CapeRecifeLighthouse - Logo 2

The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Cape Recife Nature Reserve

Now in its 50th year, the reserve maintains a portion of sensitively vegetated dune cordon, part of a greater conservancy that protects globally important plants like St Francis dune fynbos, thicket mosaic vegetation, and endemic coastal fynbos.

The reserve habitat contains some unique plant species, and also supports a surprising number of bird and animal species.

We invite you to visit this 366-hectare paradise with us.

It is indeed a breath of fresh air to find this beach and dune gem so accessibly close to the vibrant, tourist-friendly city of Gqeberha. Whether by car, bicycle or on foot, the area offers a welcome respite from urban noise and busy-ness. The sound of birds, crashing waves and ocean breeze provides the backdrop to a peaceful exploration.

Take a few hours, but preferably a few days, to unwrap the secrets of this hidden-in-plain-sight green jewel.

Exploring the Reserve’s Top Attractions


Entering the reserve through the boom gate outside Pine Lodge, the first building on the right-hand side is the renowned Cape Recife Nature Reserve SANCCOB (South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) – one of two such facilities in South Africa.

The facility is strategically situated in Algoa Bay which is home to the largest colony of African penguins in the world.

SANCCOB is probably best known for its penguin encounters, as these endearing sea birds are regularly treated and cared for here following incidents such as oil spills.

A guided tour of this rehabilitation and educational organisation is one of the top Cape Recife Nature reserve activities, especially for families wishing to experience the Cape Recife Nature Reserve penguins.

The iconic Cape Recife Lighthouse

The original Portuguese name of Cape Recife translates to “Cape of the reefs,” a reference to the treacherous, rugged geological features of this south-eastern part of South Africa’s coastline upon which many ships met their end. For this reason, an historic lighthouse was built on this promontory.

The Cape Recife Lighthouse was built in 1851 and the first light beamed across the ocean on 1 April of that year. The lighthouse warns passing ships of the dangers of the romantically named Thunderbolt Reef – named after the HMS Thunderbolt, a British Royal Navy Sail and Paddle Frigate. Several natural hazards such as Thunderbolt Reef and Roman Rock, not far offshore, have claimed many a ship.

The lighthouse is a twenty-four-metre-high masonry tower, octagonal in cross-section. Originally painted four alternate bands of white and red, this was changed in 1929 to black and white bands which is the present colour scheme.

Guided tours through the lighthouse are offered to visitors, affording sweeping 360-degree views of the ocean, dunes and city beyond.

Things to Do in Cape Recife Nature Reserve

Cape Recife Nature Reserve Hiking

Cape Recife is simply perfect for easy hiking for almost any age and fitness level, and one of the favourite things to do in Gqeberha. Whether along paths or scrambling over rocks, peppered with rock pools filled with fascinating marine creatures, the reserve is a fantastic destination for a soul stroll.

Well-established self-guided hiking trails lead hikers up and along the dune cordon, through pristine dune vegetation full of bird life. The Roseate Trail is a 9-kilometre circular route, named after one of the Cape Recife birding specials, the Roseate tern.

Birdwatching Paradise: A Closer Look at Cape Recife Nature Reserve birding

Bird watching in South Africa is like landing in paradise. Keen bird watchers already know the avian specials that this coastline offers, with Cape Recife being regarded as one of Gqeberha’s prime birding spots. Novices will be blown away by the diversity! Four bird categories are prevalent here: pelagic, coastal, bush and freshwater birds. Specials include the Roseate tern along with Damara, Swift, Sandwich, Common and Arctic terns, African black oystercatcher, Grey plover, Bar-tailed godwits, Purple heron, African jacana, African swamphen, Little bittern, African rail and many more.

A few hours at the well-maintained bird hide overlooking the water purification pond will yield good results.

When weather conditions are favourable, one may see pelagic birds such as albatrosses, storm petrels, jaegers, shearwaters and giant petrels.
Our great birding guides tailor birding walks, trips to the estuary and visits to bird hides, and will do their utmost to help you find those lifers!

Relaxing on Cape Recife Nature Reserve’s Beautiful Beaches

The Eastern Cape province of South Africa is renowned for some of the most stunning beaches, and those within the Cape Recife Nature Reserve are among the prettiest.

Favoured by surfers and kiteboarders among others, the rolling aquamarine waves crashing onto jagged rocks or pearly white shores are mesmerising. Beachcombing along the tide line, between the many pebbles, shells and other sea flotsam, is a wonderful way to explore this wonderful landscape.

