The moderate climate and famed hospitality of this largely coastal region make it one of South Africa’s unsung heroes. Add malaria-free safari experiences, unspoilt wilderness and reserves, and a plethora of outdoor and adventure must-do’s and your itinerary will be full and fascinating.
South Africa’s Eastern Cape residents are renowned for their warm personalities and salt-of-the-earth characters – it’s why so many visitors return. The two main cities, Port Elizabeth and East London are much smaller than their Cape Town and Johannesburg counterparts but that’s part of their charm. This translates to less traffic and more time to appreciate the surrounds at a slower pace, plus these cities are the gateway to glorious wide open spaces and a host of exciting animal-focused and cultural experiences. One of the major drawcards to the area is the more than 800km of unspoilt Indian Ocean coastline (the water is lovely and warm) as well as a plethora of both private and public game reserves and parks – all of which are malaria free and therefore perfect for the whole family to get their safari fix.
One of the most popular wildlife destinations in the region is the Addo Elephant National Park – just an hour outside of Port Elizabeth. Here, herds of elephant, buffalo and other smaller creatures roam – and you can spot them from the comfort of your own car. You’d also do well to visit the Mountain Zebra National Park near Cradock (around 3 hours’ drive from Port Elizabeth) for sightings of zebra, but if it’s a Big 5 experience you’re after, never fear – there are plenty of choices. Choose from reserves with rustic self-catering options to five-star lodges with experienced guides, spas and guaranteed sightings aplenty. If you’re seeking a ‘road-less-travelled’ experience, then head for the aptly named Wild Coast. Here you’ll discover endless beaches and lush emerald-clad hills, rugged coastlines, rural Xhosa communities and a sense that time has stood still. It’s a little bit more challenging to get to, but the rewards are magnificent vistas and memories you’ll treasure for life.
Another area well worth visiting within the region is the Karoo inland, where beautiful views of the semi-arid surrounds and big skies are your constant companions – we think the Karoo is the perfect place for unwinding and getting back to nature. Graaff Reinet is a beautifully preserved heritage village that gives excellent insight into the area’s history, while the Valley of Desolation is truly breathtaking. Southwest of Port Elizabeth is the surfing mecca of Jeffreys Bay, which plays host to international surfers in the winter months, while still further west is the Tsitsikamma National Park, a pristine coastal forest where one-day and longer hikes will leave an indelible mark. Adrenaline junkie? You can’t miss the Bloukrans Bridge Bungee Jump – it’s one of the highest in the world!
THINGS TO DO
• Addo Elephant National Park
• Bungee Jump off the Bloukrans Bridge
• Camp and 4×4 in the Baviaanskloof Reserve
• Grahamstown National Arts Festival (July)
• Owl House, Nieu Bethesda
• Self-Drive Mountain Zebra National Park
• Surfing & ocean sports in Jefferys Bay
• Tsitsikamma Forest trails
• Valley of Desolation
• Visit Qunu, birthplace of Nelson Mandela