boer War.

A from the mouth of the river is a spot named New Germany. At this spot the Imperial Flag of Germany was raised and the area declared German. After a few hours, the Commander, Baron von Hartwig, realised that he’d made a mistake, and took the flag down again.few

In the 1880’s the town was established, after negotiations with the local Pando Chiefs for rights to the banks of the river and adjacent territories.

After the annexation of Pondoland, the trade at Port St Johns increased, and the port was said to have greater natural advantages than any port between Cape Town and Lorenzo Marques (now  Maputo).

The last vessel to dock at Port St Johns did so in the 1940s, after which the river shallowed to such an extent as to make passage impossible.

Port St Johns became a very popular holiday town. It remained popular until Transkei’s independence in 1976, after which the town went to seed. Since Transkei’s re-incorporation into South Africa, the town is once again improving.


The Transkei stretches from the Kei River in the south to the Mtamvuna River in the north. Its 250km coastline, known as the Wild Coast, is famous for its ruggedness, unspoilt beaches and, as any seafaring person who sails along the South African Coast knows, the unpredictability of its weather and seas.

Transkei attained self governing status from the South African Government in 1963, and independence in 1976. After being independent for 17 years it was re-incorporated into the New Republic of South Africa in 1994. Many of South Africa’s great statesmen, including former president Nelson Mandela come from this area.

The Thembu tribe lived near the foothills of the Drakensberg, until the sixteenth century, when they migrated towards the coast and were incorporated into the nation of the Xhosa nation. King Zwide was the first king. Mr Nelson Mandela is a direct descendant of King Ngubengcuka.

According to Royal custom, the heir is chosen from the Great House or Right Hand House. There is also the lxhiba or Left Hand House whose sons settle royal disputes. Mr Mandela is of the lxhiba House and was groomed to council the rulers of the tribe.


Mandela’s long struggle for freedom is well documented in his biography, ‘A Long Walk to Freedom’, a book well worth reading for a fuller understanding of MrWanskei’s fascinating history.

35km from Umtata on the N2 to East London.Qunu  about Mandela can be visited at Mthatha and at MrMuseums dedicated to






Transkei’s 250km coastline is dramatic and in some instances breathtaking. The Indian Ocean alternately

crashes against rocky shores, headlands and cliffs where no sane man would attempt to climb or descend, and unspoilt beaches of creamy sand, where your footprints will be the only ones you see.


Many rivers end their journey on this coast, most of them small, but some such as the Umzimvubu, have their headwaters in the Lesotho Mountains. Some of these rivers’ mouths become wide lagoons, with turquoise water, ideal for water-sports and fishing.

South of Port St Johns, the coast is made up of Karoo System Rocks and to the north you will find a sandstone very similar to that of Table Mountain in the Cape. The Egosa Fault, which at Port St Johns runs inland parallel to the coast, has resulted in the formation of precipitous cliffs and narrow gorges in the area north of Mbotyi.  Many magnificent waterfalls such as Magwa Falls (146m) and Waterfall Bluff (where the Mkozi River runs straight over the cliff face and plummets into the sea below), also resulted from the fault.

The climate on the Wild Coast is almost sub tropical. Summers are hot and humid, winters cool. It falls within the summer rainfall area and annual rainfall exceeds 1 200mm. Heavy summer rains and bad land management, unfortunately, accounts for a lot of top soil being washed into the rivers, making them chocolate brown for six months of the year.

The vegetation is lush at the coast, with dune forests giving way to dense forests on the mountain slopes. These forests, in turn, become grassland at higher altitudes, interspersed with patches of forest.

The Transkei

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Mtafufu River

One of the many places to visit close to Port St Johns, lovely to canoe.