Whales, dolphins and more

It just so happens that not only do humans find Algoa Bay beautiful and magical – so do the hundreds of Bottlenose dolphins that frequent these waters – hence the title “the Bottlenose Dolphin Capital of the World” given to the city of Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha) in April 2016.

And if that wasn’t enough reason to gaze at the ocean all day, this bay is also one of a handful of internationally recognised Whale Heritage Sites.

When it comes to biodiversity, Algoa Bay is arguably one of the most outstanding marine environments. During the winter months, the warm shallow waters of its unique half heart shaped bay provide ideal conditions for southern right whales to mate and have their calves.

Later in the year, the bay also serves as a nursery for Humpback whale calves before they make the long journey back south to their feeding grounds. There are cetacean species in the bay throughout the year. From June to December, you’ll find Humpback whales and from July to October is when you’ll see Southern right whales. Bryde’s and Minke whales are in the bay all year, feeding on sardines and anchovies that are rounded up by Long-beaked common dolphins or African penguins.

Algoa Bay is renowned for having the largest pods and most frequent sightings of Bottlenose dolphins and it is not uncommon to come across a pod of over six hundred Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins in Algoa Bay, and in the shallower areas of the bay, there are also frequent sightings of rare Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, often with new-born calves which suggests that this species is calving in there.” (


Don’t forget to bring your bikes for a super way to navigate the tarred roads that traverse this compact reserve.

Practical Information and Tips

Operating Hours and Costs

The price of permits is per vehicle and subject to change, so please confirm pricing at Pine Lodge:

  • Day visitors R90 per vehicle (cash only)
  • Entrance for the purpose of visiting SANCCOB is free/gratis provided proof of visit is produced on exit from the Reserve. Vehicles are to park at SANCCOB and access the reserve by foot.
  • Entrance by foot and non-motorised transport is free – parking is available at gate.
  • Within the reserve is a wooden deck overlooking the ocean, and a few benches offer scenic resting spots on the southern stretch of beach.
  • A well-built bird hide overlooks the water purification works.
  • World War Two lookout bunkers high on the dunes reflect the historically strategic location of the Reserve.

Packing Essentials for a Visit

Do remember to pack:

  • Walking shoes
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Binoculars
  • Camera
  • Beach gear
  • Bicycles

Best Times to Visit

Cape Recife Nature Reserve is a year-round destination – but without a doubt, the beach life is best in the summer months! From spring, the bird life increases significantly. This is also a wonderful time for whale-spotting as they migrate back to their Antarctic feeding areas.

If you’re a fan of wild and wayward weather, the late winter and spring months provide plenty of action! But any time of the year is a privilege in this mild coastal enclave.

Get Involved in Conservation

At Cape Recife Nature Reserve, we are about far more than just leisure and pleasure. Your entry or accommodation fee contributes to protection of this incredible area by enabling regular patrols and more eyes on the ground, upkeep of bird hides and clearing of alien vegetation, among others. Regular patronage invites municipal support of a key tourism attraction – something we already enjoy and hope to improve as we motivate private partners to appreciate the benefits of our local green lung.

Coastal and dune birds thrive in natural habitat, and with the excellent efforts of SANCCOB, our birds stand the best chance against the negative impacts of industry and pollution.

Accept our invitation!

For those fortunate to reside within the metropolitan area of Nelson Mandela Bay, we take pride in maintaining and enhancing this natural gem for all local visitors to enjoy.

For our guests from further afield – do yourselves a favour and set aside a day or three to explore the last remaining piece of original coastal landscape of Port Elizabeth’s Algoa Bay area. Deservedly renowned as one of the favourite surfing, biking, hiking, birding and beaching destinations, the Cape Recife Nature reserve awaits you in all its natural splendour.

Cape Recife Lighthouse Villa

Something new and wonderful appeared on the Gqeberha tourism radar in 2022, with the launch of the Cape Recife Lighthouse Villa. Occupying a landmark building within the Cape Recife Nature Reserve, the two-bedroomed, stylishly refurbished apartment is unique and exclusive – truly one of the most romantic ’beach cottage’ getaways in South Africa, close to all the major attractions of the city while feeling a million miles away from it.


ERF 2410



South Africa, 6001


Phone: +27 (0)42 235 1450