The Eastern Cape is the second biggest province in the country and spans across largely undeveloped landscapes starting with the desert of the Great Karoo and ending with the pounding waves along the Wild Coast.
This was Nelson Mandela’s birthplace and the Nelson Mandela Route leads through the province down to Mthatha and the Nelson Mandela Museum. The museum is spread over three locations (Umtata, Qunu and Mveso) and driving to each will give you glimpses of rural life in this slow-moving province.
Port Elizabeth is one of the main cities, offering excellent, safe beaches and Devils’ Reef, which is a great place to snorkel or dive. The city also has the Red Location Museum,commemorating the struggle against apartheid; the Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum; and Route 67, a collection of 67 art pieces celebrating the number of years that Mandela devoted to public life.
East London is another popular holiday destination and its Nahoon Beach has kilometres of usually uncrowded sand and offering excellent surfing spots. Surfers also head to Jeffrey’s Bay, well known for its brilliant waves. Further up the coast is Port St Johns, once a popular hippy hangout and still a backpacking favourite. That’s along the stretch dubbed the Wild Coast for its untamed beauty of jagged cliffs, sheltered bays, deserted beaches and rolling hills and valleys. The little seaside villages along this stretch have been traditional family holiday destinations for generations. It’s a great place for hiking or 4x4 adventures too.
The most famous wildlife attraction in the region is Addo Elephant National Park, which boasts the densest population of elephant in the world. The reserve is also home to black rhino, buffalo, spotted hyena, leopard, antelope and zebra. The elephant section was proclaimed in 1931, when only 11 elephants remained – today there are more than 600. There are guided game drives, horse riding, hiking and 4x4 trails. It stretches from the semi-arid Karoo in the north across the Zuurberg Mountains and all the way down to the coast.
More excellent game viewing is found at the luxurious Shamwari Game Reserve. This private reserve has six different 5-star lodges, three of them with spas. It runs special programmes for kids and has a wildlife rehabilitation centre which cares for orphaned or injured animals. It’s popular with international celebrities too, as golfer Tiger Woods got engaged here and actors like Brad Pitt, Nicolas Cage and John Travolta listing among its previous visitors.
The Kragga Kamma Game Park near Port Elizabeth has white rhino, buffalo, cheetah, giraffe, zebra and vast herds of other game. You can drive your own vehicle through the park on its well-maintained roads or join a guided tour in a game-viewing vehicle.
Culturally, the Eastern Cape’s greatest attraction is Grahamstown, which hosts a National Arts Festival every July. About 500 different shows are staged, from street performers to high-brow ballet. The festival attracts about 50 000 visitors, which means this normally quiet university town uses every building it can as a performance space and locals rent out their homes to visitors.
The Tsitsikamma forest, along the coastline where the Eastern Cape meets the Western Cape, is great for adventuring. It boasts a scarily high bungee jump from Bloukrans Bridge and a canopy tour, where you can zip-line through the treetops. The forest has 116 types of giant tree, including the Outeniqua yellowwood. A special walk will take you to the biggest, estimated to be 800 years old. A tough five-day hike called the Otter Trail also begins near here.