“Life’s short. Catch a tan (in Colchester)!”
A mere 40 kilometres and less than half an hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth, lies the “sleepy hollow” of Colchester. Many Eastern Cape locals will be familiar with the little town for its 80-kilometre-per-hour freeway speed limit and its proximity to the world-renowned Addo Elephant National Park.
Some might have stopped at its conveniently-located petrol garage to fill up the tank before a long trip inland or up the coast, or popped into the KWIKSPAR supermarket for a few last-minute groceries before heading home to Port Elizabeth. Others will know it for the views of the beautiful Sundays River as you come over the hill on the N2 from the Port Alfred direction.
But the greater Addo area is growing in popularity among tourists from other parts of South Africa and abroad and there is a company in Colchester which is attracting them in big numbers thanks to its variety of activities, including sand boarding, river cruising and safari tours in the national park. Not so much of a sleepy hollow after all?
I happened to pop in to Sundays River Adventures on the Tuesday following Port Elizabeth’s hosting of the 2018 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship, and was taken on a sand-boarding outing with none other than four Costa Ricans, three Belgians and two Colombians.
Seven of said foreigners had competed in the prestigious event. They were full of wonderful compliments about Port Elizabeth, her surrounds and her people. And not only were they world-class tri-athletes, they were pretty darn good at sand-boarding too. I was petrified.
You can only reach the Alexandria Dune field; the largest and least degraded dune field in the southern hemisphere, by boat. Or swimming, of course. But if you are not up for careering down the dunes on a board, you can always book a river cruise instead. It takes you to the mouth of the river, situated on the southern boundary of the Addo Elephant National Park, where you can walk along the beach and even jump into the sea. We spotted a whale from the shore which was a definite highlight.
On the way back, you will have the opportunity to climb one of the highest dunes and catch a glimpse of Algoa Bay’s Bird Island and St. Croix Island in the distance.
Sundays River Adventures is the brainchild of Karl Botha – KB to his friends. He says he spent many hours on the water with his uncle growing up, swimming or waterskiing, and has combined his business with some of his favourite hobbies.
“I get to do what I like doing. I love being out on the water,” KB explains.
“So, getting up to work is easy?” I ask.
“I don’t ‘work’, you see. I just wake up and start doing stuff.”
That would explain his business motto, “Life’s short. Catch a tan”.
“So many people don’t get tans anymore. They just sit in their offices and work all day,” he says with a shrug and a smile.
KB’s family has a long and successful history in the Addo and Colchester area. He says it was his mother who persuaded him to study hotel management at the International Hotel School in Johannesburg. Using his hospitality skills together with his natural entrepreneurial spirit, he has been able to steadily grow his business.
Funnily enough, his first venture was a commercial laundry business. “Washing4Me” is still going strong. Then came the sand boarding; an idea given to him by three German couch surfers who were heading further south down the coast to do just that. He thought, “Hang on a minute. Why don’t we do sand boarding here?”
He has since added river cruises, water sports, the beautifully rustic Maggie May Houseboat accommodation, a canoe trail and safari tours to the list.
KB also took over the running of the little restaurant next to the supermarket because he wanted there to be an establishment in Colchester where tourists could taste authentic South African food, ranging from calamari and kudu carpaccio starters to the well-known braai meal and other favourites.
Richard Branson’s “Top 10 Fairness Quotes” adorn the walls of A Taste of Africa – perhaps a little bit of KB’s personality on display.
As the owner himself says, “The words you use make things happen.”
He adds that for any business to succeed, it needs a great staff of cooks, managers, waitresses, tour guides and maintenance workers.
There is just so much to do and see in this little part of the world, and it is often better explored by tourists than those who live so close by.
Perhaps next time you see the signs for Colchester, pop in for a cruise and a cold beverage on one of the most spectacular rivers in the country. You might even make some Costa Rican friends for life, like I did. Pura vida!
*Thanks to Remy Espinoza, Mariela Morera Sanchez, Diego Ching Jenkins and Pamela Barquero Barrantes for being such gracious models.