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Eastern Cape travel guide
There is a good reason why the Eastern Cape is called the Adventure Province. Though Jeffery’s Bay is a household name among surfers internationally, the region is also a perfect choice for thrills of all kinds, due to its diverse topography. The Eastern Cape’s 800 km of gorgeous beaches invite every conceivable water sport, plus rock climbing, abseiling, bungee jumping and horse riding . At Storms River Mouth hikers can begin the legendary Otter Trail to the Tsitsikamma National Park. Also on the coast you’ll find the two principal cities, Port Elizabeth and East London, both small enough to feel hospitable but offering plenty of entertainment. The gorgeous Wild Coast is a short drive from East London, with cliffs and beaches more secluded than you would expect, and, with its casino, a great spot for glamorous nightlife as well.
However, travelling inland is when you realise just how full of contrasts the Eastern Cape is. Coastal scenery gives way to the wilderness of Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve, a World Heritage Site. Drive further to find the bush and wildlife of Addo Elephant Park and Shamwari Game Reserve. For more surprises, keep going to the green Amatola Mountains, which in turn lead into the arid Karoo landscape. The great diversity of the Eastern Cape extends to its culture as well. Here is the birthplace of Nelson Mandela as well as the home of intriguing owl artist Helen Martin, while the dense forests of Hogsback are considered to be the inspiration for the setting of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Our absolute best on the Eastern Cape coast:
- Jeffery’s Bay – surfing capital of South Africa, its Billabong Surf Festival in July brings a huge international contingent, and there are courses for beginners too. Along the Sunshine Coast you also find great opportunities for kite-surfing, snorkelling, scuba diving and sailing.
- Cape St Francis and St Francis Bay – Phenomenal beaches, outstanding surfing and watersport facilities, plus some good shopping in town. A barge cruise on the canals of St Francis Bay is a brilliant way to relax while taking in villages, scenery and wildlife. Added to this you can come across penguins, seals and baboons, and hike through a fynbos reserve.
- Wild Coast - There’s plenty to see and do around Port St John’s and Coffee Bay. See if you can find the Hole in the Wall, a small archway in the rock created by relentless wave action. The Transkei section of the Wild Coast is peaceful and rural, almost untouched. Look out for cows on the beaches!
- Port Elizabeth – The Friendly City makes a fantastic base for a family holiday. Some of the fun things to do here are Blue Flag beaches such as King’s Beach (Blue Flag means having attained an international level of cleanliness, facilities and eco-awareness), excellent museums, oceanarium and snake park, and the Boardwalk Casino and Entertainment Complex.
Awesome choices further inland:
- Addo Elephant Park – In this malaria-free zone you can realise your dream of seeing the Big Five, as well as the great white shark and southern right whale.
- Owl House – in the village of Nieu Bethesda, in the Karoo Heartland, you will come across the unforgettable house where Helen Martins created hundreds of owl sculptures.
- Valley of Desolation - From Owl House you are very close to these incredible rock formations, product of volcanic eruptions, just outside the pretty, historic town of Graaff Reinet.
- Hogsback – overlooked by the Amatola Mountains, Hogsback is a quiet and lovely village. For years its stillness and clean mountain air has attracted artists, writers and potters to a slower life. Come here to walk at sunrise in the deep forest, go trout fishing, mountain biking and look for the Hobbit.
- Grahamstown – This student-filled town is known the world over for its fantastic annual Grahamstown Arts Festival and for its respected Rhodes University. The Festival is a collection of fringe and mainstream theatre, music and art exhibitions – don’t miss it if you are anywhere nearby in July.