Aug 192009

South Africa (Eastern Cape)

The scenic Kowie River (known locally as the “Ecawa”) is navigable for some 28 km and flows from wild indigenous forest through farmland, past riverside homes, under two bridges in Port Alfred’s town center and out to sea. In its tidal waters people enjoy boating, cruising, waterskiing, fishing and swimming, while canoeists on the Kowie Canoe Trail paddle at their own pace to their overnight shelter in the forest, passing hikers on the riverside Kowie Hiking trail or picnickers at the waterside.

Kowie River Mouth - Port Alfred


The Kowie has its source in the hills of the Grahamstown Heights from where it flows in a south-easterly direction draining the major part of the Bathurst region.  Its principal tributaries are the Bloukrans, the Bakrivier and the Lushington (or Torrens) River. The Little Kowei River is a smaller tributary which enters the estuarine portion of the river 14 km from the mouth. There are also a number of smaller unnamed streams entering the river along its course. The total length of the Kowie River is approximately 70 km.


The major part of the Kowie River lies within a strip of the Bokkeveld Series which runs along its length down to the coast, in a north-westerly to south-easterly direction. The Bokkeveld Series consists mainly of shale with subsidiary sandstone bands; pronounced dipping and folding are evident, as can be seen in the quarries and cuttings of Port Alfred.

Land Use

Agricultural products include pineapples, citrus, chicory, fodder crops, cattle and goat. The Kowie River dominates the town as it meets the Indian Ocean at Port Alfred. Most of the river is navigable by boat, making it one of the longest tidal rivers in South Africa, and an important center for tourism in the Eastern Cape.

The Kowie Nature Reserve of 174 ha is just outside Port Alfred, off the Bathurst Road. It boasts an 8 km riverside walk through scenic valley bushveld and some picnic and braai sites. Local fauna is abundant, including the Blue Duiker and Cape Clawless Otter.

The Waters Meeting Nature Reserve lies in the river’s Horseshoe Bend. From there, scenic views are enjoyed on the one-day hiking trail around the Sarel Hayward Dam. A number of picnic sites are to be found on the way; look out for African Fish Eagles! The only self-guided hiking / canoe trail in South Africa starts at Port Alfred and ends at Horseshoe Bend.


Warm temperature coastal forests: This vegetation type is well established to the east with Sideroxylon inerme (milkwood), Mimusops caffra (red milkwood), Brachylaena discolor (wild silver oak) and others. Nearer the river, however, this coastal forest is more open and stunted or lower growing.  Alien trees such as Eucalyptus globulus (blue gum) and Acacia cyclops (rooikrans) are found here while Passerina sp, Chrysanthemoides monolifera and Rhus crenata are found nearer the beach.

Sub-succulent Woodland, Coastal Sub-formation: Tree Euphorbias and other succulents are common in this vegetation type as well as Schotia latifolia (bush boerboon), Ptaeroxylon obliquum (sneeze wood), Cussonia spicata (cabbage tree) and others. This vegetation type is described as ‘Valley Bushveld, Southern Variation’ and is found adjacent to the river well into the catchment, except where the vegetation has been removed by  private land owners for crops and grazing. Around the town, this vegetation type survives relatively well, except in areas where some of the woody species have been removed for fuel.


As far as could be ascertained, the river has always been known as the Kowie River. The settlement established at the mouth of the river in 1821 was originally called Port Kowie. This was changed to Port Frances in 1825 in honour of the wife of Colonel Henry Somerset who was then in charge of the military forces on the Eastern Frontier. In 1860 the name of the town was changed once again, to Port Alfred to honour Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh who was visiting the Frontier at that time. When the settlement was first established at the mouth of the river, the estuary consisted of one vast swampy region bounded on the east and west by the hills today known as the East and West Banks. When the tide receded it left exposed a number of sandbanks or islands, and the main outlet to the sea was under the eastern hill, exactly opposite the flats to where it is at present.


The Kowie River Mouth is an extremely popular spot to get shipwrecked – exercise care.



Port Alfred is a town halfway (on the R72, roughly 150km each way) between Port Elizabeth and East London in the Eastern Cape.

View Kowie River in a larger map

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Service Providers
Kowie River - Mansfield Private Reserve


This is the hart of the Sunshine Coast and Settler Country, home to many attractions including Addo Elephant National Park and numerous private game lodges.

Bretton Beach Crest resort is situated 3 km from the Kowie River Mouth along the beach front and consists of 9 comfortably furnished, fully equipped beach cottages.

The Halyards Hotel is splendidly set along the waterfront of the popular Royal Alfred Marina, a fine example of Cape Cod architecture with its cool and nautical appeal.

If fishing and surfing are the sports you enjoy Port Alfred is the place to holiday. Come and enjoy these rustic self-catering Kowie River Chalets, centrally located in this rural seaside town. Enjoy a one or two day paddle trail on the river, bag a fish or two, snap up some bargains at the big pineapple or just relax at the poolside.

The Links Coastal Inn is the perfect location to explore and enjoy the many interesting tourist attractions of the area.

Mansfield Private Reserve and Lodge, just 7 km north of Port Alfred, lies nestled amongst 1000 acres of lush undulating grassland and thornveld plat

eaus. Vegetation is typical Eastern Cape sweetveld with kloofs providing ideal habitat for both browsers and grazers.

The Royal Guest House is situated high on the east bank of the Kowie River and overlooks the peaceful marina. French doors from the lounge open onto a magnificent wooden deck from where you can overlook the town and out to sea  – sometimes spotting the odd migrating whale!

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